Wonder Woman is not my thing. She never has been. Not the comic books. Not the old television show. And certainly not the old cartoon. When my high school history teacher teased the girls for apparent daydreaming, he accused us of flying around in our invisible jets and that is about the closest connection I ever had to the Amazon warrior princess. But then the mini-reviews started popping up in my facebook feed. “Finally, DC makes a movie worth watching!” Everyone who saw it loved it, including my rather conservative, Christian friends. So my husband and I went to see it.
Upon exiting, the first thing my husband said was,
“I’m kind of over the anti-God messages of all the superhero movies.”
I wasn’t so sure. Maybe because I loved the movie, myself. I mean, you can’t dismiss something that you loved as inherently anti-God, can you? At least not quite that quickly?
The thing is, the “anti-God messages” didn’t bother me because the world in which Wonder Woman operates is so purely fictional. Not like “those stories” that gain such popularity in Christian circles with enough of a Christian veneer to land in a Christian bookstore and enough of a lie to misrepresent who God is.
Most of the Christian commentary I have read actually takes the opposite view, seeing Christian elements and themes to the story. M. Hudson of The Federalist goes so far as to claim unmistakable Christology and that the movie really is the gospel brought symbollically to life on the silver screen. Ryan Duncan over at Crosswalk sees the movie as a call for Christian love, self sacrificing and pursuing virtue.
But seriously? The movie was good (as in a story well told). . . but not that good (as in pointing to the author of goodness Himself).
Maybe it’s because I’m a little leery of this recent trend to find God in every popular book and movie, whether the author intended for Him to be there or not. Looking for God in Harry Potter? Sorry, He’s not there. Seeking Christ in the character of Wonder Woman? Eh, sorry to disappoint, but He’s not really there, either.
That isn’t to say that you can’t make a case for one or the other (or any of a plethora of story characters) being a Christ figure. But the use of a Christ figure in literature is a specific literary technique intended to draw allusions and bring power to the characters, not to draw the reader or movie-goer into a deeper understanding of the Christ of the Bible. In fact, a Christ figure can serve to make a mockery of the faith.
“The Christ figure is not Jesus the man nor Christ the Christian redeemer; the novelist bears no direct responsibility to the church nor to his Christian heritage to present a figure sympathetic to the Christian dogma; the critic who attempts to interpret the figure in terms of faith and doctrine does so at his own risk.” ~Robert Detweiler, Christ and the Christ Figure in American Literature
Just because the author chooses to use a Christ figure to serve the story does not mean the story serves Christ.
After all, if you go looking for God in Wonder Woman, you will find several: Zeus, Ares and (spoiler alert) Wonder Woman herself. Part of the case for her being a Christ figure, after all, is that she is the daughter of a god and the daughter of a woman who has never been touched by a man.
But it’s the wrong god.
So does that mean Christians shouldn’t watch Wonder Woman because of its “anti-God messages?” I don’t know. I’m not really big on telling people what they should or should not do to be “good” Christians. I don’t really view Zeus as a major contender for our society’s worship. It doesn’t take the gospel story and twist it. It doesn’t mock Christianity. Christianity is merely absent, even if a few thematic elements were lifted to drive the story.
There’s a little bit more to the movie than that, however. I didn’t love the movie for its definition of who God is. I loved it for its portrayal of humanity.
I loved it for one scene and one line. (And another spoiler alert because this really is the climax of the movie). I loved it for Ares’ depiction of man as utterly depraved, bent on his own destruction, easily corrupted and not deserving of her devotion or protection. It’s the third time the fact that humans don’t deserve her was brought up, but finally she has an answer.
“They’re everything you say. But so much more.”
Because in each individual there is light and there is darkness. Each individual must choose his path. In the end, it is the pursuit of love and virtue and justice that brings forth the light. And no hero can do that for us.
In Wonder Woman, I saw a depiction of mankind that resonated with me. One which explains how one man can develop plans to annihilate an entire race while another man sacrifices his life to save strangers. It reminds us that the capacity for both rests in each of us and that neither can ever be completely driven out.
Great literature wrestles with what it means to be human. American movies rarely delve that deeply into their characters and their story lines. But Wonder Woman reached just a little deeper, showing us a little of ourselves as we are and as we could be. And that this “could be” need not refer only to the victory of the “light.” Because the “dark” has its presence in every human heart as well.
It’s why we don’t deserve Wonder Woman. And why we don’t deserve Christ.