Friday, June 2, 2017
The Logos of "Wonder Woman"
There is a moment late in "Wonder Woman" where Gal Gadot's Diana could decide to help her brother Ares destroy the Earth if she wanted to. He's angling for it, and moves to convince her by remarking that he himself didn't produce the instinct to war in men, but only stood by their sides, whispering to them enhancements in their creative schemes to annihilate one another. Them gone, he asserts, Earth becomes a green paradise -- amidst all the grey sooted landscapes you've seen here, imagine instead a green lush paradise -- who wouldn't prefer that?! Diana pauses, and thinks of everything she has personally known of men, and finds enough that she's loved "there" that she can rebuff her brother and begin her effort to stop his machinations and annihilate him. What came to mind? Instances of intellectual challenge? Of any kind of substantial challenge, whatsoever -- something adult, that is: true undiscovered knowledge? No, her brother is currently trying to introduce her to that -- what it's like to engage with an outside, perhaps entirely legitimate, challenge to her firmly held beliefs and assumptions. What came to mind amongst the men she's come to know well is their being demure and agreeable, their absolute instant readiness to appreciate her and defer to her, like fawning peasants over the lord willing to grace them with her aristocratic company. If they're proud, they're proud towards faiths she can respect and which somehow seem to marginalize them, contain them -- they have their little islands of control, while she ranges large. Chris Pine's Steve Trevor at one point articulates himself as perhaps exemplifying man's flawed nature, man's evil core, but not of one instance does the movie provide us with. He does at times try and temper Diana, to instruct her on what she can and cannot do in this world she is so unaccustomed to, which might to some seem some kind of futile but nevertheless incongruously masculine effort, some kind of "mansplaining," but he mostly does this only to find himself further instructed on how Diana's entrance to this world means his own re-evaluating all the certitudes he thought he could count on as always applicable, as eternally solid. One can't simply obliterate a trench warfare that's stood in place for years without either side making a single inch of progress?... well now, apparently this is only my entrenched lunkhead thinking, with superpower Diana having clearly repeatedly demonstrated herself as a massive component in deciding where the power balances of the entire planet must align themselves... keep apace with the times and what you now know, Steve.
The film almost flirts with doing one thing which might have cast a somewhat foul light on him, if Diana wasn't entirely as lacking in vanity as she is meant to be understood as being. Steve Rogers approaches the villainess in the film, a brilliant chemist who is rather cute, actually a bit because of the partial doll mask placed on her face to cover a deformity, in an attempt to charm and woo her away from the grandstanding Nazi general she is currently in the service of. It's an unrehearsed moment, in that we weren't prepared for this scheme of his, and mentally assessing it on the spot she almost seems a form of respite from perfect Diana... as if in truth he only plays the part his Ken-doll appearance seems to have him requited to, though he's actually more for the kind of verbal play and mischief he can engage in with more cerebrally alert science geeks. But suddenly to interrupt his scheming -- Diana does this quite a bit to him: monotonously interrupt his own plans -- Diana appears in a beguiling blue dress, and Steve finds himself incapable of the resolve required to ignore her grand spectacle and further involve himself with the chemist for instead essentially dumping her by being instantly resolved back into Diana's overwhelming encompass of beauty and insistent charisma. If he had held his course and ignored her for staying focused on his delicate conversational calibrations with the super-intellect chemist, and this was something Diana would have to bring to mind when assessing men's worth -- well, it might not have been a test for perfectly virtuous Diana, but perhaps a bit more of one for the audience, who might be imagining themselves in her position: Would it really be a bad thing for every deceitful, skirt-chasing man to, maybe not die, but perhaps suffer a lot?... Maybe Ares could be negotiated down to that?
