Opinion: HBO’s “Watchmen” is the series we need right now

The following blog does not contain spoilers for HBO’s “Watchmen.” So, feel free to read and enjoy whether you’ve seen it or not. 

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Flashing red and blue lights.

A short siren chirp.

A routine traffic stop.

One man white, the other black.

One man armed, the other not.

If you’re like most people in our country right now, you’re probably sick to your stomach because you know exactly where I’m going with this. But what if I said you didn’t? What if, this time, the suspect was white and the cop was black? What if, this time, it was the cop who was unarmed? What would you think? And then, what if I went on to tell you that, despite those facts, the altercation ended the same way as you originally thought, with an unarmed black man dead at the hands of a racist white man? Would it discourage you? Would it make you feel hopeless? Like nothing we do will keep black people from being senselessly murdered in this country? I’m not sure. I can’t say. What I can say for certain is that the scenario presented above made you think. It may have even caused you to self-reflect.

Thankfully, the scenario above is not a news story that you missed. It’s not even a story from our reality. It’s a scenario presented in the first episode of HBO’s “Watchmen,” from showrunner Damon Lindelof (“Lost,” “The Leftovers”). Watchmen is a sequel to Alan Moore’s 1986 comic masterpiece of the same name and, much like its predecessor, it acts as a stark social commentary on the time in which it was created. Though instead of criticizing the war-happy U.S. of the 70s and 80s, it focuses on racial inequality. HBO’s “Watchmen” aired in 2019, the same year in which the show takes place albeit in a reality both similar and unfamiliar in comparison to ours. If you’ve listened to our podcast, you’ve undoubtedly heard me sing the praises of this show for the better part of the last 6 months. But I am watching it through for a second time and not just because of its exquisite narrative, inspiring performances by Regina King, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Tim Blake Nelson, and pulse-pounding score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. No, this time I watching for the scenes just like the one outlined above. The scenes that make me think.

Thinking is good because thinking inspires action. And if there is one thing we are in desperate need of right now, it is action. Because we must eliminate wide-spread racism AND systemic racism in our country. To be clear, I’m not talking about just the confederate flag-waving, n-word saying, George Zimmerman brand of racism. I’m also talking about the subconscious, passive racism. The kind that causes white people like me to walk on the other side of the street when we see a black man walking toward us, to move into less diverse neighborhoods, and to mostly hang out with people who look like us. It takes deep, introspective thoughts to eliminate that kind of racism. And it takes a show like “Watchmen” to inspire those thoughts.

See, movies like ‘Selma,’ ‘Malcolm X,’ and ‘The Help’ (which are all good by their own merit and please don’t think I am knocking them at all) while they are excellent representations of the harsh realities of the Civil Rights Movement, they do not require us to think or reflect. We are taught about those events in school. We are even taught how to feel about those events. So, they act as unconditioned stimuli, eliciting a response but not one that requires any real thought or genuine feeling. It may make the more flamboyant racists living among us to cringe but for the passive, subconscious type that I talked about earlier, we need a different kind of stimulus. Something like a whistle or a dog clicker, something that makes us snap out of it or think “how do I feel about that? and what does that say about me?” “Watchmen” has an unending supply of those dog clicker moments.

For that reason, “Watchmen” is exactly the show we need right now. I’d love to go deeper into my analysis of the rich themes and immaculate storytelling, but I can’t risk spoiling the show and its effect. So, I’ll leave you with this. Watch “Watchmen.” You’ll be better for it.

– Cam

Week 1: ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975)

Overview

Before we dive in, a little housekeeping: This is the 52-Week Movie Challenge as seen in the book “Everyone’s a Critic 52-Week Movie Challenge.” (If you’d like to purchase the book to keep your personal notes of each film, here’s the link, but you can still participate in the challenge either way.) Each week, we’ll take the challenge and share our thoughts. I’ll share mine through these blog posts and occasional videos, and you can share yours in comments on the posts and videos. Oh, also, the book suggests some writing prompts for each week, but true to PFB fashion, I’m going rogue and creating my own format. Alrighty. Let’s get to it!

Film Details

Milos Forman directs the film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The film stars Jack Nicholson as Randall McMurphy (a role that earned him his third straight Best Actor Oscar Nomination and the win), as a prison inmate whose behavior at the “work farm” earned him a trip to the local mental facility for evaluation. While there, he starts to empower his fellow committees to resist the institution’s rules, a plan that naturally puts him at odds with head nurse, Miss Ratched (portrayed by Louise Fletcher who also garnered a Best Actress Nomination for her performance). The film is largely believed to be one of the greatest films of all time. Hence, why we chose it for week 1!

Thoughts

The first thing you’ll notice when you begin is that this film has all of the hallmarks of a great movie: superb acting, intriguing score, stylish cinematography, creative and realistic dialogue, strong characters, and much more. Now, there are more ingredients in the recipe for “All-time Great Movie,” but it is a strong start and one that validates the hype you’ve undoubtedly heard.

