Crossing No Man’s Land: Why I’ve Waited My Whole Life For Wonder Woman
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I have waited my entire life for the Wonder Woman movie.
I didn’t read the comics, and I only somewhat saw the television show, even though I was the right age and generation to have grown up watching it. I suspect something else was on during the time she aired and I was overruled, not allowed to see. I didn’t have a huge draw to her at the time, though, so I didn’t push. I was highly aware of Wonder Woman, though. I always knew who she was. Like Princess Leia in Star Wars, in the world of super heroes, Wonder Woman was the girl. There was only one. Oh, there were others, sort of, but she was the one, the best one, the one who mattered. She was always strong. It didn’t matter how ridiculous her outfit or how pouty her lips. My image of Wonder Woman was always that she was strong. She was the representation of women, the only one we had, and she was strong.
As I grew older and stumbled into the history and importance of super heroes, I learned more about Wonder Woman and appreciated her in a new way. I’ve learned how she’s been a staunch feminist even when it should have been impossible for her to be so. I’ve learned she’s queer. I’ve learned the beautiful, intricate ways her character has grown over the years, and I’ve come to love her as a symbol not only for women but for queer women, for forward thinking people, for strength, for change, for love.
And like so many people, I have wondered where in the hell has her movie been.
I went to Batman vs. Superman expressly to see Wonder Woman, and she was the only good thing about the film. She was amazing in it, to the point that I have to think Jenkins directed her scenes. During that movie I was mostly annoyed, thinking how many damn bat movies and Superman reboots have I sat through and now, finally, I get ten minutes of Wonder Woman, drips from a faucet.
But now we have a whole film. An entire film. And I have seen it twice.
Here are some of the reasons the film was so moving to me, why I cried both times I saw it, why I feel, for Western women, this movie is a watershed, a must-see.
How many battle scenes have women sat through where men bulged up and whaled on each other for twenty minutes, blowup up cars and in general being macho? At this point they start and we think, “Oh, the battle sequence” and you could pretty much go get popcorn because it’s just going to kill time. It’s directors masturbating more often than not.
In Wonder Woman, the battle scenes are all about women, and in a way you’ve never seen. Not even like Mad Max, which wasn’t half bad either. There’s slo-mo and tank flipping and crazy-ass battle mojo and it’s all, every time, about the ladies. Amazons and Wonder Woman, every time. The camera follows them, focuses on them. The scenes are built around them. The other characters work to make sure the women are the focal point of the scenes.
This isn’t something I’ve ever seen before in my life.
But we get to see the battle, and it’s amazing. These women are machines. They fly through the air, literally, repelling on ropes and shooting arrows as they sail through the air, hitting their target without issue. Sometimes they shoot two or three arrows at once and still hit their enemies. They throw knives while twisting midair, kick up sand and throw a spear. The generals and even the queen join the battle and fight in the middle of the melee, and it is stunning. I wish it would have gone on for twenty five minutes.
The best part is the general, Wonder Woman’s aunt Antiope, is played by Robin Wright, the Princess Bride. So it’s the Princess Brid being so fucking badass on that beach. I literally could watch that Amazon battle all day. I really need the sequel to have another Amazon battle. Desperately.
Wonder Woman herself though has some pretty badass moments. She doesn’t get them in right away–she trains with Antiope, yes, but it takes her some time to get her licks in, because the whole theme of the movie is she didn’t really understand who she was and what her role in the world was at this time, and while she knew how to fight, she didn’t know her own strength quite yet. But she has help, and let’s get to that.
Steve Trevor, Supportive Partner
When I heard they were going to use Steve Trevor in the movie, I was disappointed, because while I knew he was canon, I worried it would turn into him mansplaining her or overshadowing her or basically fucking stuff up. Instead, what Steve Trevor did in Wonder Woman was support the crap out of his demigoddess.
He is attracted to her immediately, because she’s beautiful and confident and charming, but he doesn’t try to dominate her or outdo her. He does his best to become a companion to her. He treats her always as an equal, except for the times when he realizes he is not her equal, and then he is her servant, doing what he can to help her shine and save them all. There are times when he tries to protect her from the prejudice and customs of his culture, but when she choses to ignore them and storms ahead, he doesn’t shame her or correct her, he simply tries to move with her.
When they make love after a battle, he comes to her hesitantly, clearly interested, but also clearly ready to leave if she says no. He isn’t even going to ask. He’s waiting for her direction. When she looks at him as if to say, “Yes, I believe I will indulge in the pleasures of the flesh with you,” he’s happy, and not ashamed to be a bit beta in this moment. And the camera shows us her face, shows us her as the dominant sexual partner, him as the tender one, her as the sheltering force. It was so fast you almost missed it, but it was there.
When she’s in battle, he helps her, doesn’t try to walk over her or redirect her. In No Man’s Land, he tries to explain to her the way to do war at first, but when she sheds her cloak and walks out into the field alone, he doesn’t do anything but back her up, and he follows her lead, letting her play captain to their party. When there’s a sniper in a bell tower, he remembers a technique the Amazons used, assumes she knows it too, and organizes his men to help her utilize it so she can save the day.
Trevor is a man’s man, he is capable and sexy and smart, and he is total support staff. He is absolutely the companion for a goddess, and he plays his role well. He does sometimes stop her from action, but especially when she would have stabbed the general in the middle of the ball, she would have caused more trouble than she would have stopped. But at the same time, especially that interaction ended up in tragedy, and when she was upset with him, he didn’t argue with her over who was right or wrong, he simply set her up with her target, helping her by way of apology. And in the end, he gave her the greatest gift of all: he became her compass so she could override Ares and become her true goddess self, understanding everything about her nature and her path.
