This past weekend, I joined the throngs and saw Watchmen in theatres. Hoping to avoid the most obnoxious crowds, I went to a matinee showing, but was far more bothered than I think I would have been if the crowd were just unruly–in the audience, there were no fewer than three children who could not have been more than five years old. My moviegoing companion counted more.
Here at The LAMP, we’re all big proponents of making media a family affair, but the ages of the family members must also be considered. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not okay for a toddler just because Mommy or Daddy happen to be sitting nearby, and this holds true for Watchmen as well. I’ve read the novel, and went into the movie expecting a certain degree of violence, but I still was unprepared for the level of gore onscreen. There is nothing about Watchmen that is okay for young children; in fact, I would caution anyone under the age of sixteen against seeing it. (I’d even warn adults with a weak stomach.) Not only is the movie extremely graphic, but the story is also famously complex for a “superhero” tale, and I would be surprised if every adult in the theatre could have explained everything that happened during the film. This is not a case of a very violent telling of Goldilocks–neither the visuals nor the narrative are appropriate for young children.
Part of what astounded me is that I cannot comprehend of any parent bringing their young child to see this movie if they had any idea of the movie’s content. Not only does Watchmen carry a well-deserved R rating that should help parents make decisions, it also is based on a book that parents can refer to if they have questions about the story. My conclusion is that the parents of these children didn’t do their research, or lost their sitter at the last moment but were determined to go to the movie anyway. Or, perhaps they simply weren’t thinking.
To be clear, the reason I think young children should be shielded from such violence is not because I imagine they will never see it. I know they can turn on the news or open a paper, and see some horrible things. My concern comes from my doubt, cynical though it may be, that these parents left the theatre and gave their kids a lesson on real violence versus movie/entertainment violence, how special effects are created, the real-world consequences of murder, etc. And–I don’t care how brilliant that parent may be at explaining those things, but even if a conversation like that did happen, I doubt that it will leave an imprint as lasting as the 160 minutes of brutality they just saw played out onscreen.