"Throwback Thursdays" are for metas, rants, reviews, and the like that have already been written elsewhere, primarily on tumblr. Due to tumblr's specific culture there's often a slight difference in the language and tone of these posts. That is, less "professional scholar" and more "exasperated fangirl." Both are useful in their own right.
Originally posted on April 12th, 2015
[This post evolved out of a conversation regarding changes made to the Gerald Grice scene in the 2009 Watchmen adaptation]
For obvious reasons I can’t speak to the filmmakers’ decision to change things here, but I would like to point out something about the comic, namely that I’m not convinced Rorschach did give Grice a choice about whether he'd live or die. I read the whole scene in terms of demonstrating that 1. Post-Blair Rorschach is more interested in punishing criminals by hurting them (physically and psychologically) than outright killing them and 2. That his moral compass compells Rorschach to convince himself that he did give Grice a choice of whether to live or die (even though logically that's not the case).
Real quick on the first point: in his interrogations Rorschach discusses how he was once “soft” (as Walter) and being Rorschach demands a certain type of “insight," namely that he's now willing to kill the people who have done wrong. That’s what he says anyway, but it’s not the same story the art tells us. Here we have two criminals pre-Blair kidnapping, tied up, defeated, but not looking too worse for wear.
And here we have a criminal post-Blair (we can see the Keene act article in the newspaper). This is shown right after Rorschach goes on about how all criminals deserve to die, yet this guy remains very much alive. Alive, but suffering. He’s vomiting blood in a decrepit alleyway, no one nearby to help, and Rorschach is seen walking away with what might be satisfaction.
My understanding is that post-Blair Rorschach is more concerned with the pain he can inflict on criminals rather than just ending their lives quick and easy. The real difference between Walter and Rorschach is that if justice (the infliction of pain) happens to lead to death now, that’s an okay consequence. We see this kind of romanticized suffering clearly with Grice. It’s significant that he technically isn't Rorschach’s first kill. The dogs are. The innocent dogs given that they obviously don’t know where the bone they were given came from. But innocent or not, they’re animals that Grice loves (he asks them to give “daddy a bark" when he returns home). They're beloved pets, so killing them furthers Rorschach’s goal of tormenting Grice. Their innocence no longer outweighs the misery their corpses can cause and this is compounded by Rorschach throwing them at Grice, not once, but twice.
Then of course Rorschach proceeds to calmly chain him up, all the while refusing to speak to matter how much Grice pleads his case or begs for understanding. This isn’t simply an execution, it’s a session in psychological torture. If Rorschach merely wanted Grice dead he could have done that without all the effort and fanfare.
Then the death itself. I read this moment as Rorschach only convincing himself that Grice has a chance, but in reality it's quite obvious he doesn't:
Rorschach is smart. He knows no one can get out of this situation. He doesn’t douse the house with kerosene, he douses the area in front of Grice, meaning the second he drops that match Grice’s escape route is gone and, potentially, Grice himself immediately goes up in flames. For me the speed of the fire isn't a stretch given that just a second later Rorschach is seen walking out the door and already the flames are incredibly high in the background; Grice is already screaming in agony. Even if he did have more than a split second to decide to saw through his wrist… how long does it take to saw through bone? How long when you’re feeling the pain? Is he capable of getting through that without passing out----all in a matter of seconds? Significantly, Grice's supposed chance only exists by inflicting further, deserved pain on himself through mutilation.
I can’t see any way for Grice to have survived though and Rorschach knew it too. He's just convinced himself he was giving Grice hope because at this point in his evolution he's not an outright killer yet. He's only just decided that death is an acceptable consequence. He's walking a middle road.
So much of Rorschach is dual. In that moment one part of him watched the house burn for an hour, waiting to see if someone came out. The other part of him knew damn well that wasn’t going to happen.
Personal screenshots from Watchmen by Alan Moore