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What’s the Symbolism behind Doctor Manhattan?

March 14, 2009

Doctor Manhattan

Doctor Manhattan

Everyone is subconsciously intrigued by Doctor Manhattan because of his outlook on humanity and life as a whole. His poetic speech and “Christ like” personality draw him apart from the other Watchmen Characters. I never read comic books as a child and I saw the film without knowing the plot but immediately I became intrigued by the story and the psychological views of the characters.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with who Dr. Manhattan is I will give you a brief description, he is one of the flawed “superheroes” from the twelve issue comic book limited series “Watchmen” created by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins.

Watchmen 2009

Watchmen 2009

Dr. Manhattan’s true name is Jon Osterman, Jon meaning “Gift of God” and Osterman, Oster meaning “one who was baptized or born during Easter” to Germans as well as “Sharp” or “Sharp-minded” to the Polish. Therefore he was a “Christ-like, sharp-minded man” (notice the details in his crucified body language).

Jon Osterman’s father was a watchmaker and in the film Jon was being taught how to break apart and re-build a watch, training him to be a “watch man” so to speak, however, following the destruction of Hiroshima by an atom bomb, the elder Osterman decided that his son’s future depended upon his success in the new “atomic age”. Jon attended Princeton University, graduating ten years later with a Ph.D in atomic physics.



While working at a nuclear research center, Jon was accidentally locked into a test chamber two minutes before midnight, trapping him in an “Intrinsic Field Subtractor” in 1959. Looking down at his watch, the time became 12AM and the transformation happened, turning him into a blue-skinned super-powered being and he became a contracted superhero by the United States government, with the special name, “Doctor Manhattan”. In the film he described this moment being, “The last time he felt fear.” He was no longer human, rather a soul and a spiritual being. He is the only character in the story who possesses real superpowers. He can transport on Earth and into the Universe, He can increase in size and number and he is a clairvoyant psychic.

Now Allow Me to Delve into the Symbolism

Color: The Color Blue represents truth, wisdom, heaven, eternity, devotion, tranquility, loyalty and openness. Doctor Manhattan represented everything the color blue depicts. His calm demeanor and God-like expressions through body language and speech reflected this.

Bulletin Stomic Scientists Cover

Bulletin Atomic Scientists Cover

Midnight: The number 12 denotes spiritual strength and divine perfection. In my translation to the symbol on his forehead represented the time being midnight. In mythology, symbols and folklore midday and midnight are temporal turning points that have special significance. “You know, Cinderella will turn back into a peasant and her luxurious horse and carriage will turn into fruit.” The esoteric perception of midnight is the time when the spiritual (in contrast to the physical) sun stands at the zenith, midnight therefore, is associated with contemplation, initiation, spiritual knowledge and insight. More interesting is the correlation with the Nuclear War, the main fear in the plot of the Watchmen film. According to the book, “Nuclear Fear: A History of Images” by Spencer Wert, There was the “Clock of Doom”, this clock was featured on the cover of every issue of the “Bulletin Atomic Scientists”. The clock was first appeared in 1947 set as seven minutes to midnight and the editors put it forward to two minutes before midnight in 1953 when the hydrogen bombs arrived. The clock of doom  image, ignoring what would happen after the clock struck twelve, had a clear symbolism: Nuclear midnight meant the end of time. For any of you who have saw the film notice how he represented the nuclear bomb, at least that’s what everyone thought. Hope this helps and gave you a better understanding on our mystery man Doctor Manhattan, the Christ Like, Self Sacrificing, Peaceful, Introspective Super Hero.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. Ras permalink
    March 15, 2009 3:29 pm

    After reading this I can say I am more intrigued by watchmen. It was not one of my top priorites to go see it, but it seems interesting besides I enjoy comic book movies, but this one seemed strange. But I like how you break down the symbolism of the color blue ( truth, wisdom,devotion…) and the significance of midnight (Cinderella). What does flawed super heros mean, should I just watch the movie?

