Wonder Woman has been unleashed on the world at a perfect time

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I'm With Her

by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

A breezy summer it is not. The mood of our politically bifurcated country continues to be tense and dark. We’re watching the wartime bonds we forged with our European allies fray, and our democracy feels fragile. And now the U.S. has made a cynical show of abandoning the Paris Climate Accord, at exactly the moment that fighting climate change matters most. Can anything save us?  Enter Wonder Woman.

When we first see her in the new movie, our would-be heroine is quietly working in an antiquities office at the Louvre, examining a picture of her past heroism. “I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place,” we hear the voiceover say. “But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within.” Is it possible that our heroine has resistance fatigue and has given up the fight? 

A dose of fight and truth telling are exactly what we’re craving now, and in the subsequent scenes on Themyscira, the protected island home of the Amazons, we get a triple treat: principled valor, a peek of what is possible when we live in harmony with our environment and a full-frontal view of the behavior of empowered women. 

We also see the darkness within a commercial blockbuster: the movie fails on multiple counts when it comes to its portrayals of black women (the mammy, the brute, the sage), and it would have been easy to do better. But collectively, the sight of the ferocious minds and spirits of these women on a paradisal, man-free island—all solidly middle-aged specimens of physical and intellectual prowess—blows the incredibly low bar of the Bechdel test out of the clear blue water. 

For me, just remembering what is possible in a messy world is a breath of fresh air, and the movie hints several times at our current environmental predicament.

When Wonder Woman first leaves her beautiful island home, the first place she sees is the British Isles, specifically the port of London, dressed in shadows and soot: The movie is set in the dark heart of the first World War, where chemical weapons leech their way out of a sociopathic doctor’s mind and the ever-strengthening industrial revolution does its best to belch black smoke into the air. 

“Welcome to jolly London!” says her male boatmate, a charming American spy. 

“It’s hideous,” she deadpans, holding in her mind the image of the blue-green utopia she’s just left while she ponders the bleak house she’s about to enter. This is Wonder Woman’s origin story, but it is also ours—a place in time when we were becoming addicted to fossil fuels, playing with chemicals without a sense of consequence and putting ourselves on a collision course with climate change. 

Finding a way to bring the light of her old home into the darkness of her current world proves challenging. She’s outraged that the generals don’t fight alongside the soldiers at the front—introduced as a seen-not-heard secretary, she finally erupts at their cowardice as they sit in an insulated and well-appointed room, deciding whether other people live or die. She, of course, takes off for the trenches. 

She continues to be pummeled with the brutality of the front and must eventually face her own crisis of conscience: Is the world—are humans—even worth saving? Should that even be her job? The work of the Wonder Woman movie is, in part, finding a way for a dispirited demigod named Diana to reconcile her ideals with reality, find her place in the fight and keep going; while none of us may have been sculpted in clay and brought to life by Zeus to help protect the world, it’s strangely easy to relate to wondering what our own work should be right now, and what power we have as individuals. 

It won’t be for everyone, but for me the movie is much-needed inspiration and a reminder that, in the end, it’s up to each of us (not just the most powerful) to find where we fit into the project of halting our descent into destruction—and to choose love over hate.