Pain, Loss, and Love
There’s a track on the soundtrack called this exactly, but I would argue this is the theme of the whole movie in a nutshell. Growth for Wonder Woman, yes, but she does so through pain, loss, and love. Her whole existence, we learn as the movie unfolds, was designed to kill the God of War. It was why she was born and what she was destined to do. Her mother tried to keep her from this destiny, but her aunt did her best to prepare her, even in her dying breath.
It was this loss of her aunt, this first pain that Diana carries out of Themyscira and into the world. She believes she can simply find Ares, stick a sword in him, and save the world. Discovering people are more complicated than this, that they are themselves both good and evil, that they can always be both, is difficult for her to understand.
But as we the audience watch her move through the world, we’re transfixed by this woman who can believe such things at all. And women in particular fell a thrill at watching someone who is like us ignore the societal and cultural dictates and wear what she wishes, go where she wishes, and do what she wishes because she sees no reason to do otherwise. I loved watching her go into that cabinet meeting. I loved watching her reject the clothing and carry her sword and shield out of the shop. I loved the alley scene where she took out all the attackers with her bracelets and a few kicks.
The scene and sequence that rocked me was No Man’s Land. Diana seeing all those people and animals hurt, not being able to help them, then being told she had to stand in the trench and do nothing–and refusing. Climbing that ladder in her Amazon gear and facing that vast emptiness alone. My god what a symbol, what an image. Going where no man can go, Wonder Woman forges alone, naked but for her armor. The music, the cinematography, the everything. I cried both times.
I loved too that she got stuck. That she got so far and then she could get no further, and Trevor mobilized the men to help her. Not take over, not bring her back, but help her finish her advance, to join her. “Here, let us help you get the rest of the way. Let us help clear a path for you to walk on.” And then when she made it through, did we get a sequence of her bashing German heads? No. She smashed the gun, then urged them all to the village.
And then…then what happened? She rescues her village, her first win. She credits the help of the others, but they all acknowledge it was her and her alone who took the town, who got them the advance. She’s happy, she feels good. She has sex with Trevor. She plans an assault on the high command…and then they gas the town she just saved, killing everyone.
They weren’t simply people–they were her people, it was her town, the one she’d worked so hard to rescue, and she’d been trying to kill the man who’d just pulled the trigger on this gas when Steve had stopped her. Her pain is great, her loss is intense. What resonated with me, though, was her sense of isolation and powerlessness, that no matter what she did, the world would always get in her way and undo her efforts to make it better. She was able to stay single-mindedly fixed on the idea that killing Ares would make everything all right, but of course not for long. Soon she too would have to face the truth that simply existing in the world means everyone undoes your plans, upsets your victories–and as a woman, it’s even harder.
That was never a theme in the movie, that being a woman has its own specific struggles, and yet it was clear the director took pains to give women their own spotlight and moment, giving Wonder Woman so much incredible agency. She was the hero who stormed in alone to face the man she thought was Ares, and when he inhaled a gas to make him stronger, he still wasn’t close to a match for her. When she did finally fight the true Ares, he was initially stronger than her, but it was never because she was a woman, it was because she’s a young god who has not been taught how to use her powers, and she’s literally learning as she battles. Plus her heart isn’t quite in the battle yet. She doesn’t know how to take him down.
Not until Steve makes the ultimate sacrifice and teacher her the final truth of what love is: he gave himself not only to her but to the whole world, making sure that gas only killed one person: him. At first she rages, despairing at his loss, but as Ares urges her to give into the hate, to hate Steve too, she realizes if she does that, she loses Steve forever and all he has taught her–all that she is, in fact. And she is love. Inside of her pain, her loss, and even her confusion over how a world could be so contrary to its own needs and desires, she is determined to be a force of love.
The Strength of Wonder Woman
I’ve heard some men saying they didn’t like all the slo-mo. I’ve heard about (but not read) some sexist reviews wanting some of the bygone era sexist images of Wonder Woman in bondage and Trevor’s sexism to have been included. I’m here to tell you I’m glad none of that was there and I wanted more badass women in slo-mo. This is all we have, thanks, so when I stack it agains the eight million pounds of it in the man movies, I think you can have a seat and let us enjoy it here. And no, we don’t need any sexism in this movie. We really don’t. We don’t need it anywhere, but we really don’t need it here.
This movie was so validating, so freeing. I would go see it every day if I could afford to. She’s so strong. Not just in body but in spirit. She’s so caring and gentle and yet so fierce. So gently fierce. Innocent and wise at once. The scene where she explains to Trevor she knows about the pleasures of the flesh and that men aren’t necessary? My god, that was the best. The absolute best.
We don’t get to see women like this, and never for a full movie. We never get to see women highlighted like this, featured, and left alone without being mansplained or having men brought along like chaperones. Trevor wasn’t a chaperone. He was a handmaiden. Wonder Woman was a goddess. Wonder Woman was amazing.
In a week where my shitty country voted to torch the planet, my country also put out a movie featuring a woman who preaches love and strength and unity over all things. Once again, while art cannot save the world, it does keep us from drowning in despair. It reminds us that while we do not have a real Wonder Woman, we do have Wonder Woman in all of us. And as all art does, seeing it, taking it in, breathing it, reminds us that hope is real, that the darkness of now is only temporary, that the light in the distance is true and we can get to it if we keep moving. Art is the glimmer of hope that keeps us going on the way.
And what a beacon you are, Wonder Woman.
If you haven’t gone to see this movie, please go see it. If you have seen it, maybe go see it again. It’s good for you.