Who hasn’t seen “Wonder Woman” yet? If you haven’t, I urge you to go.
I went out of curiosity but also because my granddaughter Beatrice had chosen this film as her thirteenth birthday party celebration. What she saw with her girlfriends in Brooklyn, I viewed at a megaplex in Minneapolis.
Of course I’d read the Wonder Woman comics, which were nearly contemporaneous with my own post-war childhood in the mid 40s and 50s. And, of course, I recalled the famous launch of Ms. Magazine in 1972, featuring Wonder Woman on its cover. Other than that, I’d pretty much forgotten about her. I regarded her as a symbol of female energy, initiative, and power, but can’t say that I was deeply influenced. By the time that Ms. launched (just short of my 30th birthday), I may have felt too old for all that.
I was entranced by the movie and close to tears by its end. Wonder Woman in this remarkable film directed by Patty Jenkins (a woman of conviction in her own right) is not just a strong lady, able to defend herself and humankind against the forces of hatred and destruction, she is also reflective, hence open to new experiences. In the course of the film, she learns that there is no definitive end to the conflict between love and war (as she was naively raised to believe) but rather that human nature is irrevocably mixed—as capable of self-sacrifice and altruism as mindless destruction.
As an Amazon raised in an exclusive society of women, she has no knowledge of men as a separate gender (other than the ancient texts that she has read), so her understanding of adult heterosexual love is dependent on her relationship with Steve Trevor, the pilot she rescues from a near fatal plane crash. There are some funny lines in the early part of the film that deal with her unfamiliarity with the male of the species. And there is much playful banter that concerns relations between men and women as they are understood in society (in a 1940s context) and how an Amazon might conceive them. The best of these occurs when Diana declares that she knows all about the biological side of human reproduction but is also aware that women do not need men in order to experience pleasure.
“Wonder Woman” is charming but it also conveys a serious message.
If there is no definitive answer to the problem of human destructiveness (think Freud’s ominous “death instinct,” a concept he formulated in the context of the horrors of World War I), what can we do?
In the founding myth of the film, compounded of elements of Greek mythology, the story of Genesis, John Milton’s portrayal of the war in heaven in his 17th century epic poem Paradise Lost, and other superhero fantasies, there is a fundamental war between good and evil in the world, which is a given of our nature. Since this inner division can never be resolved, we are in a state of perpetual conflict. It’s you against me, my worldview against yours, my religious tradition and concept of morality and civilization as opposed to yours. One has to win, while the other has to lose.
Does this sound familiar?
Without alluding to contemporary politics, Patty Jenkins makes an urgent point. When Wonder Woman says with candor and conviction “I believe in love,” just before she (temporarily) vanquishes Ares, and when she repeats near the end “only love can save the world,” she means it.
When my grandkids were eight and ten years old respectively, my daughter and I took them to the newly opened 9/11 Museum in New York City. We wondered if this was a good idea for the kids, whose young lives had not yet been touched by loss. We did this because 9/11 was already a part of their history, as their mom had been ten blocks away from the World Trade Center when the North tower fell and she had thought then that she was going to die. She didn’t and their lives (as yet to be conceived) were assured.
The kids were intensely interested in the museum exhibits and had many poignant questions, including whether any children had died. At the end, when invited to write a response on the computer screen that recorded their messages prior to displaying them on a larger public screen, Beatrice wrote: “It makes me feel sad—to think about why anyone—would want to cause so much destruction.” Her brother Arthur did not use words. Instead he created a drawing of the two towers whole.
Each in their own way understood the mixed nature of good and evil and expressed their personal wishes on behalf of us all.
You don’t have to be a “guy” or a “gal” to understand that an ideology of good vs. evil or one that pits one social or racial group or religious faith against another, leads to perpetual conflict. This way the mythical God of War Ares wins. No?
I couldn’t help thinking about Bea and her friends and what they thought of “Wonder Woman”—so I asked.
Here’s a recap of our recent phone conversation.
“What did you think?
“It was amazing—really amazing!”
“Did your friends like it?”
“Oh yes, lots of them cried, especially when the guy [Steve Trevor] died. One cried four times.”
We then discussed the romantic possibilities offered by the film. I said that I thought Wonder Woman’s relationship with Steve (whose flaming death she witnesses while lying on the ground seemingly defeated by Ares) gave her the extra energy she needed to rise up and vanquish him. I wished that she and Steve could have become a couple.
“But that wouldn’t work,” Bea observed realistically, “because she’s an Amazon and won’t get old. By now [meaning 2017] he’d be dead.”
By this, I understood that Bea (like most kids her age) knows how to navigate between fantasy and reality, while also arriving at her own cool judgment.
Early in our conversation she had said simply and without prompting, “Wonder Woman knows that you can’t fight war with war; you can only fight war with love.”
William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman and an early supporter of women’s suffrage and reproductive rights, was a lover of women but also an unconventional kind of guy, e.g. he lived in a ménage à trois with his wife and a younger woman and bore children with both. He was also a passionate believer in women’s potential. He thought that women, like the mythical Amazons, were more likely than men to “save the world.”
How I wish.