A couple of weeks ago I went to see the movie Wonder Woman at my local theater—in 3D no less. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen a fantasy-action movie that I so enjoyed. A previous fan of the genre, during the last ten years nearly every other super-hero movie seemed to sink into a violent, bloody mess intended to shock and horrify rather than inspire. For the first time in a very long time, I walked out of the theater feeling both hopeful and encouraged. That’s because Wonder Woman manages to entertain us while imparting empowering and SMART messages for every person in the audience.
I read years ago that most movies are made for the audience of young men ages 16-25. The reasoning goes that those in that demographic have the most disposable income and are willing to spend the money at the theater. And while a 2016 industry report says that is only slightly true, it does not explain why so many movies—718 in 2016 to be exact—are increasingly violent and so loaded down with special effects that it’s difficult to find a storyline behind them at all.
I have no doubt that Wonder Woman will dramatically change such statistics in 2017. Why? Again it is because, behind the obvious entertainment value, there is a compelling story involving a strong female in the starring role. And while the acting by Israeli Gal Gadot is perfect for the character, it is equally obvious that a large portion of film’s success goes to the direction of Patty Jenkins. Sure the requisite amount of fighting, explosions and even death exist, but at the hand of Jenkins, moviegoers (and likely the children they bring along) are not forced to witness visually excessive gore, spurting blood, or extreme cruelty as has become much too common. Perhaps now, this movie’s success at the box office will inspire those in the industry to use more female directors as well as film stories with strong leading women.
So, without revealing too much of the movie, I decided for my own sake to take the time to review some of the more powerful lessons I carried away with me. The messages themselves may not be especially unique—but finding them in a summer blockbuster movie is extraordinary. They are:
1) Goodness is contagious. Back in 2010, a study held at UC San Diego revealed that when people witness goodness or generosity, that action sparks the same behavior in others. Both Diana (Wonder Woman) and a group of her companions in the movie repeatedly make choices and decisions that are benevolent and kind. Just viewing such goodness can’t help but inspire others—it certainly did me!
2) Stay true to yourself. Diana holds a mission to rid the planet of what she believes is the source of all evil. But instead of behaving like most of us probably would when facing incredible odds, Diana refuses to be deterred even when close friends tell her it is impossible—or far wiser to stay hidden away on an Amazonian Island far from the real world. More than once she walks bravely straight into possible death and destruction in spite of appearances. Her courage and conviction remind us all to be true to what we are guided to do.
3) It is possible to be strong, vulnerable and compassionate at the same time. Far too often in our world strength is portrayed as a tough guy with a big mouth who acts like he knows it all. Diana is powerful but kind. And she shows us that there is a time to stand aside, learn from others, and allow others to help when appropriate. Diana never hides her lack of understanding about humans or their behaviors, but instead, seeks to understand and be of service when she can. Oh, and perhaps best of all, both Wonder Woman and her Amazonian friends and family are shown as real women. Even while being incredibly strong and well trained, Jenkins (the director) portrays the woman as both real AND powerful just the way all women are.
4) When two people in a relationship respect and admire one another they both can flourish. One reason that this action-adventure movie is so unusual is that a true relationship develops between Diana and another character. But rather than being a sappy sort of afterthought, or an excuse for nudity or a sex scene, the relationship itself adds to the story and models how important equal respect, appreciation, and caring is in the very best of relationships.
5) Always stand up for what is right—no matter what. One of Diana’s greatest strengths is her unwavering character. How refreshing. In one of the more powerful scenes in the movie, she keeps asking her fellow companions why they aren’t helping a group of people who are being brutalized. Sure it seemed hopeless and the excuses she is offered make sense. But Diana refuses to accept the excuses and plows ahead to do the right thing. Watching a woman be so fearlessly direct speaks to all of us on many levels.
6) Doing the right thing is never a burden or obligation—it’s just the right thing to do. So many superheroes in recent years have seemed to agonize over their own doubts or abilities. Some of those movies even appear to make that existential conflict romantic, moody and attractive—as though having a superhuman ability is an impossible burden to bear. Wonder Woman takes a refreshing approach by embracing Diana’s strength and abilities as the natural obligation of a leader born for great things.
7) In The End…Only Love Can Save the World. In case you’re wondering, things don’t turn out perfectly for Diana. While I don’t want to give anything away, I believe it important to remember that even when we are filled with all the above qualities, things can still happen that catch us by surprise. And like I said in my post a couple of weeks ago, “We didn’t come to get it done.” Diana fully expected that she would be able to rid the world of evil and then be done with it. Unfortunately, evil, or life for that matter, is not a black and white issue. Diana discovers that life is an ongoing process (yes! I’m sure there will be a sequel) that requires her to stay in the game. And from that perspective, love is the reason, and love is what always saves the day.
There is so much more about this movie that I loved and obviously I would like to hear your thoughts as well. But when researching this article I came across a post on Tumblr from a young woman who goes by the name Kassel and works in a kindergarten classroom. There she posted a collection of impressions from students in the week following the release of the movie. Some of these explain, better than I can, why this movie is so important in the world today. Here are my favorites from that post:
- On Monday, a boy who was obsessed with Iron Man, told me he had asked his parents for a new Wonder Woman
- A little girl said, “When I grow up I want to speak hundreds of languages like Diana.”
- This girl had her parents revamp her Beauty and the Beast birthday party in THREE DAYS because she simply had to have a Wonder Woman
- Seven girls playing together during recess on Tuesday, saying that since they all wanted to be Wonder Woman they had agreed to be Amazons and not fight but work together to defeat evil.
- I was talking to one of the girls that hadn’t seen the movie, and the next day she came and very seriously told me “you were right, Wonder Woman was way better than ”
I believe our world needs more movies that inspire us and call us to more positive action. Sure it would be nice to see such heroic behavior in the real world. But clearly there are those who have trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction anyway, so let’s make our movies portray a positive message for a change. Besides, maybe it is high time that women stepped forward in all ways and became the heroes that are needed in the world at this time. Now that will be a SMART and amazing story as it unfolds.