The perennial moral that Wonder Woman learns is that evil, and the war which is one of its manifestations, can never be finally destroyed in human history…
It’s been many years since I’ve been in the habit of watching films. It’s not because I’ve turned my back on the motion picture as an art form; I haven’t. It’s just that our family situation has made it almost impossible. By the time I’ve read with my children, or played chess with them, it’s time for prayer time and bedtime, and by the time they’ve gone to bed, it’s pretty much my bedtime too. There’s certainly no time or inclination to stay up, way past my bedtime, to watch a movie.
The last time I went to the cinema was to watch the first of Peter Jackson’s awful Hobbit movies. (I boycotted the next two and still haven’t seen them.) Imagine my delight, therefore, when friends offered to watch our children so that Susannah and I could go out on a date, unchaperoned by the kids. Rather than going to a restaurant, we chose to go to the movies. I’d heard from several people whom I trust that Wonder Woman was surprisingly good and mercifully free of agenda-driven nonsense, a few glitches notwithstanding. I guessed that Susannah, who has more patience with action movies and superhero movies than I do, would like the idea. She did.
And so we settled down in the movie theatre and gritted our teeth as the trailers offended our eyes and sensibilities with new films based on little more than meretricious women seeking nothing in life but casual fornication. I wondered, with a sense of trepidation, whether Wonder Woman would be of their ilk. Eventually and mercifully, the film finally began. And to be honest, I was not too impressed. The first twenty minutes or so are spent in the mythical world of the Amazons, whence Wonder Woman, a child of the god Zeus, is being trained to be a warrior. There were lots of fight scenes between scantily-clad women accentuated by a gratuitously excessive employment of computer graphics. Still, Susannah seemed to be enjoying it and I was consoled somewhat by the mythopoeic back story, relaying how Zeus had managed to defeat his son, Ares, the latter of whom hated mankind, seeking to destroy the human creatures whom his father had created. This aspect of the film reminded me somewhat of Tolkien’s own creation myth, as well as the myths of the Greeks, and established what might be called a theological setting for all that would follow.
After Wonder Woman leaves her mythological setting and enters human history, at the end of 1918, during the final death throes of World War One, things began to get better. The acting was flat, which is perhaps appropriate, or at least forgivable, for the comic book setting, but the humour was good and for the most part good-natured, reminding us that we were meant to be keeping our tongue in our cheeks as well as the rest of ourselves on the edge of our seats. This was meant to be fun and funny and was not meant to be taken too seriously. And yet its moral message, delivered at the climax like the moral of a fable, had a depth that belied the rather trite and trivial form of the genre in which it was conveyed, adding a healthy dose of gravitas to the levitas.
The moral itself was nothing new. It wasn’t the sort of new morality, animated by Pride, which in reality is only an old sin dressed up to look pathetically and ridiculously attractive, like mutton trying to look like lamb. It was the sort of morality that is never new because it’s always true, as undying and immortal as the proverbial gods themselves and as unchanging as the real God from whence it came. It is the sort of morality that, like Wonder Woman herself, is destined to remain ever-youthful because it can never age and never decay. Like the God from whom it came, it simply is.
The perennial moral that Wonder Woman learns is that evil, and the war which is one of its manifestations, can never be finally destroyed in human history. It is a perennial feature of life in what Tolkien would call the Long Defeat of humanity. In a fallen cosmos, broken by the rebellion of sin, the evils of hatred and war will always be with us. When Ares tempts her to turn her back on Man, treating him with the contempt that his weakness deserves, she is saved from War’s seductive sophistry because she had witnessed how the hero (and love interest) had laid down his life for his friends, and how the small group of misfits with whom he had surrounded himself had done likewise. In doing so, they had shown her the meaning of love, as preached and practiced by Christ Himself and by all who follow in His suffering footsteps. As the god of war urges her to take vengeance on the evil villain, whose devilish experiments had created new weapons of mass destruction, Wonder Woman refuses to practice the eye-for-an-eye morality that Ares urges, choosing instead to love her enemy as well as her friends.
One wonders what a certain type of pharisaical Christian will make of a film in which the gods exist but in which God apparently doesn’t. Indeed, we are told early in the film that God is dead, insofar as Zeus, the Father of Gods and Men, has died. We might remind these puritans or Pharisees that even C. S. Lewis presented us with such a world in his masterful Till We Have Faces. The question is not whether God exists but whether those who don’t know that he exists can get to know Him. In our non-Christian culture, as clueless as it is godless, we need films, such as this, which show that Love has supernatural power that can not only transcend the power of evil but can defeat it. We need to see how it is love, and love alone, which can redeem fallen humanity from its fallen self. If God is truly dead in this culture, and in the hearts of many who have seen this film, he is truly resurrected in the unmistakable morality of this wonderful movie. Even if those millions who have seen it are not converted by the experience they have been moved closer to conversion. After all, and lest we forget, all those who truly love, and truly see the power of love, are moved closer to Love Himself.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.