I cried at the cinema on Monday. I didn’t expect to – it was a bit of a surprise. If one is going to cry in public, the cinema is a good place to do it. It’s dark and everyone is focused on the film, not you. I have waited for the release of Wonder Woman with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I had heard several men say that they didn’t want to see this film, because it was ‘girly’. I’d be lying if I said that that didn’t irritate me slightly. For decades men and women, boys and girls have followed their heroes in comic books, television series and films. More recently with the Marvel and DC reboots we have become slightly obsessed with these superheroes, and all of them are men. Except one. There are some fantastic female characters in these films (Black Widow and Agent Carter spring to mind immediately), but they are all supporting characters. Wonder Woman is the first female superhero to get her own film in the superhero cinematic universe of today. I was nervous for her. I know that sounds weird – she’s not real, after all. She is, however, still a pioneer, and as a woman I wanted this film to go well. I think it did, on the whole. I certainly loved it. I’m betting that women all over the world are feeling a little bit triumphant this week. Though fictional, Wonder Woman is a pioneer, because she is doing what no woman has done before. In terms of her capacity to save the world, I think that being a woman makes her even more awesome, because in the historical context of World War I she was not in any way expected to be able to (something the movie put across really well, I thought). Meredith Woerner put into words in the Los Angeles Times something I bet many women felt this week: “I felt like I was discovering something I didn’t even know I had always wanted. To see a woman brave, powerful and invincible”.
One thing that really pleased me about this film was the way in which both Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazons were not over-sexualised. This cannot be said of the comic books or older films preceding this one, and I was expecting a busty, leggy lady with a very seductive way of doing things. Not because that’s what Wonder Woman always is, but because it’s what Hollywood usually delivers. Perhaps due to the fact that it was directed by a woman, this film did not. Gal Gadot was strong and beautiful as Wonder Woman, but at no point did I see over amounts of cleavage, and she didn’t flirt hardly at all with the men around her. It was refreshing. I’ll put it out there – I was slightly annoyed about the few seconds of near-full-frontal nudity from Chris Pine, just because I felt like it had the potential to undermine the film. Apparently in this day and age women can’t enjoy or be empowered by a film unless a ripped, naked man appears in it at least once. I suppose it’s no different to Black Widow’s tight leather trousers.
So why did I cry? Several reasons.
- Jessica Valenti described it well in her article in the Guardian. She says, ‘it’s one thing to intellectually recognize the power of representation, quite another to feel it in your bones when you finally see it”. My career is comprised of the study of women who fought hard against the restrictions and subjugation of their time to be pioneers – to win rights for us as a sex. I literally spend my life intellectually recognizing the power of representation. It can actually get a bit wearing after a while – you get tired of hearing about their struggles and want to skip straight to the victory part. Valenti is right. The scene were Wonder Woman threw off her cloak, revealed who she was and stormed across no man’s land in slow motion, deflecting German bullets and liberating a village that no man had managed to in four years – it was powerful. Not least because of the beautiful accompanying soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams. As Valenti also pointed out, though things are undeniably better for women today than they would have been in World War I, we still have major leaders of the Western world bragging about sexually assaulting women and remain locked in ongoing debates regarding equality. It is easy to feel powerless, and to feel worried about how much of a choice we really have in some areas of life. Watching Wonder Woman storm the Germans, I felt the same thing Valenti did – ‘cathartic release’.
2. I study women who fought in world wars. I cried because watching Wonder Woman fight the Germans constantly reminded me of them. Some of my earlier posts (The Indian Princess, One Woman and Her Lions etc.) are on women I greatly admire and draw inspiration from. Ladies like Noor Inayat Khan, who was Britain’s only covert wireless operator in occupied Paris during World War II, who was tortured with unimaginable cruelty at the hands of the Nazis, and who refused to betray her country even when she knew it meant certain death. Ladies like Pearl Witherington, who led thousands of men through the forest to defeat many more thousands of Nazis in hand to hand combat. Ladies like Violette Szabo (post coming soon), who threw herself out of a plane into the pitch black night, and was captured in a shoot-out with a Nazi road-block so that her colleague could get important secret information to the British. These women were real, and though they may not have been demi-goddesses, they were every bit as brave as Wonder Woman. Watching her storm no-man’s-land overwhelmed me, because I kept thinking of them, often without weapons, doing equally as daring, incredible things to shock and surprise the men around them, whilst chipping away at the evil threatening to overwhelm the world. Wonder Woman isn’t real, but they were. I thought about how much courage it must have taken for them to make the jump out of the plane, knowing what awaited them – and it made me cry.
(Above: SOE agent Jacqueline Nearne prepares to conduct a ‘blind’ parachute drop into Nazi occupied France)
3.Call me an idealist, but I found Wonder Woman’s need to go to war against evil quite touching. I have read some militant feminist reviews of this film, all of which I hated. It’s to be expected with the first female superhero film in the reboot series, but I don’t see the need to tear it to shreds with feminist criticism. At the end of the day it’s a film – it’s for entertainment, not hardcore intellectual debate. It’s wonderful that we have freedom of speech and opinion, so I won’t bash this type of reception too much – we are all entitled to our opinion. I chose to focus on the good points, because like Wonder Woman, I’m an idealist! Some of these reviewers hated that she was taking orders from men who weren’t even a little bit as powerful as she was. I think that her naive, compassionate character was quite beautiful. It’s not as if she let them subjugate her – she refused to dress as they wanted her to, she wouldn’t stay outside whilst Steve went to talk to the government, and she barged in and made a scene in the name of justice, eliciting some hilarious behaviour from the shocked men who did not expect a woman to have a mind of her own at all. She was in a world she did not come from and could not easily understand. I feel like many of us would have behaved as she did – you can’t go to a place you don’t come from, understand or belong in and call all the shots right from the second you arrive. I loved how, despite the prevalent attitude among her male comrades was that you ‘can’t save everyone’ in war, and that some people or even villages are just unavoidable collateral damage, Diana (or Wonder Woman) was adamant that she would help those she could. Her burdening feeling of responsibility to do good where she could was inspiring. The odds were against her, but when she was asked for help by a desperate woman and child, she couldn’t just walk away like Steve was proposing. She left her land of comfort and safety, asked to be ‘taken to the war’, wherever the fighting was most intense, and gave her mission everything she had. We won’t all go to war, but many of us can leave the comfort and safety of our homes to help people, wherever the need is most intense. We each have our own mission, and we all need a little bit of what Wonder Woman has. We can’t help everyone, but that shouldn’t be the reason we don’t help anyone.
(Diana can’t be talked out of it…)
One awesome side note – Gal Gadot (the actress who plays Wonder Woman in this film) is Israeli, and her maternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors. There’s something a little poetic in that. It did cross my mind as I welled up in the cinema.
As I said, call me an idealist. I am one. I have been accused of looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses. But sometimes there are actually roses, and I don’t want to miss them because I’m so busy looking at the clouds. Wonder Woman wasn’t perfect, but it was wonderful to see a lady save the world, especially when I know of so many brave women who have been involved in world-saving and won’t be up on the big screen for us to admire. I know that the DC films have not done too well, but this one, in my opinion, was a triumph.