    • lyricspoetic permalink*
      March 15, 2009 4:11 pm

      It means they’re not like the perfect batman and spiderman “With great responsibility comes great sacrifice” They posses great strength but are still human beings none the less. It’s dope, check it out. The film cost 180 Million Dollars to make and went into production hell, meaning they had to get a new crew because some directors and people had a difficult time making it happen.

  2. March 16, 2009 11:05 pm

    Good stuff young Jedi. 😉
    The force is strong with you.

  3. March 17, 2009 3:04 pm

    Wow. Very niiiice.

  4. doctor MUD permalink
    April 5, 2009 2:59 am

    i am so happy with the Watchmen,, and that thy would show a male nude and who cares that thy show the doctors penis thy show a woman nude front and back , so why not show a man front and back i hope they’ll make more movies with men nude and all this crying about kids see nude people in the movies thy see mom and dad nude and thy see them selves in the nude.. but all and all this movie was grate. 🙂

  5. Hobojedi permalink
    April 8, 2009 8:32 am

    Just thought I would ad that the symbol on his head is a hydrogen atom. Nice interpretations here though.

    • lyricspoetic permalink*
      April 8, 2009 11:23 am

      Thanks for commenting. Perhaps it’s a combination of both symbols. I saw the atom and it doesn’t look the same to me. I would love to ask the illustrator. Get back to me if you can confirm it. 🙂

    • Hobojedi permalink
      April 8, 2009 3:21 pm

      a hydrogen atom has one electron in the electron cloud which is what you see on the outer circle. You might be able to find a good example on google. They might also show two other dots in the center representing the neutron and proton in the nucleus to but a general depiction could be what you see as dr manhattans symbol. But I would also agree of your interpritation of it symbolyzing midnight. Think about it. Atomic science and midnight are two important characteristics of dr Manhatten.

    • elvin permalink
      May 10, 2009 1:30 pm

      You would have to add the ‘all-seeing eye’ to that list of symbols. Representing his unity with time past, present, and future. The eye of God in sense.

  6. April 13, 2009 6:20 am

    Not a clock at midnight, but a simple hidrogen atom representation, after being asked to create a symbol that would identify him, and rejecting the common atomic energy symbol. Anyway nice

  7. s0ccurpr0 permalink
    April 15, 2009 11:14 pm

    took me forever to figure out what the symbol on his head was. When I saw him I instantly thought of tool’s lateralus album. The clock seems like an open third eye. He also reminds me of the man at the end of Parabola and I believe it has to do with the chakras and Kabbahla. He was by far my favorite character and there should be a whole movie dedicated to him

  8. Joseph Tran permalink
    April 16, 2009 10:04 am

    i just asked a friend of mine why shiva was depicted as a blue deity 2 days ago. today i find myself by ‘chance’ on your site. i too was very intrigued by dr. manhattan’s character and i could relate to him the most in the film. thanks for sharing your insight. it was truly pleasant.


  9. April 24, 2009 3:00 am

    Thank you for giving insight into Dr. Manhattan .. He is my favorite Watchmen, and although I never read the comic book…I was hooked by the movie. Please visit my blog and read the review I posted in March and then you can read the article I posted on creating gods in April. Nice meeting you.

  10. Garet permalink
    June 19, 2009 9:59 am

    The symbol on his head is supposed to be an atom. I’ve been a fan for a long time, and that’s what it always has been in the comics. It could have some dual symbology, but you can’t rule out the fact that it is an atom and supposed to be an atom as well.

  11. Manuel Ruano permalink
    July 5, 2009 1:41 pm

    I’ve read the Watchmen comic and seen the flim. The symbol on Dr Manhattan’s forehead is a drawing of the hydrogen symbol. Although never explained in the flim, the comic does explain the symbol. After his transformation, some thought he should have a costume, so part of his costume was a ‘helmet’ like cover for his head. On the front of this helmet was the generic symbol everyone knows about atoms which is a nucleus surrounded by three electrons. Dr Manhattan thought that, that symbol didn’t represent power enough. So instead Dr Manhattan chose the hydrogen symbol, and marked his own forehead.

