By Tulsathit Taptim
The “Wonder Woman” on show at a theatre near you is a good movie, though I will leave the film criticism to the experts. It was a political statement uttered by the chief villain that got me thinking hard. The gist of it was, war gives human beings their purpose. In other words, every one of us feels fundamentally purposeless until we get the chance to help some people, or race, or country, win a war.
Big political messages are common in blockbuster movies nowadays. The Hunger Games trilogy had one, as did “Snowden”, “The Fifth Estate”, “Avatar” and so on. They all ask resounding questions that command our serious attention – not least because filmmakers don’t have the ulterior motives of politicians seeking votes. As for “Wonder Woman”, it makes us wonder what our lives are worth if we can’t help someone win a war.
Human beings are beyond salvation, declares the film’s villain, explaining that we are driven by the desire to triumph in war, which spreads evil left, right and centre. Our heroine doesn’t agree, though, instead detecting glimpses of light in the darkness of the human heart. An advocate of love, Wonder Woman is torn between that feeling and its extreme opposite – hatred and anger.
You leave the cinema wondering if love is possible without having to do the very things it prohibits you from doing. You also wonder how many bad things have been committed in the name of love. The movie mentions a “God of War” with many faces, some of them unexpected. Unlike the TV world of Linda Carter, whose good and bad guys are one-dimensional, this big-screen incarnation presents a screaming dilemma.
This Wonder Woman is a naive heroine who believes there is an ultimate villain, whose destruction will bring everlasting peace to the world. In that belief, she is like many of us, though probably not corrupt to the point where she will use any means necessary to eradicate the villain. In other words, in battling with monsters she hasn’t become a monster herself.
“Wonder Woman” features two types of villain: the obviously “bad” characters and their more subtle, cleverer counterparts. This lesson on evil comes packaged with another – that there’s a fine line between light and dark. Both are part of the overarching message, which can be couched in the form of a question: Are we all driven by something destructive – the urge to wage war in one form or another?
You might answer that you live your life for your family, for people you love, and that you have nothing to do with battles that decide winners and losers. That kind of life is of course possible, but likely rare. Competition is a fact of life and we all know what it can lead to. But that may be the least of our problems. The truth is we all function as part of structures with enormous potential to spawn war, namely religion, ideology and political systems. These things have one thing in common. They seek to dominate and thus they give us purpose, whether we know it or not.
Theorists of evolution have claimed that conflict is necessary to keep our species from weakening to the point of extinction. Some say competitive sports were invented to channel the destructive human instinct to dominate into a constructive peaceful one. (It’s up to you to decide which contributes more to civilisation and our technological advancement – war or sport? Your answer might help demonstrate whether using sports to tame human instinct works or not.)
The theme of the movie was pinpointed in a New Yorker headline: “Wonder Woman’s Un-winnable War” – though the article beneath focused on the feminist aspect of the super-heroine, who was created in the early 1940s, partly to balance the macho and violent Superman and Batman. The headline itself summed up Wonder Woman’s dilemma perfectly. On the one hand, she believes in the essential goodness of human beings. On the other, she is willing to kill to protect that goodness.
It’s an action movie, all right, and people die in action flicks. Still, this one asks a very tough question, one that might appear simple but is actually far from it.
Is there a God of War? Wonder Woman believes there is. And she may be right on that one. She is wrong, though, if she thinks that He can be killed.