Bright Lights Film Journal

Carla Gugino is No. 1! Also No. 2!

Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain was the highest grossing film of the weekend. It starred Carla Gugino, among others. The second highest grossing film of the weekend was Zach Snyder’s Watchmen, also starring Gugino. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer gal. (At least, she seems that way on camera.)

I first noticed Gugino in Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes (1998) co-starring Nicholas Cage – not one of De Palma’s most memorable works, but Gugino was outstanding as a corporate whistleblower involved in an assassination conspiracy. In the years that followed, Gugino never achieved the same level of fame as some of De Palma’s other “discoveries” (Sissy Spacek, Amy Irving, Melanie Griffith, et al.), but she kept working, notably in four films by Robert Rodriguez. In Spy Kids 1, 2, and 3-D, Rodriguez cast her as the spy kids’ former-OSS mother. In Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City, she plays a lesbian parole officer tough enough to handle Mickey Rourke.

Gugino plays a mom again in Watchmen, typecasting to be sure, but this is an unusually interesting mom. As part of Watchmen‘s elaborate backstory, Gugino plays Sally Jupiter aka Silk Spectre (above), part of a 1940s superhero crimefighting group known as The Minutemen. In the film’s present (an alternate history version of 1986), Sally Jupiter is the 67-year-old mother of Laurie Jupiter aka Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), a member of the titular Watchmen. Gugino’s performance as the aging superheroine, along with Jackie Earle Hayley’s as “Rorschach,” is one of the film’s highlights.

The photo above (click to enlarge) is a mock publicity still, showing Silk Spectre I in her crimefighting prime. Note how the frame is art-directed to the max, crammed with details that reflect various aspects of Silk Spectre’s career. This piling on of detail is, in turn, reflective of both the film and the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel on which it is based. The accretion of details is meant to suggest a complete alternate universe – what we see is supposed to be only the tip of the imaginary iceberg.

Taking the neurotic superheroes of Stan “Spiderman” Lee a couple steps further, the dysfunctional superheroes of Watchmen display a wide range of personality disorders and political attitudes, encompassing everything from right wing über-patriotism and vigilantism to quasi-socialist utopianism, with Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl as the poor liberal caught in the middle. In the flashback illustrated below, Silk Spectre is nearly raped by one of her team members, the sociopathic Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). These are not your parents’ superheroes.