Saturday, April 11, 2009

How I imagine Rorschach's voice when I read WATCHMEN

This is an extremely long post for anyone who is genuinely interested in WATCHMEN so if you are going to complain about its length or harass me for writing this, please just leave now. We don’t want your kind here. This also isn’t a rage post about the movie; it’s about the comic and deconstructing Rorschach’s character in order to come up with a voice that makes sense for his personality.

Also, I would prefer if your description was a little more in-depth than "Jackie Earle Haley got it exactly right".


I want to start by saying that even though I despise WATCHMEN as a film in its current non-director's cut state, I thought Jackie Earle Haley brought an interesting take on Rorschach. While it was a good voice, it's not exactly the way I envisioned Rorschach speaking. It is extremely difficult to put to words what something you imagine actually sounds like, which is why only the best authors can vocalize what they mean and most people just allow something an actor brought to life to be their definitive version because they can’t describe what they imagined. I am going to try my best to describe what my interpretation of Rorschach's voice is, and I'd appreciate comments on my take as well as your own ideas.

Rorschach's voice to me represents much more than a raspy “Christian Bale Batman” when I read WATCHMEN. It describes his entire character, summing up his world view, personality and physical state. Let’s take into account all of the traits of his voice in the comic.

First off, Rorschach’s spoken voice never changes tone until the end when he is killed, indicated by the fact that his speech bubbles are the only in the comic not to include bold text for emphasis. (Even Dr. Manhattan has bold text, stressing the fact that Dr. Manhattan transforms into less and less of a human being toward the end of the comic, eventually culminating in someone who suggests he may ‘create life’ like a normal person says he might draw a picture. Conversely, Rorschach ends as slightly more human than he was in the beginning of the comic, shown by his extreme burst of emotion in his last seconds when faced with a situation that breaks his “black or white” never compromise rule.) This monotone voice, coolly going through the motions of what he’s saying without ever deeming one word or phrase more important than another, is kind of the framework that holds Rorschach together as a character. In keeping with his overall creed of “black or white, no gray,” Rorschach is either speaking or he isn’t. He doesn’t have different volume levels in his voice, and he doesn’t have different emotional levels in his sentences. Everything is stated as fact; everything is direct, even leaving out words that aren’t essential to getting his point across. He is a light switch; there is off and there is on.

Another of Rorschach’s qualities which most people don’t pick up on is the fact that when talking to other people he speaks in sentence fragments, but when writing in his journal he uses more complete and well-constructed sentences. He is trying to speak like he’s jotting down notes in a journal but he writes in his actual journal like he’s producing an essay. Granted, his journal writings aren’t perfect either but they’re definitely more complex than his speech. This habit suggests two things, the first being that he is obsessed enough to intentionally go out of his way to speak like he’s writing in a journal. This kind of dedication to literally change your speech into something you know is socially unacceptable is only demonstrated by people who are mentally unstable enough to follow through with it. The other thing this habit does is reinforce Rorschach’s detachment from society. He feels more comfortable in his journal than he does when speaking to real people. The only people he deems worthy of seeing his true thoughts are, as we later find out, the staff of The New Frontiersman. This is curious, as they would no doubt publish it in their newspaper where everybody can see it anyway, which makes this aspect of his character much more complex.

One reason it may be this way is to support the “It never ends” theory. (This theory stems from Adrian’s final conversation with Jon where he asks if he did right in the end. Jon responds with “It never ends,” pointing out that nothing is permanent and when Adrian is gone, who will take his place and save the world again? He killed all those who were close to him, meaning all of NYC, his faithful servants, and even Bubastis so even though he was planning for his financial future, like Alexander before him, there was no way for his grand scheme to survive longer than his own lifetime.) This relates to Rorschach because perhaps he wasn’t thinking of what would happen after his life was over, or didn’t care. Or maybe he simply believed that the world would end and nobody other than the New Frontiersman would read his journal. At any rate, this entire theme of the comic fits into the overall “obscured vision” idea, which I believe the smiley face with the blood stain over its eye to represent (besides being the doomsday clock that is). Nobody in the comic (not even the reader) can see everything that happened, which is why everything is told from someone (besides the Comedian’s) point of view. It’s a kind of ‘in the trenches’ approach that truly helps to capture not only the Cold War paranoia from the New Yorkers’ stories but the idea that none of these “heroes” really know what’s right for everybody, or ever could.

