Dr. Manhattan as drawn by Dave Gibbons (and worth comparing to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man).
Much has been written about the dangling blue penis of Dr. Manhattan, visible in many scenes of the Watchmen. Over at Tapped Phoebe Connelly defended the showing of the penis on feminist grounds, correctly noting that the film industry is usually much more comfortable with female nudity than its male counterpart (the late Might magazine once did a very thorough analysis of this issue). Cartoonist Eddie Campbell meanwhile queries the decision to make Dr. Manhattan circumcised and all buffed up (as Campbell notes, the original model for Dr. Manhattan was Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man). Connelly and Campbell made astute observations but most of the other commentary on this issue has been mainly juvenile twittering as if the very mention of the word penis should make us giggle.
The question worth asking is, “Why is Dr. Manhattan naked through much of Watchmen (both the graphic novel and the movie)?” There are many reasons, but I think theology can provide some clues. Adam and Eve were as naked as animals in paradise but after eating of the tree of knowledge gained consciousness, and hence human shame. Christ, who was the new Adam, free of sin and sent to bring mankind back to paradise, died naked on the cross.
Dr. Manhattan, in both the comic and the novel, is referred to more than once as a god. He’s not a Christ figure but rather, ironically, the watchmaker God of the Deist Enlightenment, a creator who sets things in motion but becomes progressively less interested in human affairs. As the next step in evolution, he’s also like Adam, the first member of a new species. Part of the pathos of Dr. Manhattan is that he’s an Adam without an Eve; his human lovers are simply too fleeting to hold his attention.
I need to give a spoiler alert here because Dr. Manhattan’s god-like status sheds interesting light on the end of the film, significantly changed from the original graphic novel. In the movie, mankind enters into a new era of peace when a character creates the illusion that Dr. Manhattan has attacked the species. In effect, the movie offers a very conservative theology, teaching that humans can only be good if they live in fear of a God in the sky who will periodically and arbitrarily wreck vengeance. Dr. Manhattan, by this light, is Jehovah with blue skin.
This movie theology is very different than the original graphic novel, which posits a godless universe where the choice is between an absolute moralist who tries to remain true to his self-imposed code even at the risk of armageddon (Rorschach) and an amoral intellectual who is willing to sacrifice millions to achieve a transitory utopia (Ozymandias). Dr. Manhattan, although he temporarily sides with Ozymandias, is ultimately indifferent to this conflict since by his infinite time scale any human choice is ultimately futile and subject to reversal. Instead of bothering with humans, Dr. Mahattan decides to go off to another part of the universe and create some new life. In other words, he decides to play god.