He Sees Ghosts

Published on June 27, 2017 by   ·   No Comments

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If you haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, then you need to take a serious look at your life choices.  After doing so, you need to immediately run out and get a ticket to the next available show.  Not only is this the badass, female-lead superhero flick we’ve needed and deserved for so long, it’s an amazing interpretation of one of the most popular and important pop culture icons of the 20th century.  Needless to say, spoilers abound in this blog as I want to dig a lot deeper into what this film shows and what it says about women, men, and the future of our understanding of gender.

WW 08First, let’s talk about Steve Trevor.  One of the most consistent complaints I’ve heard about the film is that people don’t like that they included the romance with Steve Trevor.  Aren’t we past making stories about women into stories of great loves?  I agree, but I think they did a fantastic job of balancing all of the various audiences and their expectations.  For comic book fans, you can’t have a Wonder Woman film and not have Steve Trevor.  It would feel like a lie.  Trevor’s plane crashing off the coast of Themyscira is what brings Wonder Woman into contact with Man’s World; without this catalyst, there would be no reason for the Amazon warrior to venture out into the world.  Trevor’s arrival and the battle that follows is what ushers Diana from innocence and Amazon purity into the complexity of the “real world.”  Because Themyscira, as beautiful and idyllic as it is, is a fantasy; it’s the utopian desire that any member of an oppressed group at one point or another imagines as utter perfection: a world which is populated only by others just like them.  In this case, the fantasy is about a place untouched by sexism and so we see women of various ethnic and racial groups living in harmony, outside the corruption of patriarchy and without the troubles of racism and colorism, homophobia and transphobia that might otherwise disrupt the feeling of community.  Any exclusionary community, from certain types of communes to women’s only music festivals to support meetings open only to specific racial and ethnic identities or openly identifying members of the LGBT community, are all reaches toward this goal.  It’s not wrong, and these communities and events serve necessary purposes, but inevitably they are faced with addressing the reality that identity is complex and multi-layered.  Using women’s spaces as an example, how do you define woman?  Are transwomen included in the community?  How about lesbians – are women whose relationships to other women can carry a sexual dynamic also welcome in the space?  And do women of different racial identities feel an equal part of the space?  Any space that tries to define itself around one facet of identity must at some point contend with all of those other facets and the differences they represent.

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So Steve Trevor arrives and as the narrative progresses, a romance is sparked.  But what makes this different from other Hollywood treatments is that the spark remains just a small glowing part of the narrative; it never takes over, and it never becomes the focus.  It assuages the desires for comic purists to see an integral characters without sanitizing out any hint of romance.  It gives Diana new emotional depth without undermining her place as the central force for good in the narrative.  And by bookending the film with scenes set in the present (or near future), it sets Steve Trevor in his own historical context – he’s a part of the past, a part of the story, but it is Diana’s story that continues.  It is her story that matters most.  This is not a love story; it is the story of an Amazon princess and warrior who leaves the idyllic island on which she was raised, fought in a war, saves lives, battles a god…and also feels a deep connection with a human being.

WW 10In fact, she forges deep connections with several men, members of the resistance who have complicated relationships to gender themselves; through Diana’s eyes, and through a film that privilege’s a different view of the world, we get to see men who don’t have to be defined only by aggression, action, dominance.  One of Trevor’s team, Charlie, is a Scot supposedly known for his ability as a sniper.  One night as they are camping, moving ever closer to the front where Diana believes she will find her inevitable confrontation with Ares, Charlie seems to be having a nightmare; his pained sounds seem to indicate that he is grieving the loss of family, the people he most loved in the world.  When Diana wakes him, he seems greatly embarassed by his vulnerability and storms off into the night.  When Diana inquires about his nightmare, the Chief (played refreshingly by Native actor Eugene Brave Rock) says simply, “He sees ghosts.”