Another quality to Rorschach’s voice is the jagged nature of his speech bubbles when he is in costume. When his costume is removed however, his speech reverts back to being in normal speech bubbles. This is another strong indicator about Rorschach’s character, because he gets all his confidence when he dons his costume (a theme that spans the entire comic with all of the characters) but it also serves as the groundwork for later in the comic when he is in prison. He finds out when forced to deal with dangerous prisoners that he can be just as resourceful without the costume, which may have been the first step in his progression to humanity. Ironically, his change to relative sanity began in the prison, but no thanks to the Dr. Malcolm Long, who began descending into Rorschach’s state of mind by the end of his issue (if you pay attention to the way he writes in his journal his sentences at the end of the chapter are much more disjointed and to the point than they were when the chapter started).

Finally (or at least as far as I’ll get into this), I get the impression from the comic as a whole that Rorschach isn’t intense at all times and ready to fight, but is merely tired. He lives so far down the rabbit hole of cynicism with nobody to care about and nobody to care about him that he struggles to find a reason to continue in this world. He constantly says that he is trying to save the world, but what does he have to save? He hates everything about New York City, so why would he want it to continue to exist? One would assume that he wants to save it so he can try to clean up its streets, but he seems to have already realized that no one person can help when he truly ‘became’ Rorschach. He is a man struggling to find a purpose and refusing to accept the only one that fits: he is insane and enjoys the breadth of crime because it gives him more prey to hunt down. Without New York City being this abattoir of retarded children he would have to be Kovacs again, and perhaps in the snow outside of Karnac he realized what Rorschach’s true colors were.

All of these traits should be expressed in Rorschach’s voice, but not only passively. His character should be actively understood to its fullest in order to be truly represented on film. That’s why I got into all the themes behind his voice’s traits and kind of got off topic by going into general themes of the comic, because any great actor should ‘exist’ as his character, and not just take things at face value.

To contrast the film version of Rorschach with the one I’ve fleshed out here, he constantly flares his voice (they seemed to have switched Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach in the film because Rorschach shows a lot of emotion while Dr. Manhattan shows hardly any). He also speaks like Rorschach when he is out of costume in the prison, which also goes against the comic version. A curious addition to the film was the ‘ink bleed’ effect on Rorschach’s mask, which actually did add gray to his mask, pretty much going against everything Rorschach stood for. (Also “it never ends” wasn’t even in the film, changing the entire meaning of everything, in addition to the other horrible change of making Dr. Manhattan kiss Laurie at the end instead of forgiving Dan. Another change in the film was having the first fight with Comedian and Veidt actually be told by Blake’s point of view and zooming out to a wide shot of the city with the detectives, killing the ‘in the trenches’ idea expressed in the comic.) They also turned his voice into an intense- at-all-times and always ready to fight kind of “superhero” instead of tired, unloved, unwanted “retired costumed adventurer.” Just to clarify here, I think Haley did a great job with the new Rorschach the film created, but it’s really the fault of the filmmakers’ for failing to catch onto these themes and turning Rorschach into a thematically inconsistent character.

This isn’t really a post about why I hate the film though, the real point was to explain how I imagine my Rorschach and get across some points from the comic that may have been overlooked to anybody interested in furthering their knowledge. I hope you enjoyed my little analysis of Rorschach and I will continue to put these out for anyone who wants a different perspective on WATCHMEN.



P.S. to everybody who points out that cutting the prisoner’s arms off was a better idea than cutting his throat, he didn’t have a saw in the comic! In the comic the guy was trying to use a blowtorch to cut the door down and the guy with his arms in the door was screaming. They were in a secluded part of the prison where guards may have heard them (since there was no riot in the solitary section and they didn’t know the guards were incapacitated by the screechers on Archie) so the guy took out a box cutter and killed the screaming prisoner so they could continue their work in peace and without getting caught. You can’t cut someone’s arms off with a blowtorch or box cutter! Stop saying it didn’t make sense in the comic please!


Just to clarify, inb4 why did you write so much about this, I just scrolled down to see how long it was, it’s not that important it’s just a comic, the movie was fine stop complaining, why do you have the movie icon as your GB picture if you hate it, nobody cares, or any such variations on these.

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