Let me Echo Benesh (2011) before I get into this:
...according to Izod, after the film, "active imagination takes over and develops the recollected cinematic imagery by fusing it more completely with personal fantasy material. In the process, both are liable to change" (pp. 273-274). Thus, for viewers... An imprint remains as during the film the audience members "introject" or take in its psychic content including symbols, images, and narrative, as well as projecting individual personal concerns. After the film, if it is particularly "resonant," the process continues as the film "plays on" in the viewer's mind. A personal "edition" of the film is thus created and is assimilated into the psyche of the viewer. (p. 8)
Drifting back, Izod (2000) argues that fiction "stir[s] the spectator's psyche... through emotion." He explains:
When they view fiction and drama, most viewers expect to be recompensed for their cash outlast by being entertained. Entertainment encompasses many different types of delight from imaginary wish fulfillment to the pleasures of terror experienced in a virtual rather than a real milieu; from the sensuous gratifications of saturated colour and engulfing sound to the power trip of flying with a gravity-defying camera. (p. 270)
That is, it's not just about the performers "dancing" for us (as so many annoying conservatives suggest whenever a celebrity says something of a liberal bent), but rather it is about the emotional impact that the dance has on us as we watch, as we get pulled in, as we live within the story for as long as the story invites us to live within it. When Wonder Woman slows down (as if Zach Snyder were not just the guy with a story credit and a producer credit but the director) to show Diana or the other Amazons doing their acrobatic attacks, we slide into awe. And, for the female portion of the audience, that awe has something new to it, because here is a hero unlike so many in so many other films, so many other stories. It doesn't matter (per my actual complaints about the film) that many of the plot beats are basically the same as any other superhero story... Or it does matter because what stands out, especially when we're dealing in subjective response, in emotional response, is the difference.
Like I tell my public speaking students--if your speech is structured just like everybody else, if your preview and your transitions and your review are worded basically the same as everybody else's, what stands out is the stuff in between, what stands out is all of the detail that makes it your speech, your time to speak, your message. And, the same goes for a film like Wonder Woman.
Or last year's female-centered remake of Ghostbusters for that matter. When men get offended by the remake switching the sexes, because--and I heard this argument from a friend of mine just last week--why does it have to be all women rather than a mix, my response--not always vocalized--is why the fuck shouldn't it be? I mean, men have had male-centric films going since cinema began. We've had male-centric stories since stories began. If women or minorities want to tell a story that doesn't include us, we should back the fuck off and, if we can get over our fragile white male egos, we should maybe step forward again once the film is available to watch, watch it, and maybe learn something.
And now there's Wonder Woman. A lot of the same beats that a male-centric story might hit, but what matters are the moments between those beats. Diana's excitement at seeing a baby, Diana's seeming enjoyment and smirk every time she goes into battle, Steve's deuteraganist role as increasingly less important than Diana even as he... SPOILERS
Even as he sacrifices himself during the final battle. He gives his life and she's still the center of the story because, well, he can't quite live in her world, can he? She's capable of imagining a world in which war doesn't happen and he's stuck in war mode. She asks him about life when war isn't happening while they are dancing, and I forget the whole conversation (obviously) but in the end she asks him what it's like. And, he tells her that he has no idea. I mentioned yesterday that Charlie is the "shell-shocked" one of the Five-Man Band, but Steve (and Sameer and Chief) are all a bit war-weary. And, they step right into line behind Diana once they see her in action, but it's hard to imagine them beyond the war. I think Steve knows this. If Diana remains (though, actual history doesn't bear this out), the world changes. Without the purpose that Ludendorff suggests men find in war, who is Steve?
Of course, Diana is all about combat, even from the opening scenes with her as a child. But, her horror at injured soldiers, her need to help everybody, her single-mindedness to rid the world of Ares--this sets her apart from these world-weary soldiers. And, this brings us to a classic sort of "power of love" ending, except it doesn't come out of nowhere. From the beginning, it was clear that Diana's mother and her aunt both loved her. Steve is almost immediately smitten with her, though it takes a while for him to claim that he loves her. Everyone is enamored with her, fascinated by her (and Gal Gadot's charisma makes this work wonderfully). And we can actually imagine the world changing if it knew about her. But, then the credits roll and we go back into the real world and of course Diana didn't change the world in 1918 (even within the DCU) because men would never let that happen.
And, the folks at Fox News have the gall to worry about how American Diana is? Fuck that. Fuck your patriarchal, pro-America expectations. Maureen Callahan at the New York Post, points out that in her debut, Wonder Woman was "depicted in red, white and blue, storming into battle. She'd left her home, Paradise Island, to fight the Nazis in 'America, the last citadel of democracy and of equal rights for women!'" I think she's even quoting the original issue of Sensation Comics from 1942 there, and that just makes me laugh because 1) the idea that anyone would call America in 1942 a citadel for "equal rights for women" is ridiculous, 2) and barely less ridiculous is that "democracy" claim, but most of all 3) I imagine a new Wonder Woman film, set in the present, in which she comes to America to fight Nazis all over again, and the white supremacist men who think all the power should be their's forever and ever, amen would be climbing over one another to denounce the film as sacrilege, and women might be inspired to denounce those men as useless assholes. "This film has almost nothing to do with America," Callahan says. It's the same limited worldview that got Trump pulling us out of the Paris Accord this week. If it is not explicitly, specifically, directly about America, then why should we care? Right? Except, just as Diana realizes that Ares has not just corrupted the bad guys but also the good guys, the problems of the entire world affect us all. The problems of some singular location on the other side of the globe--like the attacks in London just today or Congolese President Joseph Kabila's apparent refusal to hold elections this year--it matters here. It should matter here. When women are held down, when racial minorities are held down, when non-binary, non-heteronormative folks are held down, it should matter to any of us. It feels like it should be trite by now, obvious, but Martin Luther King Jr's line about "injustice anywhere" is something far too many people don't fucking understand.
Me--I say, let's remake every great film with the genders reversed. Let's tell white stories (if that's even a thing) with casts of color. Let's stop warring over how American a demigod from a fantastical Greek island is, or how horrible it is that, as Lewis Beale puts it over at CNN, Wonder Woman "has long been touted as some sort of feminist icon... but also has been a major sex object" as if those two things are inherently mutually exclusive.
I almost want to end with Bulworth--"All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction / Everybody just gotta keep fuckin' everybody 'til they're all the same color"--but that seems far too flippant and far too on-the-nose at the same damn time. If only Diana's "power of love" stuff could work on us every day like it works on those German soldiers at the end of Wonder Woman. Imagine the relief, even if it's only short lived, when the violence ends and we actually do all get along.
Then imagine us fucking it up all over again because we're too damn stupid to know any better.
Beale, L. (2017, June 2). Wonder Woman, feminist icon or bodacious fantasy figure? CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/02/opinions/wonder-woman-you-call-this-feminism-beale/index.html
Benesh, J.E. (2011). Becoming Punxsutawney Phil: Symbols and Metaphors of Transformation in Groundhog Day (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (Accession Order No. 3450252)
Callahan, M. (2017, June 1). Why 'Wonder Woman' is less American than ever. New York Post. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2017/06/01/why-wonder-woman-is-less-american-than-ever/
Izod, J. (2000). Active imagination and the analysis of film. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 45, pp. 267-285.
Stefansky, E. (2017, June 3). Fox News anchors concerned this Wonder Woman isn't wearing her star-spangled underwear. Vanity Fair. Retrieved from http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/06/wonder-woman-costume-design-concerns-fox-news