by Michael Curtis
The new film, Wonder Woman, a blockbuster extravaganza, is the latest in the superhero genre, but several aspects of it are worth noting.
First is the conception of Wonder Woman herself. Even strict feminists will have difficulty with Irving Berlin’s sharpshooter Annie Oakley’s boast to her male rival that “Anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better that you” More in keeping with the feminist principle of parity rather than superiority, and now illustrated in glorious 3D technology, is the character of the heroine in the new film Wonder Woman who breaks the stereotype of women in action films as weaker than men and can coequal Superman and Batman in accomplishments, but who views herself in the worldwide struggle for justice and truth as an equal partner of the man she lovers rather than his superior. While she sometimes assumes leadership because of her superhuman power, she does not crow about it.
By coincidence, some of the themes in the film, war and peace, partnership, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, familiar subjects, now illustrated by two events in July 2017. One is the auction in Britain of a newly discovered document. It is a secret dossier written on June 12, 1914 by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, head of the Navy. It suggests, 80 years ahead of its time, the building of a tunnel between Britain and France with an emergency drawbridge in case the UK went to war with France.
The other event, one of the most popular sports events in the world, is the Tour de France, the 2200 mile three week bicycle tournament, starting on July 2, 2017 in Dusseldorf, going through Belgium and Luxembourg, before finishing at the Champs Elysees in Paris on July 23.
The film Wonder Woman tackles serious issues of war and peace and expressions of collaboration and nationalism that leads to bloodshed, as well the conflict between good and evil. They are at the crux of this top grossing film, an imperfect film in its plot, consistency, pacing, and length, but one also a spectacular extravaganza blockbuster with stunning action and violence and provocative by its references and allusions. Historical mistakes, such as the killing of General Erich Ludendorff who in fact died in 1937, a prominent nationalist and promoter of the myth the Germany lost World War I because it was stabbed in the back by Jews and others, are easily forgiven.
Wonder Woman is concerned with actions in World War I in 1917 and 1918. The film is capable of various, if misguided, serious interpretations, and of imaginative allusions to reality, but all these must be set in the context of an entertainment production, of an action film based on comic books, and with a sly sense of humor. How seriously are we to take any messages we think emanating from the film, or unintended contemporary allusions? They would include references to German nationalism, the danger of Islamist terrorism, the production and use of poisonous gases by Germans, the Holocaust, the heroine as Joan of Arc, criticism of the Christian Church because of a church used in the film by a German sniper to kill Belgian civilians, a deceitful British Foreign Office, British appeasement of German aggression, and the “war to end all wars.”
In one sense, WW is a simple adventure story, starting with the life and military training of the group of women Amazons in the Mediterranean island of Themyscira, segregated and isolated in which men are absent and presumably to be shunned. Although the episode suffers from cartoon like exaggeration, of their warrior nature, it may reflect the contrast between these independent tough women and the reality in the outside world of the lack by women of power and authority. The episode suffers from a lack of humanity.
The film is mainly the story of Wonder Woman, the selfless and noble Amazon heroine Diana, no allusion to the former Princess of Wales or to her sad death. One almost hears the crash of glass as if Diana is breaking through the ceiling, as does the woman director, Patty Jenkins, whose film is now the most successful one directed by a woman. It is also telling, and not altogether coincidental, that the character is played by Gal Gadot, former model and Israeli actress, who comes from the suburbs of Tel Aviv, served in the Israel Defense Forces at the age of 20 as a combat instructor, and spoke in 2014 during the Gaza war of Israelis "protecting my country against the horrible acts conducted by Hamas who are hiding like cowards behind women and children."
The character Diana, is a strong, female figure, using her super-strength, magic weapons, and combat skill to combat the enemy. But who is the enemy? She is not protecting her “country,” as Gadot did in real life, but rather “humanity” from the conflicts in the world. At first naïve and idealistic, she learns as a result of her encounters that there is no single monster, such are Ares, the classical world’s God of war, and seemingly the embodiment of Ludendorff to be conquered. Rather it is evil in the human being.
In considering Wonder Woman it is pertinent to look at the role of women, lesser than that of men, in politics. France today illustrates changes. No superwoman has emerged to fight evil in France, though Marine Le Pen sadly and incorrectly thought she might be the reincarnation of one. But Diana would be encouraged and delighted by the recent changes occurring in France especially as the film begins and ends in the Louvre in Paris. Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron may be teasing President Donald Trump with his announcement of a program of making “the planet great again,” as well as his decisions to stop granting licenses for new oil and gas exploration.
Diana, Wonder Woman, would be more interested in the electoral victory of La Republique en Marche, Macron’s political party, winning 350 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly on June 18, 2017, though with a low turnout, which raises the possibility of important changes in France in economic and other matters, and in rejection of extreme nationalism.
More important for Wonder Woman is the fact that 223 women, 38% of the total of 577, were elected to the National Assembly, a record for female representation in the French parliament. Already a law of June 2000 required the political parties have 50% of their candidates be women. A woman Barbara Pompili has been proposed as head of the National Assembly. Women are not unknown in French politics, as Simone Weil, Edith Cresson, Francoise Giraud, and Martine Aubry have illustrated.
However, the number of women elected has increased with each parliament, and reflects the growth of women in all sectors of French life. Macron has illustrated this growth by his appointments of his cabinet, half of whom are women, though only one, Sylvie Goulard at Defense, was at one of the top five roles and resigned on June 23, 2017. It remains for a real life Wonder Woman to break the glass ceiling completely.