Wonder Woman: heroism makes a comeback

Movie Philosophy 0 June 06, 2017 177 Lauren

(no spoilers! Check out my youtube channel for movie clips with more superheroes and thoughts!)

I would recommend seeing Wonder Woman (2017); my steadfast determination to like a DC movie (a movie based on DC comics, as opposed to Marvel comics) finally paid off, and I definitely enjoyed it. While Marvel Movies generally stick to the safe zone and limit their philosophizing to vague one-liners, DC dives much deeper into issues, but as a result their movies tend to break down in quagmires of questions. In Wonder Woman, DC finally gives us an answer, while still giving me something to sink my teeth into, philosophically-speaking. So, without further ado:

First, what did Wonder Woman get right? For one, it did feminism correctly; its heroine is not concerned with doing things as a woman, but rather with doing what is right. Secondly, much of its fundamental worldview is right: I appreciated its unflinching recognition of the evil in all humanity, juxtaposed with its recognition that life is beautiful and heroism can be unapologetic. Its assertion that this struggle is in every human being, that whatever our influences, we make our own choices, is dead-on.

This is my chance to insert a short aside on how we incorporate our assumptions into our story-telling. Specifically, do we really need more “faith-based” films? All films are based on some faith, on some view of the world. If you are a Christian filmmaker, you simply make films, and they have Christian assumptions, because that is how you see the world. And a film like Wonder Woman (or Les Miserables) which recognizes the evil in humanity but also argues that life is beautiful and worth saving, where self-sacrificial love overcomes justice, which ‘isn’t about deserve,’ is a movie with a heaping helping of Christian assumptions (believe me, they didn’t come out of Greco-Roman mythology). So this is my brief plea for Christian movies less like God’s Not Dead and more like Wonder Woman.

Then we get into more complicated matters. I can’t give my unqualified agreement to declarations that love conquers judgement without defining “love.” There are two kinds of love depicted: romantic love* and sacrificial love. The second kind is the heroic kind, the immensely powerful kind that overcomes judgement. Allowing romantic love to overcome judgment is something entirely different and generally unhealthy. But since there was a clear heroic sacrifice on the male lead’s part, I’m going to say that’s the sort DC was going for.

Moving on, we come to my main squabble with the film. Every story relies on some account of the world: Where did it come from? Where is it headed? How do we fit into that story? Wonder Woman breaks away from the modern mistake of thinking there is no story, but the story they present is… well, muddled. Never have I seen so much Christ imagery injected into a pagan storyline. Unfortunately, the designers have not properly understood either the pagan mindset or the Christian one, and as a result they have missed the grandeur and truth of both. (If you want to see it done right, I suggest Lord of the Rings. The hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of men comes crashing down comes straight out of Norse epic poetry.)

This film tries to reduce the battle between good and evil to a lightning battle between superpowered (but still fallible, mortal, conflicted, etc.) beings. It coopts the story of the world’s origin and shrinks it, and so the good vs. evil conflict that is obviously going on behind, before, and after this plot, and sometimes getting confused with it, is left without context. Because if life isn’t about “deserve,” it can’t be strictly about “what you believe,” either. That’s actually what judgement does: it places principles over people. Life, morality, can’t just be about principles; it has to have a story, a context. And Wonder Woman has forgotten the real story, the real war.

You see the real war every day – the conflict between what you should do and what you wish to do, the seat you should have given up but didn’t, the words you shouldn’t have said but did. If this all comes down to superhuman beings shooting lightning at each other, if there isn’t a larger story than the one this movie told, life is still meaningless. We need something more to give our lives purpose; we need a beyond.

You might think I am like Diana at the beginning, naively charging into the world with an oversimplified view of things, except that I have been assured by multiple people that I have more than my fair share of cynicism. Also, I have never thought that evil could be killed by literally stabbing it with a sword (or, for that matter, shooting lightning at it). Does that mean the war isn’t real? Of course not. The most real and lasting things in this world – ideas, people, relationships, virtues – are not physical. Just ask Plato.

*As to the movie’s gratuitous discussion of premarital sex: the divorce rate has more than tripled since WWI, and that number would probably be higher, except that nowadays people don’t bother getting married in the first place. To brush aside the difference and imply that a casual attitude toward pre-marital sex doesn’t affect marriage is wishful thinking and just plain wrong. See my post on the subject here.

“Michelle MacLaren Could Direct the Wonder Woman Movie” by BagoGames is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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