Storytelling Breakdown Blog Entry 013

The Redemptive Power of Truth – By Larissa Whitaker.

SPOILER WARNING for Wonder Woman 1984.

When I watched Wonder Woman 1984 during the holidays, I was overjoyed. I was so glad to see director Patty Jenkins build upon Wonder Woman (2017); this time, giving more agency to the title character. Both films feature stunning visuals of an undeniably feminine superhero, portrayed by Gal Gadot. Thematically, they differ in focus. The 2017 Wonder Woman film spoke broadly about love and justice. WW84 focuses on one value to remind us all of a crucial lesson: we must embrace truth and let go of what we wish to be true. 

Sharing emotional truths

Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, is allowed to experience a great range of emotions with honesty and vulnerability. Wonderfully, her emotional range is not unique in this story. Antagonists Barbara Minerva (played by Kristen Wiig) and Maxwell Lord (played by Pedro Pascal) are given the same opportunity. 

Diana, Barbara, and Max all seek love. Each of them pursues their goal in different ways; Diana wishes for the return of a lost loved one, Barbara wishes to be popular with others, and Max wishes to achieve “great” things in the hopes that his son will finally feel proud enough to love him. In their pursuits, Jenkins shows every major character expressing a wide range of emotions, arguably more than what we see in the average blockbuster superhero film. We see joy and heartache; jealousy and love; courage and fear. Even with expressive, sometimes bigger-than-reality performances, it all feels rooted in something real. It is all so human. 

Like the other major characters, Diana’s love interest is allowed a great range of emotional expression. Often, it seems storytellers assume that in order for one gender to be strong, they must show others being diminished. WW84 does not fall into this trap. 

“What if Indiana Jones and Wonder Woman got to be in a movie together?” 

I’ll admit it: when I first saw Steve Trevor play such a significant role in action sequences, my knee jerk reaction was to think, “What the hell is this guy doing here? Doesn’t he know this is Diana’s movie?”

In solo superhero films like WW84, I almost always see the hero hold the spotlight. Everyone else aligned with the hero is given much less to do. This is not necessarily a bad thing. America is an individualistic society, and it makes sense that our audiences (myself included) often look to one individual for all the answers. I met WW84 with the same expectation: Wonder Woman deserves every bit of glory, power, and praise. No one else is as important. 

I was wrong. There is something refreshing about seeing Diana work alongside a love interest who can hold his own. Diana Prince and Steve Trevor respect one another. The story creates space for the two of them to shine together, showing us their healthy, supportive partnership. Much more than Wonder Woman (2017), WW84 does not negate Diana’s agency or diminish her heritage. The decisions she makes are absolutely her own, even as Steve offers her advice. 

In the scene following the battle at the White House, Steve holds Diana up as they walk through crowded streets of distressed law enforcement, families, and more. They find a quiet space behind a pillar and share a conversation. To quote Robin Wright’s Antiope, Diana already “[knows] the truth in her heart” and now it is time she must accept it. Diana must renounce her wish. 

Steve gently reminds Diana “You know what you need to do. The world needs you.” He calls her back to her values, and she summons her strength to let him go. Here’s how Patty Jenkins described it in a Reelblend Podcast interview:

“How easy would it be for Wonder Woman to have some benign and lame boyfriend? Oftentimes, in the comics that’s how [Steve Trevor] was. When I was talking about casting and trying to make this a role that I loved, I was saying, ‘No, no. Imagine if Indiana Jones met Wonder Woman.’ The greatest thing about it is Indiana Jones would not be emasculated and freaked out, nor would he be vanilla. He’d still be badass and he’d still be macho and he’d still be cool, but in certain places he’d be like, ‘I think you should take this one.’”* 

I enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger, but I wonder what it could’ve been like if Peggy Carter was given the same stage Wonder Woman films give Steve Trevor. What would it be like if we got to see Pepper Potts do more than worry about Tony Stark? 

I don’t know the answer. But, it’s a sentiment worth exploring. With Disney’s recent release of WandaVision, I’m glad to see more stories creating space for both partners in romantic relationships to shine. 

The redemptive power of truth

Only after his admission of the truth is Max Lord redeemed. I love that WW84 gives people a path to redemption through truth. It is a compassionate film. The story does not take liars and promoters of misinformation and say, “there is nothing we can do. These people are beyond redemption, and the only way to move forward is to rid our society of them.” WW84 doesn’t make that choice, even though most modern superhero stories end in death. 

Instead, at the height of the chaos, Diana looks almost directly at the audience and says this: 

“This world was a beautiful place, just as it was. And, you cannot have it all. You can only have the truth. The truth is enough. The truth is beautiful. So, look at this world. Look at what your wish is costing it. You must be the hero. Only you can save the day. Renounce your wish, if you want to save this world. […] You’re not the only one who has suffered, who wants more, who wants them back, who doesn’t want to be afraid anymore or alone or frightened or powerless. Because you’re not the only one who imagined a world where everything was different, better finally. A world where they were loved and seen and appreciated finally. But what is it costing you? Do you see the truth?” 

WW84 shows a path to redemption that is available to everyone. If people like Max Lord renounce their wishes and choose to embrace truth, they can be forgiven. They can start the long process of making amends and continuing to choose truth throughout their lives. Heck, they can even get exactly what they want. It is only after Max tells the truth that he is given what he wants most: to be loved. In this way, WW84 humanizes the antagonists without justifying their actions. 

Sometimes, it is painful to acknowledge the truth. It can be hard to let go of what’s gone, even for our heroes. Diana chooses to value truth, knowing that “the truth is bigger than all of us.” Our world needs each of us to do the same. 

*Quote altered to fit this medium.

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