When my darling heterosexual friend Patti invited me to go see Wonder Woman with her, I agreed half-heartedly, not because I didn’t want to spend time with her, but because I had little interest in seeing the movie. I hadn’t seen any trailers, read interviews, or otherwise been exposed to its plot or themes. I expected it to be just another Hollywood money grab with a starlet in provocative clothes who is strong up to a point, until she eventually gets saved by a man and sees the light. Damn, was I wrong.
We were a little tardy getting into the theater due to the snack line and when we entered the dark theater with previews in play, we were awed to see that nearly every seat was already taken. Inwardly grumbling about the sore neck I’d have later, we settled into our second-row seats just in time for the opening scene, which quickly segued to Wonder Woman’s origin story on the breathtaking island of Themyscira. Surrounded by undulating blue water and shocking in its unspoiled beauty, Themyscira is the birthplace of Princess Diana (aka Wonder Woman), who was sculpted of clay and brought to life by Zeus. But even more breathtaking than idyllic Themyscira were its inhabitants – a community of Amazonian women engaged in fierce hand-to-hand battle practice. As they fearlessly lunged and spun into high kicks in an evocative dance of strength without breaking a sweat, I turned to my friend Patti and said, “You didn’t tell me this was a lesbian movie!”
It was that, and it was so much more.
Is it an overstatement to say that it’s every lesbian’s dream to live on an island such as this one? Where women are powerful, fully capable of defending themselves, and tasked with the knowledge that the beauty and safety of the world is in their capable hands? Is it every woman’s dream to live on a pristine island where the concept of sexual assault is unheard of and body shaming hasn’t been invented or experienced? Ever. What would it be like to live without the hobbling effects of shame and fear and misogyny? Themyscira gives us a peek, and it is glorious. When it’s Diana’s turn to learn to fight, her aunt, Antiope, trains her fiercely, and when Diana stumbles, she commands her, “Never doubt yourself!” leading Diana to find unknown strength and power in her next moves.
In the age of Trump, when it feels like the seams of our world as we know it are breaking apart, Themyscira seems like a utopia for this Amazon wannabe. And when Greek mythology is evoked to explain that one day the God of war, Ares, will come to corrupt mankind with hatred and loathing, and it’s the Amazons’ purpose to defeat him, you can’t help but well up with grief over the parallels to our time.
Throughout the film, when Diana is confronted with human suffering, violence, evil, and war, she is single-minded in the knowledge that it’s her purpose to end it, even under seemingly insurmountable circumstances. When her traveling companions, seasoned male veterans of war, balk at the idea of advancing against the German front, she leaps forward alone, fiercely striding toward the enemy lines with only her metal wrist cuffs, her round Amazonian shield, and determination to protect her from the onslaught of machine gun bullets aimed at her.
This film operates on an archetypal level. From the moment war ships broke the magical veil and advanced toward unspoiled Themyscira, I was hit with the realization that I was witnessing the attack of Christianity on Goddess culture and the birth of misogyny. Diana’s quest to find Ares and defeat him is quite simply the desire for goodness to conquer evil. But the most important message of the movie was not one of simplicity, nor was it black and white. The message was about complexity. That each one of us holds good and evil within us – and that it’s what we believe that shapes our actions and the world we live in.
When Diana is engaged in an epic battle with Ares, and her faith in humanity is in question after she sees what we are capable of – the good as well as the evil – Ares tries to convince her that the world would be better off without humans. I have to confess that I’ve had my moments thinking the same. Wouldn’t Earth be a paradise without our interference, without the disruptions to the equilibrium of nature that we bring? But Diana struggles to find the good, and even as she heaves a tank overhead in a moment of rage and grief, she is still able to see the humanity in the eyes of her enemy and spare them.
In that moment, as she looked into the eyes of her cowering and destructive enemy, we see their vulnerability and we are forced to wonder – what makes someone evil? What makes Trump the way he is? What makes the conservative GOP set policies specifically intended to hurt the vulnerable and the marginalized? What takes away a person’s capacity for empathy? Evil begets evil. I can’t help thinking about how restrictive and stifling it is to grow up in a conservative and punitive culture. How it can break a person. When you live under those kinds of rules, you either bend to them to survive –often continuing the cycle of abuse – or you rebel and accept that you will be an outcast to your community of origin.
It’s much like the epic struggle to come out within conservative families. Some people go so deep in the closet that they can’t even look at themselves in the mirror, and we end up with spiteful, sexually repressed lawmakers who legislate to govern our bodies while trying not to get caught in the local motel with a rent boy. Others break the closet door and lay down a path that everyone else in between can follow to freedom.
No one saves Princess Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. She saves herself, and she saves our idea of what humanity can be. We can recognize the good and evil within ourselves, and choose to believe, against all the evidence, that if we work toward the good and never doubt ourselves, we too can be the saviors of our world.