Monday, June 12, 2017

Wonder Woman

Ayalet Gadot as Wonder Woman
In the 1998 American film The Truman Show, Truman Burbank unwittingly lives 30 years in a made for television ecosphere, an artificial bubble of small town America. Truman is the star of a reality TV show; the joke's on him.

The drama of the film plays out as the wheels slowly come off this charade. The producer (Ed Harris) pleads with Truman (Jim Carrey) to stay. But finally, Truman manages to break out of this created world, and to escape the grasp of his creator.

In the 1997 film Contact, Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodi Foster) temporarily travels through wormholes  to the Vega star system, 25 light years removed. She lands on a beach, where she touches the membrane of an ecosphere bubble created just for her.  A man, or some type of digital projection--or is it an angel figure--walks towards her.  It turns out to be her father. And the beach is a Florida beach from her childhood. What is reality here, and what is the bubble.  Are we living in Bubble earth?

Like Truman's world, Ellie Arroway visits a slice of made up heaven.

1997 was also the year Men in Black was released, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as G-men whose mission, like that of the Amazons in Wonder Woman, is to seek out and protect mankind from giant cockroaches and other unsavory alien characters disguised as humans. The film has a great opening credits scene, starring dragonflies, alien-like creatures buzzing in their own ecosphere: a dangerous corner of the universe along a busy freeway.  "God damned bugs," observe the G-men as the dragon fly goes splat on the window.

Wonder Woman (released June 2, 2017), the Steven Mnuchin (Trump's treasury secretary) produced film, starring Israel Defense Forces hottie Ayalet Gadot, and directed by Patti Jenkins, also hails from an ecosphere--this time unequivocally an ecosphere of the gods.  It's a paradise of  blue-green ocean, white sand beaches, digitally added cliffs and waterfalls, and a medieval setting.  [Filmed on the Amalfie coast in Italy] We meet young (~7 y.o.?) Diana, an Amazon princess, a demigod off-spring of Zeus and the Amazon queen Hyppolita, or perhaps sculpted from clay and made beautiful flesh, like Adam.

Just off-shore, the island is hidden from view by a permanent fog, and there is a membrane, like the the one that limits Truman Burbank's world, like the invisible membrane that contains Ellie Arroway's Floridian beach in Contact. You poke it, and it gives: like a clear balloon, like a jellyfish that doesn't sting, like a giant latex tent.

Inside this isolated ecosphere, young Diana lustily watches the Amazons in martial training. This war business looks like spring training.

Toronto Blue-Jays fan at Spring-Training
Unlike our nuclear ICBM force, which has suffered from a lack of adrenalin focused attention in the absence of an active military threat, these Amazons are in top form despite millennia of peace.

Unlike the Amazons from Greek mythology, whose main concern in life was war, who were aggressive manslayers, who loathed all men according to Aeschylus, the Amazons of Wonder Woman are guardians of peace. For thousands of years they have trained on their Island to stand up to Ares, the God of war, in order to protect mankind from his ravages.  Hyppolyta, the offspring of Zeus in this movie, even if the off-spring of Ares in the Greek versions of the legend, has a vague notion that Ares will be kept at a distance if only she keeps her daughter away from the martial arts. It's the talisman fantasy of Ora (the mother) in David Grossman's novel To the End of the Land.  In this case, Hyppolyta's sister Antiope, the most skilled of the Amazon warriors, knows better. Antiope secretly starts training young Diana, developing her godly powers.

They've been asleep at the switch, of course, these immortal Amazons; "immortal," it seems, except as needed for dramatic effect of the movie. They've been happily living in their fantasy Spring Training bubble while Ares has run amok in Asia, Alexander the Great conquered, the Roman Empire rose and fell, the Arabs conquered North Africa, the crusaders sacked Constantinople and Jerusalem, the Mongolians swept across the Asian plains into Europe, and Europeans decimated the Americas.

These Amazons have evidently lacked a decent intelligence service. They've lost track of what Ares has been up to in the world. So it's not until a handsome "above average" spy, Steve Trevor (played by Nick Price), crash lands in Diana's lap in this martial paradise, with nasty Germans in hot pursuit, that the Amazons get a whiff of what Ares has been up to while they've frolicked in their bubble.

Steve Trevor has a soft landing. There's nothing quite like a bonding battle with nasty Germans to get the romantic juices flowing.

Diana and Steve leave this Paradise to set off on a heroic journey to end World War One, in November 1918. And (surprise, surprise) they manage to end the war, with a bit of fun along the way. Too bad Diana's understanding of Ares was all washed up. It would have been nice to avoid World War Two, the Holocaust, and all that business.

Ayalet Gadot is very pleasant to look at. She creates plausible chemistry with Nick Price.  She looks very cool in her Annie Hall outfit, and is pleasingly sexy in her Wonder Woman garb. Visualizing and grabbing bullets is pretty cool, if not novel. To my eyes, Gadot's IDF creds notwithstanding, this Wonder Woman is less convincing in her martial role than Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. Apparently Gadot gained 17 pounds of muscle in training for her role, she still looks rather thin when holding up a shield running into a hail of bullets.

The film makes evident efforts to dig below the surface of its DC Comic book surface. As A.O. Scott puts it, Wonder Woman tries to be a real movie. I think it succeeds enough to make it a worthwhile summer diversion. The movie is fun. And, as a bonus, there are all the cultural sideshows: the boycott of the film by Lebanon and Tunisia (so far)--because of Gadot; the "mean against men" all women's screenings being conducted around the country; and the angst of sexual fetishization.

For discussion on Wonder Woman's origins see Alex Abad-Santos at Vox.  For a discussion about the age old fantasy of hot lady warriors, see Christian Georges-Schwentzel at Alternet.

For a good time, go see Wonder Woman. 

Follow me on Twitter @Roland Nikles

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