  12. July 21, 2009 5:02 pm

    How come dr.manhattan is flawed hero? Why do u say that?

  13. jeremy permalink
    October 19, 2009 4:56 pm

    Because he doesn’t care about humans, which can be seen when he allows the Comedian to shoot a pregnant woman, and even though it would be so easy for him to stop the nuclear war, with no danger of even hurting himself and hardly any effort, it’s hard for Laurie to convince him to even try. Whereas Batman or Spider-Man would give up there lives to protect humanity. Dr. Manhattans biggest flaw is how selfish and apathetic he is.

  14. Aaron permalink
    February 22, 2010 1:18 am

    Dr. Manhattan’s symbol on his forehead is marked with the atomic structure of Hydrogen, which is explained in the comics. However, the symbol is also thought to resemble the Pythagorean symbol for the Monad, which is seen in Greek philosophy. According to the Pythagoreans, Monad was a term for God or the first being, or the totality of all beings, with Monad meaning ‘The Source’ or the ‘One’ meaning without division. I believe both explanations are accurate depictions of Dr. Manhattan in both a physical and psychological sense…If you have never seen the Monad symbol you should take a look at it.

  15. Kyle permalink
    April 29, 2010 9:16 pm

    The significance of the hydrogen atom is that all matter in the universe evolved from it. Dr. Manhattan being so scientifically minded respects it over the silly symbol for atomic power they tried giving him.

  16. S.A permalink
    May 15, 2010 12:34 pm

    You are a very beautiful entity.

  17. UTAH Bill permalink
    August 13, 2010 11:52 pm

    It is no coincidence Dr. Manhattan comes off as cold to the humans around him and the “tangle of their lives.” This parallels the relationship between humans and their God.

    Think about it. How can God love Mankind yet stand by and watch as evil and suffering impact a significant portion of the world’s population? Dr. Manhattan’s passivity and disconnect represents the reality of Godhood. God loves Man yet allows the consequences of Free Agency to roll out. In short, Dr. Manhattan is just like God – albeit on a smaller scale.

    • jason permalink
      December 21, 2011 9:42 am

      Beautiful and precise statement

    • jason permalink
      January 4, 2012 8:19 pm

      Very accurate comment. It takes a very godly personality to make this observation.

  18. January 4, 2011 3:58 am

    The symbol on Doctor Manhattan’s head is actually an old style TV “On” switch.

  19. plepo permalink
    August 1, 2011 6:03 am

    Dr. Manhattan said, that He can change almost anything, but He can’t change human nature. The choice has allways been ours.
    Dr. Manhattan also has a connection with The Perfectly Enlighted One, Buddha. Having no fear, being omnipotent, clairvoyant. But the fact that he kills and dabbels in such affair as war makes him very lost. But in the end of the story as he discovers miracle and lifes uniqueness, and even considers creating something in another galaxy, thats just him creating his Buddhaland. 🙂

  20. SAGAR permalink
    September 10, 2011 12:22 pm

    Excellent interpretations …
    I would like to add the following …. GOD according to some Belief systems … is all ‘non-interfering’ … i.e. to allow free will … which might have been suggested in his (Dr.Manhattan) behavior …
    all in all … he has been depicted a GOD!!! (with a few flaws of human imagination)

  21. Nick permalink
    September 22, 2011 1:33 pm

    Dude, If you watch the film closely it says “Who is Watching Watchmen?” When he goes back to the Generator to get his watch it is the time he gets transformed in the intense field generator, when his clock stops at 12:00 he has depicted on his forehead that TIME as the symbol!!!!,
    also you can interpret in so many ways if u want to like “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. 6:22” depicting that his single eye is focused and activated!!! But seriously it is the TIME that he gets trapped & zapped by the Intense fields…

