The Antagonist Effect

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At the funeral of the Comedian in Watchmen, the only person to leave flowers at his grave marker is the former supervillain Moloch, one of the Comedian’s (and the Watchmen’s) bitterest enemies. Rorschach notices this and offers the viewer the following question to ponder: “Is this what happens to us?  A life of conflict with no time for friends [where] only our enemies leave roses?” The audience learns later on that one of the comedian’s last actions before his assassination was to break into Moloch’s home, with an incredibly shattered spirit and he breaks out crying on Moloch’s bedside. Blake was not wearing his mask at the time, and he proceeds to spill his guts to Moloch, his most private thoughts: “I’ve done some bad things. I did bad things to women. I shot kids. You know, in ‘Nam. But that was ******* war! But this? I’ve never seen anything like this. And here I am, spilling my guts to one of my archenemies. The truth is, you’re the closest thing to a friend I’ve got. What the **** does that say?” In this very sincere and private moment, the Comedian is laid bare before one of his greatest enemies, his entire being, his secret identity, and philosophy displayed for Moloch to see. What’s astounding is, almost this exact situation is echoed in the play/movie/book Les Miserables. During the song “The Confrontation”, Javert and Valjean are alone in the hospital where Fantine has just died and are confronting each other face to face as Valjean and Javert for the first time in almost a decade. Javert at the very end of the song says: “You know nothin of Javert/I was born inside a jail/I was born with scum like you/I am from the gutter too”. In the novel, when Javert is described in detail by the narrator and his deepest held beliefs are examined, it’s revealed that his unshakable belief in the law’s role as ultimate good and the glue that holds society together comes from his hideous beginnings. Javert was indeed born in a jail, his father being a convicted galley slave, and his hatred for the putrid group of societal outcasts to which he belonged lead him to place his unfailing trust in the dictates of the law, in justice. So by revealing to Valjean the very basis of his most sacred belief he exposes himself completely before his most hated foe, in the exact same way that Edward Blake is exposed and vulnerable before Moloch. In both these scenes the character in question shares their most intimate personal connection in the world with their antagonist, the very person they are supposed to be most averse to having any relationship with. This is interesting, because in a way both Blake and Javert’s lifestyles drove them to situation in which they find their most trusted confidants are also their bitterest enemies. In the case of Blake, Rorschach comments that his life is “a life of conflict with no time for friends”, and in the case of Javert his only personal connections were his fellow officers, and even these he kept at an arms-length emotionally, being a very reserved person in general. In both situations, the person who knows the character best is the very person they swear to oppose, this arising most from the fact that creating and building up the antagonistic view of this person in the mind of these characters generates a special, unspoken link between the two enemies which is brought to light in these two exquisite scenes of cinema.






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