[This post was written by John Paul West.]
I genuinely enjoyed Wonder Woman and consider it the best DC movie in recent years. Impressively, the narrative is a complex mesh of feminism, the myth of the superhero, Greek mythology, and (somewhat unexpectedly) biblical narratives. The combination of these elements produces a lot of good well worth praising, but also some subtle distortions that shouldn’t be ignored.
Wonder Woman begins with its own retelling of the Genesis story. In the beginning, we are told, Zeus (the good father-god) created mankind and made them good, just and compassionate. However, Ares, the god of war, rebelled against Zeus and corrupted mankind, turning them against each other. Zeus’ last act is to protect the Amazons, the only ones left uncorrupted by Ares, and promise that one of them will be able to defeat the god of war.
The story continues to follow a quasi-biblical narrative. Despite the strong implication that Diana loses her virginity outside of marriage (more on that below), she’s presented as a Mary-like figure. She is, by the story’s standards, pure and uncorrupted by the evil one. She is mighty in battle, as Catholics know Mary to be. More importantly, she cares immensely for every human being and wants nothing more than for every person to be freed from slavery to the evil one.
In several stirring scenes she pushes the men around her to look past their petty selfishness and actually fight for the innocents who are being massacred in World War I. This is a wonderful improvement on previous DC movies where the “superheroes” are pretty selfish themselves, and it is also wonderfully in tune with Saint John Paul II’s vision of the person with its teaching on the incredible dignity of every human being.
All these themes come to a crescendo in the climax of the film (spoiler alert). Wonder Woman stands beneath her lover, Steve Trevor, as he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the world from the plot of Ares. After Trevor’s death, Wonder Woman is distraught and tempted by the lies of Ares. She realizes, in a brilliant commentary on human freedom, that even without Ares human beings are still capable of evil. But in a beautiful scene, she sees the misery of her human enemies and is moved to mercy. She chooses to love humanity flaws and all as Trevor did. She then proceeds to “crush the head of the serpent” and defeat Ares. After Ares’ defeat, she commits herself to fighting for humanity, in much the way that Mary continues to fight for us from heaven.
All of these are wonderful themes and they stirred my heart as I watched the film. At the same time, however, there were a couple of scenes that disturbed me. Despite the beautiful femininity on display in the majority of the film, a couple of scenes were still tainted by the agenda of a distorted feminism which rejects motherhood and fertility.
Clearly, a woman’s worth does not come solely from her fertility. Nor is it wrong for a woman to be a warrior, as Joan of Arc makes abundantly clear. I even thought that the critiques Wonder Woman makes about patriarchal England were spot on, and I was impressed that Wonder Woman’s feminism did not go anywhere near the hatred of men that is now common. The movie even went so far as to let its warrior princess actually be tender and feminine, unlike most feminist films. This is a wonderful step in the right direction.
Still, unlike the true wonder woman of history (Mary), whose embrace of motherhood defeated the evil one and saved mankind, this Wonder Woman isn’t fully in touch with the integral nature and goodness of her fertility. In a telling scene, Wonder Woman verbally separates procreation from the pleasure of sexual intimacy and then goes on to indicate her indifference to procreation and to suggest that men are “unnecessary” for sexual pleasure.
This contraceptive/pleasure-as-the goal view of sex is taken entirely for granted today by mainstream culture. But it is precisely this view, as Pope Paul VI so wisely prophesied, that has taken the wonder out of woman, shall we say. Removing fertility from the sexual equation, Pope Paul VI predicted in his landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae, would lead men to consider women “as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment,” as Trevor seems to think of the past women he has slept with.
In a prescient interview in 1984, the future Pope Benedict XVI predicted that we will atone in our day for “the consequences of a sexuality which is no longer linked to motherhood and procreation. It logically follows from this that every form of [genital activity] is equivalent. No longer having an objective reason to justify it, sex seeks the subjective reason in the gratification of the desire, in the most ‘satisfying’ answer for the individual.” In turn, everyone “is free to give to his personal libido the content considered suitable for himself. Hence, it naturally follows that all forms of sexual gratification are transformed into the ‘rights’ of the individual.” From there, people end up demanding the right of “escaping from the ‘slavery of nature,’ demanding the right to be male or female at one’s will or pleasure” (The Ratzinger Report, pp. 85, 95).
Like the culture at large, Wonder Woman takes this distorted view of physical fertility for granted. Nonetheless, Wonder Woman as a movie is a step in the right direction because Wonder Woman is spiritually fertile. Like Mary, she receives the gift of a man who made the ultimate sacrifice and through receiving it, defeats evil. Her wonderfully feminine compassion for those who suffer saves the lives of millions. This is spiritual fertility at its best. What we need to do is show the world the relationship between the beauty of Wonder Woman’s spiritual fertility and the beauty of women’s physical fertility.
Question: How do we affirm the wheat in Wonder Woman while also recognizing the weeds? Share your thoughts and insights on Facebook and Twitter.
John Paul West is a sophomore at Ave Maria University majoring in literature and philosophy.
Image: Wonder Woman still from Warner Bros.
For such a time as this have we been given Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. By taking us beyond the alternatives of prudish repression and damaging indulgence, the Theology of the Body opens the path to the redemption of sexuality and the real healing of our wounds. Learn more by watching my short film, The Cry of the Heart. Watch the trailer below.