WW 03Later in a battle, Charlie is unable to pull the trigger to take out an enemy sniper and Diana, Steve, and the others have to find another way to secure their location.  They are victorious and in their evening of celebration, Charlie takes to the piano and sings a Scottish folk song.  When they are preparing to leave, Charlie questions whether he should even accompany the team as they move forward, wondering what he can offer the team if he can’t shoot.  “You can sing,” Diana tells him.  It’s a beautiful moment, and one that could only come from a film like this.  Diana, embodying the ideals of Themyscira sees his value as more than just his ability to kill and destroy.  She values him as a whole being, for the fact that after all he has lost he is still able to raise his voice in song.  Actors Ewan Bremner and Gal Gadot play the scene perfectly – there is no sense that Charlie is emasculated by his reluctance to kill or that Diana does not absolutely value him as a member of the operation.  This is just one of the ways in which this film presents a view of the world in which old rules of masculinity and femininity are constantly presented as illogical and strange.

In a more humorous montage, when Diana and Steve return to London they connect with Steve’s personal secretary Etta Candy (played effervescently by Lucy Davis) who takes them shopping.  Diana’s inability to understand the rules of 1940s fashion and her attempt to adapt the clothing to her fighting style are very funny, as is her attempt to navigate a revolving door with drawn sword and shield.  Etta provides snarky commentary, recognizing how ridiculous the whole thing is but also well-equipped to travel through that world successfully.  She’s a sort of Amazon in her own right, having learned how to navigate the peculiarities of women’s lives in her time and place while still achieving her final goals.  It’s a way of finding power in a marginalized position that is rarely shown or celebrated.

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WW 11When Diana finally confronts Ares and learns that she, not the sword she carries, is in fact the “god killer,” it is Steve’s sacrifice to save countless lives from Dr. Maru’s deadly gases that gives her the surge of strength she needs to triumph.  Again, this is not meant to somehow discredit her strength as being dependent on her feelings for a man; rather, her connection to Steve represents her new connection to humanity, her new understanding of the complexity of human lives.  No one is entirely good, and no one is entirely evil.  A common theme in Wonder Woman comics, especially in recent years, is the deep love Diana feels for humanity despite their flawed nature.  In the Green Lantern event Blackest Night where several additional lantern corps are revealed, Diana is deputized as a member of the Star Sapphire Corp whose violet light rings are powered by love.  She is chosen because of her abiding love for humanity even in the face of the great atrocities they perpetrate.  It is this love that saves her when she is later corrupted into a Black Lantern.  I won’t go any further into that particular story arc, but Blackest Night is also a very good set of books worth reading (though some of the tie-in issues are a bit lacking in actual content and can pretty much be skipped).  Plus, who doesn’t love a superhero book that’s centered around a rainbow?!

This movie is the perfect fuck you to every man who ever said that a female action movie couldn’t be successful.  Not only is Wonder Woman making a ton of money, it’s also a really, really good movie!  It presents material that is true to the source material but also presents it in a way that intelligently interacts with our expectations for men and women, and how they respond to conflict.

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Of course, I couldn’t write this post without also including a little “love letter” to Robin Wright’s Antiope.  From the moment she appears on screen, you are unable to look away.  As the leader of the Amazon army, she is a fierce warrior and consummate athlete; she is nothing less than a force of nature.  She is representative of how all of the Amazons are portrayed: they are beautiful, but not in the typical “male gaze” kind of way.  They are strong and athletic and powerful; they are like the living embodiment of “Confidence is sexy” taken to its most extremely developed conclusion.  Even the costuming, which is impeccable, supports this: the layers of leather and hide embellishments are beautiful and entrancing to watch, but nothing exists without a purpose.  Even the queen’s gown moves and flows with the ease of a warrior or athlete.  It’s absolutely entrancing.  Connie Nielsen’s Hippolyta is well played and she’s a fantastic Amazon queen, but Wright steals every scene she appears in.  Her portrayal is breathtaking.

We can only hope that this signals further change in the roles and portrayals of women in Hollywood films – and it’s about damn time!  Let’s not forget that Wonder Woman is currently the only female presence in the entire Justice League film (at least what we’ve been teased with so far).  Maybe now that Hollywood has seen what women can do – in battle and at the box office – we’ll finally get to see some of the great super-heroines from both big comics houses translated to the silver screen.

(And let’s hope the sequel includes at least one more of Wonder Woman’s great female foes – I thought their interpretation of Dr. Poison was fantastic, and I’m LIVING to see who they would do one of my favorite villains, the Cheetah!)

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