The Nakedness of Dr. Manhattan


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.

22 thoughts on “The Nakedness of Dr. Manhattan

  1. > 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.

    Hear, hear. The New York Magazine “Vulture” blog, in particular, seems to be maintained by 14-year-olds in this regard.

  2. Dr Manhattan is naked because Alan Moore is British. As the Australians say – “Thank god it was the convicts and not the puritans”.

  3. There’s really nothing gratuitous about Dr. Manhattan’s nudity in the film. If anything, it was understated. It just seems to be causing a ruckus in the US because we’re a phallophobic culture. I’m sure European audiences are not making such an issue out of it.

    BTW, the character is very clearly intact, not circumcised. But again, Americans are not used to seeing a normal penis, so it’s not surprising many make this mistake.

  4. Our culture definitely has a phobia about male nudity. Not sure if that’s an American thing, an Anglo-Saxon thing, a Protestant thing, or all of the above. The Reformation killed the nude. There’s a huge gap between the Renaissance and HBO during which male buttocks and bullocks were simply anathema and heretical.

  5. I didn’t think that Dr. Manhattan’s nudity itself was gratuitous, but the three-times-normal-size testicle-less penis that waves as if it’s made out of gummy bears did seem showy and strange. I have a feeling that the movie’s CGI team has never been in a locker room before. It’s strangeness seemed to call more attention to it than a regular male penis would have, I think.

    Not that our culture isn’t pretty juvenile about it anyway, but still, the film was pretty silly about it too.

  6. I’m with Stone. I think the penis was made strange enough that you couldn’t help but notice the thing. I also think they tossed it in everywhere they could, and when you combine the two it’s hard not to notice it. I mean, the CGI’s seemed to spend a lot of time making it bounce and wave around with his movements, and when the thing is twice the size of a normal penis and the guy’s missing his two veg it’s hard not to notice the freakshow going on below the belt.

    That being said, i’m fine with the nudity, mostly. But i think they made it a focal point themselves as much as any puritanical belief system does. I mean, it was in every scene bobbing around like a pogo stick. Combined with the gratuitously long sex scenes i couldn’t help but think the thing was turning into a late night special on Showcase. And although i agree that there isn’t as big a stir about female nudity I think that isn’t 100% true. I’m pretty sure most people still get a little shocked (not necessarily offended) when they see somebody getting all basic instinct in a movie. Breasts are pretty PG thirteen, ours (women) just project more so i don’t think them being constantly showing is completely comparable, not to mention I also role my eyes when i see breasts in every other screen shot – enough already!. Genitals are still pretty taboo, and when the guys swinging that much pipe you can’t help but drop your jaw a little. The church lady would have giggled at that.

    ps. I will never apologize for giggling at a penis joke, never! ever! people are way too serious.

    the movie was awesome though, i can handle a little (lots) of glowing dong if that’s how it must be. I don’t get offended by nudity, but stylistically there is a limit. i shouldn’t be exposed to it long enough to remember its curvature the next day.

  7. I could have dealt with Manhattan swinging blue pipe for five minutes of movie time, but for like the fifteen or more. It could have been better if they made a small showing of it and moved on to the rest of the movie. And the bouncing and levitating of his “pipe” was created with the idea that as godlike as he was his instrument should have a mind of its own…x10

  8. Dr. Manhattan’s nudity isn’t gratuitous — it’s used significantly to show his increasing distance from his (former) humanity. Through the timeline of the movie he’s losing the social consciousness that engenders modesty. Notice in the flashbacks the further back in time you go the more fully clothed he is.

    Put another way, almost no person would think twice about being naked in front of some termites; Dr. Manhattan’s growing to understand that human beings are as far away from him, as different from him as that.

    So the thoroughly casual nudity is important, and I’m glad the filmmakers had the balls to include it.

  9. His pipe seemed a bit too big. But then again, what about the rest of his body? Anything natural there?
    I don’t care if they show nudity in movies. But I like it when it has to do with the storyline, which I believe was the case here, as pointed out by many of my fellow commentators.
    The only thing I’d really like to discuss here is what was the moral of making human kind “fear” the blue man.
    I don’t want to believe that they feared him as a god. What I saw, with these optimistic eyes of mine, was human kind uniting for a bigger purpose.
    I haven’t read the comics. Can’t say anything about it, then.
    But at the end, I get the feeling the seemingly bad guy had nobel intentions in using Dr. Manhattan’s power.

    p.s.: That sex scene in the aircraft was awesome.
    p.s.2: Good jokes are always good, no matter what the subject is.
    p.s.3: Words like penis, boobies, butt, and fart usually make me giggle.

  10. Sierra hit the nail on the head. One other thing I’d like to comment on, regarding the movie’s altered ending, is that it affords another viewpoint about the Doc’s godliness. The world thinks he blew up all of the major cities. Up until that point, Manhattan had been as much of a bad thing as he was helping. He created international tension, unnecessary cockiness exhibited by the US government, stock-piling of nukes, etc. He kinda sheds his remaining remnants of humanity, the parts of him that make him feel obligated to contribute and take orders, and then he leaves the world so it can take care of itself. The tension his presence caused will be lifted, and since everyone thought he attacked them they can use that as a reason to join forces (as lame as that is).

  11. Have any of you guys seem College Humor’s ”Dr Manhattans Pants”

    Rorshack: His junk was…
    Osmandias: Majestic

    Its quite funny I recommend you guys watch.

  12. The question is rather: Why would Dr. Manhattan not be naked? Why would he bother about clothes?
    Really, just try to see things his way and you’ll understand that this question doesn’t arise at all.

  13. to carbonintherough:
    You misunderstand Dr. Manhattan when you think he contributes and takes orders because he feels obligated to do so. He just has no reason not to do it. What else is he to do if he doesn’t care?

  14. If Dr. manhattan wore clothes then as soon as he got all huge they’d just rip. It was probably more practical to just go around butt naked.

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