Today we present a wonderful Wonder Woman post from Diana super-fan chaila.
I will state my biases up front and acknowledge that as a veteran of being a fan of Wonder Woman on the internet, I was pretty determined to like Wonder Woman from the moment it was announced. I am thrilled and relieved that it has not only exceeded my expectations, but also has apparently escaped the crushing weight of being the first female-led superhero movie and become a critical and commercial success. Diana has a movie!
Many reviews have already covered a lot of what I loved about the movie: Gal Gadot’s performance, the refreshing neutrality of the gaze, the Amazons, the fight scenes, the Amazons in the fight scenes, General Antiope, and the simple narrative power of centering a woman in a story like this. Other reviews have pointed out its obvious failings, particularly the lack of significant roles--or even names--for any women of color, and the treatment of disability.
What I want to talk about is Diana.
On one level, I enjoy superheroes as a kind of justice-oriented power fantasy; they fight for the defenseless, they can do impossible things, and they always win. They are not bound by the limitations of us mere humans. They don’t have to call their congress member or navigate a bureaucracy to fight for every inch of fairness, they can call up their own powers and defeat the evil thing and save people. On this level, I just loved watching Diana as a female superhero: a woman who is physically strong and indestructible and in control. It was so satisfying to watch her inhabit the screen and the narrative space, as she comes into her own powers and uses those to protect others. I love that she is a woman so confident in her own skills, in her purpose and her own moral code. Her face lights up as she discovers every new thing she can do, from climbing a stone wall with her bare hands to catching lightning in her bracelets. When she’s not sure she can do something, she leaps anyway. She repeatedly ignores directives like "don’t" and "stay there," and "you can't"--usually offered by a man--to instead do what she chooses. I loved watching her fight. She gets hit and crashes into stone walls and gets back up and keeps going. She deflects bullets, and kicks, punches and lassos her way through crowds of soldiers, then takes on a god and wins. I loved watching her beautiful smile as she discovers the world and the people and things in it, babies and ice cream and snow. Her smile on "No, Charlie, who will sing for us?" was worth the price of four admissions, because that's how many times I've seen this movie. She had a sword in her ballgown which she wore with her red armored boots. I love her.
But superheroes can also be effective tools to tell stories about ourselves, exploring the things we believe in and the things most worth fighting for. This is the reason why, for me, the most magical thing about Wonder Woman is that it gets Diana right. It captures the core of who Diana is, as a character and as a powerful and resonant example of a hero in the uncertain times we now live in. The movie shows us Diana, before the trappings of Wonder Woman, separate from her demigod powers, stripped down to Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons: a hero who has the strength to turn away from rage and loss to put her faith in love and compassion, even when surrounded by darkness.
Wonder Woman wears its heart, and its themes, on its sleeve. Or rather, on its muscled female arms. Diana, speaking in our present, tells us in the opening minutes what this story will be about. What does one do when faced with the truth? The golden lasso compels anyone who touches it to tell the truth, and Diana wears it at her hip, all the time. She cannot lie, not even to herself, and so she has to directly face questions and answers that other people can easily ignore. What will she do when faced with the truth about humanity, about the world, about herself?
For me, the most important scenes in the movie are those of Diana witnessing all the pain of people fleeing the war--people beating their horses, children separated from families, soldiers wounded and screaming, women and children starving and enslaved--and being told over and over that there’s nothing she can do, that it isn’t her mission, that there’s no time, until she simply rejects that and instead does what she believes is right. She crosses No Man's Land in her Amazonian armor alone, facing down an entire army, just herself and her shield and her resolve not to pass one more injustice without trying to do something about it. Because the question isn’t whether you will win, but who you will be, and what you will be allowing to be true, if you don't try.
Despite its strategically deployed light touches of comedy, Wonder Woman is not actually all that optimistic. In fact, it’s pretty dark. Diana and the team heroically liberate the village, but everyone in the village dies in the subsequent gas attack anyway. Her hero's arc is leaving home on a quest to defeat an enemy and save innocent lives, only to find out that she faces a lifelong fight that cannot ever be completely won, and therefore cannot end. What she learns is that we do all the terrible things to ourselves and each other, and that there is darkness in all humans which each person must battle for themselves. There’s only so much she can do.
What Diana has is not optimism so much as a grim determination, a commitment to herself to fight for her vision of what can be true. Ares offers her a simple path to justice through vengeance and destruction, and it's impossible to argue that we would not deserve that. The supposed “good” guys committed genocide against Chief’s people, prevent Sameer from doing what he chooses because of his race, and create weapons to kill from a distance so we don’t have to face the consequences. We kill each other, we kill people we can’t see, we kill children. We see Diana learn all of that, and we see her capacity for rage and destruction, and then we see her choose to fight for goodness and love anyway. Because Diana believes we should get the chance to be better. She may have been created as a weapon to kill a god, but she forges herself into what she chooses to be.
And sometimes we do live up to her ideal of us. Sameer, Charlie and Chief each purport to be out for themselves, because each has lost so much to injustice and war. But when offered the chance and leadership, they easily join in the efforts to save others. They start for profit, they forge on out of friendship, and then they become heroes in the village. From then on, they keep acting like heroes, fighting to protect others without regard for what it will gain them, even being willing to die together for it. And Steve knows all along about senseless human cruelty, but sacrifices himself to save thousands of people he doesn’t even know anyway, because there’s no one else to do it. We go to great lengths for love.
Diana believes in love because she herself is a radical act of love, formed by Hippolyta and the Amazons. Born, in whatever fashion, from a partnership between Hippolyta and Zeus, she grows up surrounded by fierce women who love her and teach her to fight for the defenseless. The Amazons’ stories about humanity were simplistic and have to be replaced with the complexities of reality, and their mission has drifted because of it. But what’s still true is that the women who raise Diana are leaders and generals, healers and scholars, who teach her love, honor, duty and courage, who give her a warrior’s heart.
I have said this before on this blog about Wonder Woman, but it so true and so integral to my love for the character that I am going to repeat myself. The power of Wonder Woman is that she's an idea, an aspirational ideal of justice and truth, a symbol of a world in which we are all treated equally, treat each other fairly, and love one another. But built into the very concept of aspiration is failure: reaching for the ideal, and forever falling short. The power of Diana is that she knows that disappointment and loss are built into the model, that she clearly sees all our failures and her own. She feels deeply every way we hurt each other, and all of those things hurt her too. But she keeps fighting for us anyway, because what one does when faced with the truth--that the fight is long and hard and uncertain--is keep fighting for the world that we want.
Above all else, what Diana does is fight to make space for us to choose to be better than we have yet shown ourselves to be, and offer us inspiration along the way. She fights for the possibility that someday we can be better than we are now.