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Why Nightwatch (2005) Has Exceeded Matrix (1999) and Constantine (2005)

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Whatever grade you give Constantine (2005) or Matrix (1999), Nightwatch matches and exceeds. It is not a Blade (1998) nor is it an Underworld (2003) clone. The story is based on novels by Russian author, Sergei Lukyanenko. The overt storyline is given at the movie’s website.

With the first Matrix movie, the story premise is: question reality. Are you sure what you and the others with you perceive is real? The premise in Nightwatch is: question what and who you have been told to be good and evil. Nightwatch’s premise is far more complex than the premise in Matrix. In Constantine, the premise is that the intention behind the act determines whether it is good and evil. Nightwatch handles the question of good and evil in deeper detail and from different angles or tangents.

In Olympic diving, there is this thing called the “degree of difficulty score modife”r. The “dive” Nightwatch has done has a degree of difficulty higher than Matrix or Constantine.

Matrix and Constantine, in my head, scored like 9.5-10/10 for how well they they told their story’s premise. Nightwatch, with its more difficult story premise and successful execution of it has made me rescaled. Nightwatch 10, Matrix/Constantine 9.

This Gothic tale uses two plot lines. The first plot line concerns the main protagonist, Anton, who discovers that he is an Other after he encounters them. The other plot line concern Svetlana. There is a good deal of subtexting within the two plots lines.

The subtexting deal with issues of fundamentalism, supporting a pro-life stance to abortion, the nature of Good and Evil and the importance of forgiving. Nightwatch espouses a conservative outlook without being fundamentalist. In its philosophical exploration about Good and Evil, Nighwatch does so without being ponderous. Better than Matrix (1999) in this regard.

The story premise in Nightwatch is that of independent thinking – to think independently and deeply, and come to your own judgement following the example of Anton as he resists both the Evil Others and fundamentalists within his own faction.

The uniqueness of the Nightwatch universe (compared with made in Hollywood Gothics) and the density of the subtexting make it easier to create a review of Nightwatch via its subtext topics in order to preserve foreknowledge of the story.

The truce between Others who chose Good (Nightwatchers) led by Geser and those who chose Evil (Daywatchers) led by Zavulon comes about because a parity in power. Each faction is led by an individual who appears to be either immortal or has a lifespan rivaling Methuselah’s. The truce started in 1342, France and the story then moves to 1992 and then 2004, Moscow. It was agree all Others are to be able to choose sides freely and that each faction will set up units to police each other to maintain the truce. This resemblance of Manicheanism is illusory. As the story progresses, the Manicheanist position on Good and Evil is rejected.

The wedding of technology and supernormal abilities also figures in Nightwatch. The Nightwatchers have a research section armed with software that provides amazing information in a matter of mouse clicks.

The CGI used, while not cutting edge, more than suffices for the task. Any sense of realism is not compromised. There is an interesting sequence that uses animation, probably to save cost. The Russians after all, simply brought up pencils to space rather than spend millions as the Americans did, to develop a pen that works without gravity. The transition to animation is very smooth. Geser is seen doodling and his doodle is then use to begin the animation shortly after. Another nice touch is that the subtitles are sequentially highlighted in certain dialogues as a means to place emphasis of them. The whole movie is very well executed with great polish.

The movie ends with a message about hope and Millennialism. There is cause for hope not because of a return of some kind of messiah who will overpower evil. Instead, there is cause for hope as long as good men for continue to fight for good in the face of overwhelming evil.

The following are dealt in the review, while the subtext on forgiveness and family has to be touched on lightly in the review section and is discuss in greater depth in the analysis section.
1. Good as not causing harm to others.
2. Good and Evil are not absolutes, the rejection of fundamentalism.
3. Good as refusing temptation rather than its absence.
4. Being too eager to sacrifice an individual for the Common Good.