Ares' bait to her to imagine Earth as a green paradise does perhaps for a moment transplant him into a version of her own mother, who herself is urging Diana to remain forever planted in a green paradise spared of men. Is killing him, then, a displaced killing of her own mother? It is if perhaps we negotiate the narrative as it is shown to have advanced in such a way that it respects what we had been lead to anticipate it as having been about to likely unravel. That is, when Diana leaves her paradise island with Steve there are several suspiciously long beats of time where she acquires all the goods -- the magic rope, shield and sword -- she'll ostensibly require to defeat Ares, without any obstacle. She's in a rush, but there's a sense that she could in fact have taken her time -- the threat of punishment, of consequence of her partaking in forbidden actions, is conspicuously absent. The effect is that it compounds the sense that something Diana has not foreseen, something so powerful it wouldn't be worried if Diana gathered all the artifacts from their places of safe-keeping and thus was equipped now to set off and kill Ares, because it owned powers that could still nevertheless trump her ability to feel she couldn't depart without suffering a loss she couldn't sustain, is waiting patiently to strike. The very instant her mother appears on the beach where her daughter's boat is set to depart, we feel that what this is the prospect of a denial of parental love. She is evidently not set to physically attack her daughter, so it is only reprimand that she could possibly be set to inflict on her -- and we're expecting infliction, for her mother has throughout disapproved of all her self-initiated actions. And as to her mother's claim that what she most disapproves of concerning her daughter is her effort to destroy Ares... well, Diana has already showed sexual curiosity towards Steve, so it would never persuasively seem only about that: it would implicitly be about her own right to determine her own future for herself. So even though her mother begins by saying, "it is not within my power to stop you" -- that is, by balking our expectation that she was only delaying her confrontation of Diana so to have Diana enable herself with actions she can be manipulated into later reassessing as having permanently sullied her, and actually lets her go without too much of a reprimand -- unconsciously the possibilities of how it would affected Diana if her mother had instead launched some kind of severe harangue at her, charging her with abandoning the only people who have ever loved her, secretly only for the thrills of sex, wanton pub life, bedazzling foreign balls -- and foreign concoctions, like ice-cream -- rather than her cover of abandoning her birth place to serve a noble cause, never quite get dissipated in our minds. Her mother remains mostly "the forsaken"... who justifiably would have withdrawn from her daughter after her overt spurning of her for the warm bedside company of a handsome man -- which is what Diana proves up to, nearly as quickly as she and he find themselves at sea, alone in the boat.
But Ares also represents dispassionate reason over sentimentality. He represents, in a sense, Logos, a hard god (a literally castrating one, in fact, if he we accept his squashing of her sword as him disabling her "penis" in preference for worldly wisdom -- ego, superego, and all that) -- and there is a sense that with this he has some affinity with his sister Diana. He's against all sentimental truths, against all well-meant lies. He tells Diana forthright that it isn't her sword which is a god-slayer but rather her own self alone, which positions him in an interesting way against her mother. Her mother delays, retards, forestalls, fabricates, lies; Ares tells the truth and lets her claim what she is entitled to immediately -- this is who you are: own it, even as your accrued self-knowledge could obviously play a part in heightening the likelihood of my own end. Diana can relate. She seeks knowledge from experience, not simply out of what she's been taught and instructed to remain content with. She is also, at least at the beginning, against being forestalled from direct pursuit of a logically coherent goal -- namely, finding and killing Ares, for from that all the various byways of human-made terrors, strewn all over the geographically map, become instantly inert. But she slips from this form, owing to sentimentality. She delays heading off to dispatch the human personage she feels sure is just the shell for the god Ares to instead terminate a deadly battle she's found herself within -- the "front" -- a battle she at some level knows will stop anyway as soon as she killed Ares, owing to her seeing a few soldiers suffering in the trenches. She seems to abandon her awareness that neither the British nor the Germans are worse than the other -- to her, they're all war-bent out of being controlled by Ares -- owing to sentimental input -- specifically, her witnessing French civilians being killed by German forces. She seems averse to killing the chemist, mostly because the chemist's been shown three times in a row in stricken, spurned form (first when she's been spurned as a genuine object of sexual interest by Steve; second when Ares reveals that she obtained most of her most distinguished knowledge, not out of her own fine mind but from him [strangely anti-feminist intrusion in the film, this], and third when she finds herself in the dirt, with her deformed face available for all now to see and find themselves repelled at). The Nazi commander, we note, was "spared" being thusly spared, apparently only for remaining to the finish an arrogant boastful bastard.
Of course, no one viewing would actually want for Diana to not have demonstrated herself militarily on several battlefields, not only out of the fun of spectacle but because we feel that these are instances where she is learning all she is physically capable of, and it is grand and also legitimate and good to insist vicariously partaking of that. It's a thrill to see her rebuff a trench machine gun that is directing powerful concussive power against her shield, at a hundred rounds her second. It's awesome to watch her lift a tank and be ready to throw it, and we're glad she was afforded the opportunity. We're grateful she learned she could not just ably climb towers by punching holes into them to use as grips, but smash them down as readily as the Hulk might. We feel the feedback, the self-knowledge, she accrues by chancing things on the battlefield that are outside anyone else's ken, and also thus far, unfamiliar to her. This is the best talent anyone's ever seen in any sport finding out the things one might do, once you're reconciled to the fact that your powers permit you much more than was permitted everyone else before, and therefore, all naysayers -- to be ignored, no matter how much previously legitimately held as gospel. Your actions will expand the new possible. Even when you know you've the ability to transcend, to actually witness yourself doing so must still be a titanic thrill -- it's still new to you and the world, and in a way, only you yourself would know really what it was like. And if you're brave, you'll never forsake your superior experience to cling back within collectively held awareness. You remain true to new knowledge and awareness, the Logos.
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