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The masked truth in HBO's Watchmen

At a time when comic book movies, superheroes and alternative dystopian realities reign supreme, I feared the worst when HBO released Damon Lindelof's Watchmen announced. I myself do not have extensive knowledge of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' comic book Watchmen, but I did find the 2009 film a disappointment. Lindelof is the man behind the infamous series Lost. Where the viewer at Lost sometimes lost track of the storylines, the - underlying - realism in Watchmen clearly visible. Watchmen shows a dystopia where both the hero and villain literally and figuratively hide behind a mask, but where the painful and confrontational reality cannot be hidden.

I have to admit that the series surprised me in a good way. Although I Watchmen caught here and there by predictable elements, the storylines are engaging. The cinematography - a visual feat - at times seemed to contain elements of Bertolt Brecht's epic theatre. It made me think about people and society. Moreover, the cast of Watchmen as a house. In particular - somewhat unknown to me - Tim Blake Nelson put up an interesting character as Looking Glass/Wade.

Fact or fiction?

Watchmen's opening scene I watched with horror and fascination. Was it really a historical American event? In the immortal words of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody speaking: "Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?" That is usually the problem with film and television; the 'truth' on screen replaces events as they happened in the past. It is then easy to label such scenes as fictional. Especially in an alternate world where Nixon was in power for five terms and Robert Redford was his successor. After some research on my part, HBO's 'reenactment' of the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 unfortunately to be a rock-hard and terrible truth.

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Black and white

In the United States, a white police officer shoots a dark person even in his or her own home. It is not an isolated event. That racism is a tricky but real problem shows Watchmen see. In Moore and Gibbons's comic, the Cold War was still America's biggest concern. In the series, that 'white supremacy', or, an organisation of white racists called 'Seventh Cavalry'. A Ku Klux Klan version 2.0 with their own Rorschach masks. Lindelof indicated in an interview with The New York Times That there is a cultural upheaval in America. The reason, for him, is the fear of retribution.

I had to sigh internally when Watchmen presented me with a familiar world in which the trustworthy police fight an unwinnable and predictable battle against the ineradicable alt-right. Stereotypes. Good vs bad. Black and white, where grey is missing. When you get a better understanding of how the police work and structure, you quickly realise that in Watchmen nothing is what it seems.

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Removing the masks

In Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen the masked superheroes who are supposed to protect the world and society are not without fault. 'Who watches the Watchmen,' or in other words, who watches the superheroes? In the series, the cops fulfil the role of masked 'heroes'. Again, the question arises: who holds the police accountable for their actions? Who is really hidden behind the mask and façade presented? At Watchmen watch as the mask is gradually removed.

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Good to know Good to know
Watchmen is definitely worth seeing, if only to find out what stories lurk behind the masks. In addition, the actors put in rock-solid performances that ensure the characters pique your interest. Furthermore, the cinematography is a feast for the eyes.

Watchmen can be seen on Ziggo Movies & Series XL

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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