  22. Gareth permalink
    November 13, 2011 10:39 am

    The symbol on his forehead represent Hydrogen (atom with only one electron). The US government wanted him to have a symbol and design a costume for him and used the traditional atom symbol (the atom surrounded by electrons) but he says it is nonsense and says that if he is to have a symbol it must be one that he respects, therefore burning the symbol to his forehead. Well, that’s my 2 cents worth. Very good analysis, will help me a lot while i read the book 🙂

  23. TheBorG permalink
    November 26, 2011 8:41 pm

    I like the symbol for its beauty, simplicity, appreciation and open interpretation. Although it is represented as hydrogen atom in the comic and alittle in the movie it can be defined in other ways as well. I like the answers others gave such as midnight, 3rd eye, a switch. I see an implied line from the two dots representing singularity and the circle representing that cyclical cycle of human life (recurring or revolving in cycles) which he spoke about in the film and even more intriguing is that he is part of that cycle even though his physical form and actions are god like he is still connected to human kind because thats what he chose to become (a human form) after Jon Osterman’s death so he could understand humans.

  24. Watchman fan permalink
    May 20, 2012 8:52 am

    I believe the colour blue is used because in real life you can see the blue glow of Cherenkov radiation in heavy water nuclear reactors where radioactive particles are travelling faster than the speed of light through the heavy water.

  25. November 1, 2012 6:24 pm

    Good read, however the symbol on his forehead is also the symbol of the first element of the periodic table, the hydrogen atom with a single proton orbiting it, You can read a lot into what he means by saying it’s a “symbol he respects”. re-arranging his atoms hydrogen would also have to be the first step in this process. You might also notice where he places the symbol, right above his eyes, shaping a geometric unity of three(eyes), a version of a tetrahedron perhaps, and even also symbolizing “the third” eye which represents enlightenment. Humans actually have a third eye in the geometric center of our brains, it’s a light sensitive gland, called the pineal gland, unfortunately it is calcified in humans at a very young age because of sodium-fluoride and various of other harmful substances we are exposed to in modern society.

    You covered a lot of valid points, but there is a lot more to both the appearence of Dr Manhattan’s new “physcial” body and the symbol. To me he represents a 5th(4th) Dimensional being(returning to the third dimension). That would also explain his powers, having a higher than third dimensional perspective and understanding of our universe.

    Again, thanks for the read.

    • Tyler permalink
      March 21, 2013 11:10 am

      I like your explanation the best. It’s the closest to the actual canon established in the comics and movie, and the ‘higher-dimensional being’ theory is intriguing, and really makes sense to me (it would explain Dr. Manhattan’s powers rather perfectly).

  26. Eshan Walter permalink
    October 24, 2013 12:53 pm

    To be well honest, I wasn’t aware that WATCHMEN movie is an adaption on a book. I saw movie, I liked it. I googled about it and learned about it. Read not so good reviews. But there was something I liked it in, so I re-watched it 2-3 times. After understanding it up to my intellect, I realized Watchmen is very preachy, and shocking outlook on modern world. I failed at the box office, or even the eyes critiques but not for me. It’s thought provoking and extraordinary piece of cinema and forces to change our perception on our world. Remember, when Dr. Manhattan to Laurie (on Mars) “”.Tell me…would it be greatly improved by an oil pipeline? or even a shopping mall?”
    Believe me it was thrilling moment for me, as being an environmentalist.
    Thought your perception is fantastic, as well references . Thanks to you, I am update on Dr.Manhattan.

