Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wonder Woman and the Jesus Christ Pose

In her final dispatch of the villain, Diana (yet to be named Wonder Woman) strikes a remarkable pose. With a supernatural leap, she levitates with arms outstretched like Jesus, but then absorbs the evil rays from the God Ares and deflects it back towards him, destroying him almost beyond the point of sequel.

Cinematically, it is of course overdone, as is usual. Movies have to compete with the overstimulation of video games. Yet in addition, it is thematically overdone. Wonder Woman become Christ, which impresses John McAteer, Professor of Liberal Arts at Ashford University, who notes the significance of this pose.  He calls it part of a theme of “gentle strength.”

“True heroism,” says McAteer “is love and the willingness to lay down your life for others, not the ability to kill and destroy.” Contrary to the way things are ordinarily depicted, the movie shows men that heroic strength and courage are not incompatible with compassion and gentleness and emotion. Diana is deeply moved by the suffering she encounters and clearly prefers to disarm her enemies rather than kill them. She is shown repeatedly giving her sidekick Steve Trevor a disapproving look when she sees him kill someone during a battle. And her most typical fight move in the movie is to deflect bullets back to destroy enemies’ guns or even cutting their guns in half with her shield.

McAteer is correct to a point, but doesn’t note the things in the movie that indicate something far from pacifism, and, as I believe, far from Christianity as well. Indeed earlier in the movie, Diana is shown advancing from the nihilistic trenches of World War I, deflecting bullets with wristbands and a shield. Her heroism is not really pacifist, since her efforts serve to allow her allies to advance on the enemy, kill them, and take ground.

The movie pulls us more strongly to the side of Wonder Woman’s allies than any other. McAteer is largely correct in saying that the German army is made up of patriotic young men sent to die by generals and politicians on both sides who would never set foot on a battlefield. War is thus portrayed as a tragic battle between brothers, not a contest of good versus evil. Even the “good guys” Diana fights with are mercenaries, motivated by money more than honor. And he notes that setting the film during World War I introduces the theme of a political debate between those who counsel isolationism and appeasement (“peace at all costs”) against those who believe that good can come out of war (“the war to end all wars”). The story of Wonder Woman is the story of Diana’s dawning realization that both sides are wrong.

Yet even if this is Diana’s realization, it is unlikely to be shared by everyone who sees the movie. Diana’s Jesus Christ Pose is one of aggression, not sacrifice. It suggests the doctrine of peace through military strength shared by both Republicans and Democrats in the United States.

The controversy involving the protagonist being played by an Israeli has a little merit, although the movie certainly does not merit censorship. Gal Godot Diana comes from a special, culturally distinct group of long-time warriors in self defense. This group believes that it has a special and sacrificial role in the world. When Diana unites romantically and politically with the American spy Steve Trevor, the implication of the U.S.-Israeli military alliance should not be ignored. One does not, and should not, think in terms of Zionist conspiracies here. There is little value, and much danger, to imputing evil causes to small groups of agents. Rather, one is permitted to see the Trevor-Diana alliance as a symbolic reflection of something else, namely the Military-Industrial Complex, which, more than any mythical Ares, is a real force of destruction in the world. The growing militarization of the humanity is a issue even bigger than The United States and Israel.

Any Christians who see Diana as a Christ figure need also to see the dangers of seeing Diana as a Christ figure. The film brilliantly shows that the wargod Ares is a deceptive figure, working through humans rather than merely against them. Accordingly, the Christ who kills is never the true Christ, and those who look forward to seeing an embodied Christ shooting lightning at the enemy are in danger of worshipping Ares is disguise. Unfortunately, for all of its supposed Christianity, most Americans look for Christ as an avenger in the sky rather than a spirit of pacifism on the Earth.

To some extent, the movie contains, as McAteer believes, an inversion of war values. And yet I never noticed her looking disapprovingly at Trevor for killing. I did, however, notice that Diana overtly mocked a male sniper who believed that war is about cunning and technological sophistication, rather than honesty and risk. Surely she was also by implication mocking the supposed heroism of the Unites States, who maintains a technological superiority over its chosen enemies, and then claims to have more valor. Diana's women fight face to face, while men have developed a sophisticated system of techno-battle.

In addition, one of Diana’s supposed superpowers is nothing more than the ability to understand many languages. Expressing classic Wonder Woman values, the film show that strength comes from the ability to understand and sympathize, and not from detached reason and calculation. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman cannot go too far in this pacifist direction if it wants to make money in a country soaked in overstimulation and martial values.

If any American Christians are offended by Diana's Jesus Christ pose, it is likely for the wrong reasons. The problem is that she is presenting a false Christ of violence in the name of world order. But this is exactly where conservative and neoliberal American Christians show their idolatry: Their Christ is really the god Ares.

--Tadd Ruetenik


  1. How do you think Trevor's final act fits in to all this? It seems to me that, though Diana was the one with the Christ-like pose, Trevor actually succumbed to a more Christ-like fate, i.e. sacrificing himself and destroying a load of weapons in the process. And it was his sacrifice and love that gave Diana the strength to defeat Ares. What do you think?

  2. Yes! Good point. There is a sacrificial element to it, but the filmmakers dialed it back a bit (in order to have a sequel). Notice that we don't actually know if he killed himself, but only see it from the ground. In the sequel, it will probably be shown that he found a way of ejecting after all. :/

    But even if he did really sacrifice himself, I think we should notice that the action was to destroy the ENEMY'S weapons. That's still a self-interested sacrifice. If Trevor were someday to sacrifice himself to take out the AMERICAN nuclear and chemical arsenal, then we can be really impressed ...