It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen Wonder Woman. After the movie, I decided I was going to have to sit in the bathtub and cry about how awesome it was while I thought about what I wanted to say about this movie, since a lot of why I loved it so much wasn’t about the movie itself.
Before heading to the theater, I’d been warned on all social media that I was going to cry. As with most movies that seem to promise this, I put on my best eyeliner and told myself I was not going to cry in public – I couldn’t ruin my makeup. It’s a tactic, so don’t judge me. It works. Mostly. The truth of the matter is that Wonder Woman was so incredibly different and amazing in so many ways that I struggled to keep the tears from falling. Whether or not you got a little emotional re: Wonder Woman, let me break down to you why this female viewer’s eyes were leaking.
Spoilers possible below.
Themyscira and the entire Amazonian society. The first time I teared up was simply due to the representation of women. I’ve wanted this movie my entire life. I smiled and thought of all the young girls and boys going to see this movie and being able to grow up in a time where their favorite movies include leading ladies. This is the fifth movie in the past two years I’ve been able to take my sons to that showed a female protagonist, a team of women, or women working as equals within a team that included men, and I love that they just keep coming. Almost immediately after this swell of happiness, I was knocked back down with a gut-punch.
Normally, the punch in the gut would be saved until the last thing on the list, but since I had to experience it within the first twenty minutes, so do you – and it’s going to get intense and personal.
I’m currently in counseling for Military Sexual Trauma (MST), which is probably why this society of female warriors felt so perfect to me. The women (both characters and cast) were diverse, strong, and incredibly talented. While I greatly admired the landscape of Themyscira, my brain instantly said, If I lived in a society was like this, I wouldn’t have been physically assaulted or raped. I wouldn’t have lost a decade of my life to anxiety and depression. I wouldn’t have lived my life broken and feeling as if my only worth was how sexually attractive I was. I would have been surrounded by amazing role models and boosted up instead of being pushed down. I’d still be fit and healthy and happy. I’d have been the strongest possible version of me.
I told you it was going to get heavy.
I watched these athletic women of different builds and skills train and fight and exist in this beautiful world, and I wanted to be there. It reminded me of an essay I wrote when I was ten that won a contest entitled “Reading Takes You Places”, where I longed for a summer babysitting in Stoneybrook and fantastic adventures in Narnia. More than any other place in all the works of fiction I’ve wished to live, the broken part of me that finds comfort in childlike wishes for a different life in fictional worlds wished I could have had the opportunity to have lived there in Themyscira. And isn’t that why we love our fictional worlds so much? They give us an escape, and I’ve never wanted to escape more than after seeing a society that would have let me thrive instead of shaming me into worthlessness.
A Bullet. A single bullet. I felt an ache in my heart as the first German bullet found its mark. And again, every time a bullet was fired in a battle and Diana raised her arm to stop it. I’ve seen too much loss and grief because of war, and experienced some myself. This movie was haunted by echoes of Don’t kill if you can wound, don’t wound if you can subdue, don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.
One of the most moving moments of the movie for me was in the end. Instead of the remaining German soldiers overtaking the small band of Good Guys or our Good Guys wiping out these boys (and most were very much boys), they rejoice together that this awfulness they were involved in was over and the massive damage they knew was going to come if they failed did not have to come to pass. The German soldiers are portrayed as kids – just people, doing what they were told to do. It resonates a lot with anyone who has been in the military or witnessed first hand what it means to be a soldier. The rejoicing in that moment was pure and wonderful.
The Characters and Their Stories. This film did a hell of a lot more than the bare minimum when it came to filling out the ranks of supporting characters. The spy Steve Trevor’s group of misfits include the Arab liar and polyglot Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), the drunken Scot with PTSD Charlie (Ewan Bremner), and Blackfoot smuggler Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). Diana is shown that these faults the men have are also virtues in their own way, blurring the black and white into the gray that is the world we live in. Issues are artfully addressed, including colonialism and genocide, in a line or two and without pausing the narrative. The cultural representation of a Native American played by a Native whose first words to Diana are in his native language means so much to the community, and I can only imagine based on how I felt about the female representation how much more it mattered to those with Native backgrounds seeing Chief on screen.
The Screenplay. Big or small, well written characters write themselves. No better is this illustrated than by the improvisation of the boat scene by Gal Gadot (Diana) and Chris Pine (Steve Trevor), resulting in a scene that tells you something important about how the movie was written. Allan Heinberg put forth a screenplay that focused on character and depth of story, giving the actors such a solid understanding of who these people they were playing were that they could improvise one of the most popular scenes in the film. Moreover, it felt like a natural scene that was written in on purpose. It establishes so much about Diana and Steve, their beliefs, and their backgrounds. That boat scene would not have played so well had Heinberg not given the characters as much background and heart as he did.
Rather than [insert huge explosion here] and misogynistic dialogue meant to temper a strong woman rather than point out the idiocy in the misogyny itself, Heinberg’s screenplay was excellent social commentary that flowed naturally with the story rather than being isolated and obvious. The only instance that was groan-worthy in its transparent attempt at making a point extremely clear to the audience was Steve’s insistence that the space between the trenches was No Man’s Land – we get it Steve. No Man’s Land. Stop telling us. Diana’s gonna cross it. You know this. Just go with it.
The situations Diana was placed in are familiar to many women, even poking fun at the “glasses on a beautiful girl” trope. In the opposite of what normally happens in a movie where you have a girl who takes off her glasses and suddenly [gasp!] she’s gorgeous and worthy of the white male protagonist’s love, Steve Trevor puts a pair of glasses on Diana and his secretary, the incomparable Etta Candy mocks Steve by saying, “A pair of glasses, and suddenly she’s not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?” Thank you for that, Mr. Heinberg.
This screenplay for this movie could have been a nightmare and given us something that wasn’t meaningful or simply more fodder for the naysayers, but the gods were smiling down on us when Zach Snyder, Jason Fuchs, and Heinberg’s story, and Heinberg’s screenplay, prevailed over others.
The Lack of Male Gaze. This one is difficult to explain to those who don’t experience it. When your entire worth is based upon your sexual appeal, when you see stories of women that could have real depth but are pared down to nothing next to their male counterparts, when every “strong female” is written and directed by men and therefore have a (sometimes accidentally) misogynistic and (always purposefully) objectifying tone – this film is a gift. Even shots that could have objectified Diana or the Amazons were given so much emotional overtone or not directed at the woman’s sexuality, but at her strength. Director Patty Jenkins gave us a world where women were just seen as people juxtaposed to our own patriarchal world when Diana is scooted out of a room because she’s a woman and later is only allowed to stay because someone recognizes her worth due to her skill with languages. The audience is able to see our own world through Diana’s eyes, and we can easily see how ridiculous the restrictions and demands placed on women even in the last hundred years are.
It was incredibly freeing to see a movie that felt so powerful in the messages it put out without beating the audience over the head with them, with the bonus of representation and compelling narrative alongside the big action you expect from a superhero movie. I hope the following DC films introducing the Justice League can live up to this beautiful film.