  27. simon permalink
    November 24, 2013 10:15 am

    Love the film – gets better each time I watch it and I agree with the ‘page’ description of Dr Manhattans’ symbolism.
    I don’t know weather or not I might upset people but I want to present my views of the film as a whole and comment on the symbolism the characterisation in the movie represents of us and our culture so here goes (its complicated but ill try make my point clear and I am fully aware I may get things wrong but I give honest words of what I have come to understand and believe) The movie tells the story of the birth and rise to power of an idea (from a birth of science (physics) and its ideas into a culture then a religion then a god) Dr Manhattan represents an ‘ideal’ of his own symbolism (from science through to science fiction and the ideas birthed by science) The Comedian as the movie states is a parody on life – blunt, cruel, funny, real, desperate, full of life, drunk on life, washed up, a disgrace, etc etc… The Night owl 2 represents the good spirited human and his nemesis – a gift from god – (his Eve) The Silk spectre – a reasonable force to be reckoned with! (a muse) – the parody is?… the kind of character that would normally get a dream fantasy like ‘silk’ would defiantly not be the simple good guy but most likely either a super human – like the good “Dr” or failing to find one of them she would probably be snapped up by a character more like the Comedian – ironically her father – that is so wrong but u get my point) Rorschach I am reluctant to place comment and in a lot of ways this might seem wrong but I feel Rorschach represents the spirit of the media (the gospel of truth fighting its way to be heard) this only makes more sense after I have explained my true reservations of what Dr Manhatton is in reality (with his symbolism removed and truth revealed…) but 1st Ozymandias _ I feel he best represents the meaning of the ‘still currently’ promoted ‘greater good’ (ie Rorschachs journal is still hiding its secrets) Ozymandias is mans best intellectual attempt at saving the machine he created by clothing it in the veils of righteousness ie it is for the greater good of mankind. Ozymandias was the reason the truth about the Manhattan project and the religious worship of science persists and the ideas that mans scientific ideas has taken its place as God. ( I couldn’t comment on weather this is a good thing or bad thing I just feel the truth is still stuck (as it were!) in that diaries that Roschach had left in the hands of a journalist – ie the truth is out there but are we ready to hear it or even want it?) Now back to Dr Manhattan who also represents mans image of God in his own likeness – the ideas of science, the trip to the moon conspiracy… funding and enterprise aftermath, the ‘Atom’ wow that’s a big one not fully exploited yet and currently playing with our imaginations the secquence surrounding the Trip to Mars project (as nicely reflected in the movie) that trys to deflect a lack of faith in the gools of science (what Dr Manhattan is) and kick start another major following of mass delusion in order to prime the engines of economics into the next century – I think I probably lost a lot of folk here… but I can’t escape from that persistent little voice that confirms louder each time I research into a subject I love and used to almost worship as having complete authority ie the religion of science. It made us believe we saved the world by our own hand, professes to be able to do god like things and convinces us that it is Holier than thou but being blue in nature it is not the complete picture. Dr Manhattan maybe the good ideas that man thinks he is capable of doing by use of the scientific model /archetype or religion but his humanity is in jeopardy and the mankind can no longer tell what is truth or fiction – trust is wavering. Thus the (so called) smart thing to do is cover the flaws and negative outcomes and lies that exist in science by painting him blue – a nice tranquil colour veils the ideas of science in a cloak of try hard enough and convincingly enough… throw enough funding backing and the masses that follow will save us all from the archetypical negatives attributed to science. Ie can science really do anything like that level of amazing things and terrors it says it is capable of – have we not just created God in our own image again? Like man has always done and clothes it in the vale of Ozymandias righteousness like it always does. ‘The greater good’ … is it really ??? do you want it really??? Maybe carrying on is the only option available to save us from anarchy. If I am going to be attacked for my comments please understand I can only speak from the heart and until I believe or am convinced other wise I have lost my faith and respect in the science and its ideas. Ozymandias is illusive… sometimes it is easy to forget he is the story but that is what makes him important! You don’t realise the greater good is not the greater truth…where are those journals? Would you like to read them or is it best that Rorschach truth is murdered and the truth remains untold. I try to think of the characters as concepts – not individual persons (the same perspective works for God) and then starts a whole new way of looking at life religion and myself. Don’t define God as you would a science – with limits and boundaries, also don’t limit yourself to one archetype and representation (you are not the same person as you where yesterday – you are that and more, and vise versa) I don’t understand what God is! or science is aiming for but I found it easier to reflect the term “God” as a concept and I don’t put God in a box (type view of understanding) and “God” does not put me in a box (yet) haha! Readers that get this far probably have concluded that I am insane… I like to use the word interesting!

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