What’s not immediately apparent, however, is the purpose of the film. And it is that unknowing feeling that makes the first two-thirds or so of the movie completely gripping. Each scene is like a non-sequitur, entirely interesting by its own merit but unclear in its contribution to the larger plot. With that in mind and whether intentional or not, one of my favorite early visual cues is that Randall McMurphy (Nicholson) carries a deck of cards with him everywhere he goes. It is a perfect reminder that the film is playing sleight of hand with its audience, attempting to get them to focus on distractors before ultimately revealing “the trick” or, in this case, the purpose of the film. There is a literary medium called “novel-in-stories” in which a series of loosely interconnected stories are collected in novel form to to drive home a central theme or through-line. This movie definitely had a novel-in-stories vibe through that first section.

The through-line in this instance would have to be this theme of the oppressed vs. the oppressors. With the story being set in the early 1960s, the historical context brings into focus why this theme would have been important at the time the novel was written and, frankly, even still to this day. We see the oppressed vs. oppressor theme manifest itself in a number of ways in the film. 

First, when Randall “Mac” McMurphy arrives at the prison, he goes person to person and begins to empower them. Mac empowers Cheswick to question the system, he teaches Chief to play basketball, and helps Billy Bibbit get his confidence back with women. At one point, Mac even busts the whole ward out for an excursion where he steals a boat for them to go fishing. He says to one of them after handing him a fishing pole, “You’re not an idiot. Huh! You’re not a goddamn looney now, boy. You’re a fisherman!”, a line that acts as the perfect microcosm for Mac’s relationship with these men. He always treated each of them as people rather than crazy people.

Next, and perhaps the most obvious instance of the oppressed vs. oppressor theme, is Chief Bromden. Chief is a Native American committee who is described as deaf and dumb. After spending time with McMurphy, however, Chief reveals that he can indeed hear and speak, something none of the experts in the mental hospital has been able to uncover. This revelation elevates McMurphy to a status of “voice of the oppressed” as he is able to literally provide Chief (who as a Native American is a symbol of systemic oppression) with a voice.

Finally, our oppressed vs. oppressor theme comes into full focus at the climax of the film. McMurphy has invited some prostitutes to the mental hospital to enjoy a party with the ward. The party ends with the men encouraging Billy Bibbit to sleep with Candy. Billy does and is discovered the following morning by none other than Miss Ratched, our stone-cold symbol of oppression. Miss Ratched punishes Billy by sending him to the doctor’s office and telling him she will tell his mother what he had been up to. Suddenly, the new-found confidence that Billy gained (albeit through less than moral means) with Mac’s help disintegrated and Billy decides to end his life in the doctor’s office. This incident causes Mac (the voice of the oppressed) to snap and attack Miss Ratched (the oppressor) as our theme manifests in physical confrontation. Appropriately, oppression prevails and Mac ends up presumably lobotomized.

When you break it down that way, our lone theme feels very powerful, and perhaps it is. While watching the film though, I found myself distracted by the themes and more interested in the narrative itself. Maybe it was the fact that I was waiting for that big “all-time great movie” moment or because I was overthinking it altogether. I’m not sure. One thing is for certain though, you should always sleep on it before collecting your thoughts on a movie. Initial reactions are not to be trusted.

Conclusion

I cannot think of a better way to kick off the 52-Week Movie Challenge. This film definitely lives up to the hype and I cannot wait to ride this wave into Week 2, which is (drumroll please) “A Movie ‘Classic.'” For our movie “classic,” I’ve chosen ‘Casablanca.’ ‘Casablanca’ is the definition of “classic” and, having not seen the movie myself. this seems like the perfect time to give it a whirl. The film is available on HBO Max or you can rent on demand. Check it out and join me next week for another edition of the 52-Week Movie Challenge.

Kernel Score: 9.5/10

P.S. The fishing scene was apparently shot in Depoe Bay, Oregon. When I lived in Oregon, my wife and in-laws went whale watching out of that very harbor! We recognized it immediately and turned into the living embodiment of this Leonardo DiCaprio meme. Here’s the picture for proof (not the bridge in the background).

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What did you think of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?’ Drop us a comment below and please consider subscribing to our blog for more posts like this!

-Cam

 

 

Just Mercy Review, Schoolyard Pick of Black Acting Performances, Cinephile Game

On this week’s episode, Kirk and Cam honor the contributions of Black artists to the film industry. The guys took advantage of the free VOD rental of ‘Just Mercy’ and have all of their thoughts and critiques. Additionally, Cam and Kirk square off in Schoolyard Pick of Black Acting Performances. As always, you’ll get all of the latest movie news in What’s Poppin’ and Cam brings his new game, Cinephile, to try out!

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Streaming Special Plus DC’s Big Announcement, Mandalorian News & Hamilfilm

For the first time in PFB history, an episode without a movie review! That’s right, this is the Streaming Special! So, in lieu of a film review, the guys take time to provide their streaming recommendations. Also, DC is on the verge of a big announcement so Cam and Kirk speculate wildly as to what it might be. Not to mention, Mandalorian news, #Hamilfilm and much much more. Be sure to listen, download, rate, review and SHARE!

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