Good as not causing harming others:
Humans with supernormal capacities are called Others. Different Others have different abilities but all share the ability to perceive an alternative realm (The Gloom) that coexists with the normal world. Anton is a seer, has involuntary visions of the future and can perceive supernatural conditions. The metaphysics of the Other’s universe is not explained much in this first part of a trilogy. The focus is on delineating what makes for Good and what makes for Evil.

The Daywatchers don’t consider themselves humans. The Daywatcher butcher whom Anton meets, refers to humans condescending as “them”. Nightwatcher Anton on the hand, when asked what is the difference between humans and Others, replies that their abilities just makes different, not necessarily better or more special than humans. But Nightwatch’s exploration of Good and Evil and the treatment of ordinary humans goes further and deeper than X-Men (2000) does.

The Manicheanism position views good and evil as characteristics of groups of people rather than of behaviors (thus encouraging people to think of themselves as good and to ignore their own failings). Manicheanism has become taken mainstream respectability in recent years, if Peter Singer’s identification of George Bush as being Manicheanist is accepted. See The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush.

Vampires are drawn to become Daywatchers as their condition makes them predispose to “harm” humans. The Nightwatch does not appear to have any vampires. Shapeshifters whose abilities don’t require harming ordinary humans are the combat grunts for the Nightwatch. Things still look Manichean at this point. But wait, vampires as a result of the truce, drink the blood of pigs or some other substitutes.

Good and Evil are not absolutes, the rejection of Fundamentalism:
Fundamentalism has set in on both sides, but Anton is untouched by it. Anton is a friend to a non-killing vampire who lives next door opposite him. He defends him against his new partner, Olga. Olga is prejudiced by self-righteousness against the Daywatchers. They are vampires, so they are evil.

For Anton, being a vampire itself is not sufficient cause for condemnation. That his friend does not kill humans makes him not evil. As “faith without works is dead”, so too being a vampire but not killing humans is not evil to Anton as no evil proceeds. This is the common sense position rather than an ideologue one. Our seeing of Olga’s prejudice comes right after learning that Geser had incarcerated her for committing unspeakable crimes. This is a nicely done subtext on fundamentalism.

The antagonism between Daywatchers and Nightwatchers continue on despite the truce. Besides genuine violations, they entrap each other into committing violations. Anton condemns Geser, Leader of the Light side, for ignoring the entrapment tactics. Geser, to his credit, is not authoritarian about Anton criticism of him. The positioning of Good and Evil as absolutes is being recast here as political labels.

Good as refusing temptation rather than its absence:
We see the Daywatchers go around in expensive cars and are fashionably dressed while Nightwatchers are in lorries, in worker overalls, etc. One female vampire is a pop star dressesd in cutout dress that show that she isn’t wearing any underwear. (Subtext: Movies are okay I guess, but pop culture is not?)

While Olga too, is concerned with being fashionably dress, (she having been imprisoned in Owl form for a long while and unaware of current taste), she nonetheless wears the borrowed clothes. The impulse for vanity is present but is not given into. Good is not the absence of temptation, it is not giving into temptation.

Geser also states explicitly, man tends towards evil not because he is by nature evil. Rather, it is easier to destroy the light within than to resist the evil without.

Being too eager to sacrifice an individual for the Common Good:
Geser argues that the common good overrides any individual’s welfare, Nightwatch notes how this stance has been abused as sacrificing an individual is so easy. Contrast Anton’s attitude and action during the assassination mission with those around him.

Forgiveness, its rejection leads to Evil:
Observe what happens after Svetland confesses what she has done, repents and forgives herself. Compare this to another character’s refusal to forgive Anton and ignore all the previous good he has done for that person previously. This comes about at the end of the movie during when “debriefs” the audience. The pro-life stance on abortion is seen here.

Also posted at The Movies I Have Watched.
ed: JH

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  • http://VinceChan.net/ Vince Chan

    I have watched both Matrix and Constantine and I know exaclty what you’re saying about how you were blown away initially by the way these films executed their premises. I’m intrigued by this review and will certainlly put NightWatch at the top of my “to view” list!

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