Welcome to the second entry of our character spotlight series. Last week Connor tackled Man of Steel‘s Lois Lane and now this week, we’re looking in-depth at Rorschach from Watchmen, played by Jackie Earle Haley. This character analysis of Rorschach is based only on Snyder’s film version and will of course contain major spoilers. Watchmen is a divisive film among the film community. Some believe it to be a film with nothing to actually say, with only flashy visuals supporting it. Others think it to be an incredibly dense film, that challenges response and thought from its audience with a myriad of thematic ideas presented to them through its characters. I, of course, am on the former side of this argument; I love Snyder’s Watchmen – specifically the Director’s Cut. It’s the best adaptation of the graphic novel I think we could have gotten, but the film also stands on its own thanks to surefire direction from Snyder. So in this article, I hope to examine Rorschach’s philosophy, his importance in relation to the film’s characters and the performance from Earle Haley himself.

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“Never compromise, even in the face of Armageddon.” This line perfectly sums up Rorschach’s beliefs and actions throughout the film. Rorschach’s morals are black and white definitively; there is never a confluence of the two, which is represented by his mask.  The black inkblots and white material of his mask never mix to form grey, because a moral “grey area” does not exist for him. The character does not believe in fate or destiny, as he says to the psychiatrist in prison, “God doesn’t make the world this way. We do.” This ideal of his brings out the conviction in him to bring justice to the world, to make the world better with his single line of ethics and morals.

Rorschach thinks the law is too soft, not strict enough on crimes, so he breaks it. He kills murderers because he believes that’s justice; forgiveness is obsolete once you commit such a crime. He strives for social order and justice… by breaking the law. That is the major contradiction in his beliefs.  He believes that everybody should be treated equally under his rules, his ideas of morality and that will bring social order. But Rorschach is a sociopath, a murderer and a psychopath in the minds of any reasonable person. That’s where the grey enters in as not everybody is going to believe in one philosophy. The idea that one man can decide the fate of every person on the planet is ludicrous and unreasonable, but somehow, he thinks he can do it. You could say he has a God complex of sorts. So despite Rorschach’s admirable conviction, he is a distant figure to relate to.

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Walter Kovacs (Rorschach’s alter ego) is superfluous in the world. Kovacs is a normal man with no power, but the mask of the Rorschach identity gives him something to make evident, to stand out and to make his ideals, morals and rules known to people. This idea is shown by Moloch’s (a character we have no real relation to) inherent fear of Rorschach when he enters his home. Kovacs’ true face is Rorschach he says because that identity is the only one with power and authority over people — two themes of the film.

In the end, Rorschach dies because he is not willing to keep the lie that Adrian (Ozymandias) has conspired. He will not compromise in the face of the armageddon that has been wreaked on the world, even if it is a utopia of order. Even though this is what Rorschach always wanted, he realizes that it is not truly justice – something that Adrian does not believe in. The utopia is not black and white, so he is not willing to accept it. Rorschach’s beliefs are not totally undone by the end of course, as his journal that details the events of Veidt’s plan are in the book. It’s up to the viewer to decide what happens next. That is one of the biggest questions the film raises regarding the character and what the revelation of Adrian’s plan would mean for the world. So maybe Rorschach’s black and white utopia can be salvaged after all, but we never find out.

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Watchmen plays with a myriad of different superhero archetypes in regards to its characters. Rorschach represents the vigilante taken to its furthest extreme. What would the world do to a man if he became so adherent to a set of ideals that involve trying to serve a greater cause? At the beginning of the film he is the only character still pursuing crime fighting. While Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre are retired and struggling to find purpose, Rorschach is still determined to fight for his cause, at whatever cost — even death. Dan and Laurie reminisce of the old days and eventually put back on their personas, but their conviction has been lost due to the Keene act.

Rorschach wants people to believe in a certain philosophy while Ozymandias doesn’t care what people believe in, just that they believe that Dr. Manhattan caused the death of millions, which brings peace to the world by the end. In regards to Adrian, I have already talked about what his plan means to Rorschach’s ideals. He conflicts with Dr. Manhattan because of his ability to perceive all of time at what once, meaning he believes in fate and destiny, ideas which Rorschach repels. Manhattan also has lost any emotional connection to humanity as a whole because of his power. This also creates conflict as Rorschach’s whole belief system is about the merits of human life and social justice, even if Rorschach himself is somewhat un-emotional.

