You make your own destiny. Others might try to set you on paths, to preordain the steps you’ll take and the confrontations you’ll encounter, but at the end of the day, you choose your own destiny. At least, that’s what Anton Gorodetsky decides to believe, and he makes it so.
Day Watch is director Timur Bekmambatov’s 2006 follow up to Night Watch, and although it bears the title of the second book in Sergei Lukyanenko’s series, its plot follows the second two-thirds of the Night Watch novel not covered in the first film. But that’s the last you’ll hear about the books from me.
The movie rolls around in the same slick, cool universe as before. I’ve never seen a film that had such dedication to its subtitles, the text dripping off the screen and changing colors; the subtitles are as much a part of the world as the film itself. In those and in all parts of the movie, Day Watch is bigger, faster, and more intense than its predecessor. I enjoyed Night Watch, but that film seems slow in comparison to its sequel. In Day Watch the fight between Good and Evil is on for real this time, and it’s all over a piece of chalk.
The Chalk of Destiny, if drawn over the correct surface, can change a person’s fate. It’s an ancient, fabled weapon, one that disappeared into history. Rumors of it are surfacing again. The Dark wants the chalk for its own, typically nefarious, reasons. The Light wants it in good hands, or better yet, out of anyone’s. Anton Gorodetsky wants it for himself. Or rather, he wants it for his son.
When Egor, Anton’s son from his failed marriage, learns that Anton nearly cast a curse on his mother that would have killed him in the womb, it pushes him toward the Dark. He’s a boy of immense power, and now he’s the Great Sorcerer for the Day Watch. When Anton hears of the chalk he has an idea.
The Night and Day Watches clash. Gesar, head of the Night Watch, gives a warning to Anton: Svetlana, the woman whom Anton saved in the prior film and whose own vast, if untrained, powers make her a Great Sorceress for the Light, must never cross paths with Egor. If they do they’ll be forced into conflict, and only one side will emerge victorious.
The Dark chases that conflict. It lures Anton into a trap, and he can think of only one way to wriggle out of it: find the chalk. But he’s less concerned with saving himself, than with preventing the events which 12 years ago led them here, and which, more importantly, nearly destroyed his son and sent him down the path to darkness.
If I over-analyze it, the conflict seems a little strange. The movie is kind of pitting a 13-year-old boy against a grown woman. In one scene, it even feels like they’re fighting over him. Egor resents the growing place Svetlana has in Anton’s life, but aside from one brief moment that’s all one-sided. And even that bit takes place when the world is crumbling and reality is blurring; it’s not clear precisely what any of the characters aside from Anton are thinking.
In terms of power, Svetlana and Egor are equals. More importantly, their individual actions have been manipulated by the greater powers, particularly those of the Dark. The fight looks like it’s over Anton, but really he’s just the means to an end.
The Dark uses him to stir resentment in Egor, to manufacture conflict between Egor and Svetlana. They want the last great battle, one that they think they’ll win because they believe both Svetlana and Anton will hold back in fighting against Egor. The Dark can’t declare war outright, but they can frame Anton for a crime, use the emotions stirring over him to spark a conflict that cannot be stopped.
Even the Light seems to be manipulating Anton. When the movie opens, Svetlana’s reading a book that contains a story about the Chalk. We don’t know where she got the book; it may have been given to her for a reason. Anton’s allowed to break into the Night Watch headquarters to steal evidence that could implicate Egor in a crime, and while he’s at it he just happens to find records of a prior attempt to find the Chalk. Clues keep dropping at Anton’s feet. It’s almost as if, as Anton thinks he’s branching out on his own and trying to make his own destiny, he’s being led the whole way.
Thus Day Watch raises the questions of destiny and free will. Are Light and Dark really that different? The great powers of both use their soldiers as pawns, manipulate Anton and Egor’s fraught familial situation, or the budding relationship between Anton and Svetlana, for their own gain. Anton tries to wrest control back for himself, to change his own destiny, but he may have been set on that path from the beginning. Is it possible for him to truly be free, to be his own man?
If Anton is being guided, there’s nothing he can do about that. Maybe he was set on his path, or maybe the clues left for him were just suggestions, nothing more. All he can do is make his own decisions, even if on some level they were set out for him. Even if he was set on the path to doing so, Anton makes his own destiny and changes his son’s. At the end, we have to follow our hearts and do what we think is best, and the details can’t matter.
Where can Anton go from here? He’s changed destiny, but his previous life isn’t entirely gone. Memory persists. The story’s drawn to a close, for now, but it’s not entirely wrapped up. We have to decide for ourselves how much the world has changed, or if things still really aren’t that different. It’s the perfect note on which to end: a question-mark, an open possibility.
Rumor is, however, that this isn’t the end. Bekmambatov said he was going to make a sequel, even though it’s been four years since Day Watch. Perhaps he’s waiting for his source text: Lukyaneko just released the last novel in his five-book series, New Watch, this past summer. Maybe now that the series has come to an end, Bekmambatov will bring us the final part in his trilogy.
Until then, we’re left, just like Anton, to wonder what’s next. And for the moment, just like him, what could happen is entirely up to us.
You can find Day Watch on Amazon.com.