The final character I’d like to compare Rorschach to is the Comedian. The Comedian does not believe social justice, order, morality and ethics are necessary in the world because life is a joke and therefore he is a murderer. He dismisses many of Rorschach’s inherent values, but his actions are not condemned because of his involvement with the American government, which also led him to become a member of the Watchmen. The Comedian knew about Adrian’s plan and was horrified by it, which at least gives him somewhat of a moral compass, right? I think it is because of this that Rorschach does not totally condemn The Comedian in the end.

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Finally, I’d just like to praise Jackie Earle Haley’s magnificent performance. It’s a stunningly well-realized portrayal of the character that embodies the philosophies of the character just as well as the book. It’s the film’s strongest performance and achievement from Zack Snyder no doubt. He plays the crazed, devout and idealistic character with an incredible amount of dimension, complexity and melancholy; traits which are inherent in the character. The raspy voice and the ginger hair make Earle Haley nearly unrecognizable. I think it’s the actor’s best performance overall. Well, that’s all. I hope you enjoyed reading and that it made you think a little. Snyder’s Watchmen is such a dense film and there’s so much more to talk about regarding Rorschach, his relations to the other characters and the film’s themes etc. Stay tuned to the site next week for another character spotlight and I’m sure soon enough, we’ll have another character spotlight!



 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I really appreciate your passion for this movie. It’s one of my most favorite. I stumbled on your piece when looking for some Rorschach images. I just wanted to offer some insight that will give you a much fuller understanding of the themes and a much greater appreciation for it’s brilliance. For example, you state that “Rorschach thinks the law is too soft, not strict enough on crimes, so he breaks it. He kills murderers because he believes that’s justice; forgiveness is obsolete once you commit such a crime. He strives for social order and justice… by breaking the law. That is the major contradiction in his beliefs. He believes that everybody should be treated equally under his rules, his ideas of morality and that will bring social order.” This is really missing the mark. It’s evident from Snyder’s movies that he’s a student philosophy and a fan of classical liberalism (small “l”, not the capital “L” of modern Liberalism or even Libertarianism). Today’s closest equivalent would generally be contemporary conservatism. It’s foundations originate with John Locke in the 1600’s. Among it’s most important principles is that all laws must be based in the single definitive morality that is handed down from a higher power–that these are the only just laws, and that we further have a responsibility to disobey unjust laws. (sidenote, “social order” isn’t a good phrase to use…it’s a vague secular terminology that is individually defined. To Rorschach, there’s only morality as defined by natural law.) Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, among many others, often quote or paraphrase Locke on this. Classical liberalism further states that natural law, which includes individual freedom, should never be sacrificed by secular law for the sake of the “common good”. Rorschach is not acting on a God complex. He is acting on Natural Law, the only moral law to gauge all other laws by, as defined by God. Ozymandias is his direct counterpoint–mankind behaving as Gods, fabricating their own convenient and varied morality, micromanagement by dictators and tyrants, the sacrifice of freedom for a perceived common good by such tyrants–this is the real God complex. (check out Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem for some insight on this name choice.)

    Snyder (obviously) isn’t the original writer of the graphic novel. I haven’t read it, but I know he took at least one liberty with it, particularly depiction of Rorschach, who most identify as the primary hero/protagonist in the movie. Alan Moore doesn’t appreciate the classical liberal philosophy, hence his more deliberate depiction of Rorschach as a sociopath. Snyder injects a very strong undercurrent that implies Rorschach is actually the real sane one…that it’s the majority of humanity, which tolerates or condones injustice, who are the real sociopaths.

  2. Hello Michael (if I may),
    short note: first paragraph last sentence: it’s “Jackie Earle Haley”, “Earle” being his middle name. So either you should name him “Haley”, by his last name, or full name “Jackie Earle Haley”. Just “Earle Haley” is weird though. Maybe correct this?
    Cheers

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