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Because we are LDS, our family has decided that only very special media can be played on Sundays. Mom and Dad have to agree that something is a “Sunday movie” or a “Sunday song” for it to make it on the list of approved media. However, our standards for that designation may be a little different than you might think—my kids are not just watching Charlton Heston as Moses or Ben Hur. They might be watching Groundhog Day, or the episode “The Empath” from the original “Star Trek” series, or The Adjustment Bureau. The main idea is that the plot must echo what the gospel of Christ teaches in some way. Groundhog Day is a story of redemption through love; “The Empath” is a tale of Christ-like love and its cost; The Adjustment Bureau explains what leads to true freedom. After the movie is over, the idea is that a gospel-centered conversation would arise naturally because of what we have just seen.

So you can imagine the exultation among my kids when Mom and Dad declared that the new Wonder Woman movie was a Sunday movie, with one child exclaiming, “Our first superhero Sunday movie! Hurray!” We saw the movie on opening day, expecting just a run-of-the-mill DC hero movie, but excited for a female protagonist. About midway through, however, my jaw dropped and stayed in that position until the end of the movie.

You see, Wonder Woman is the story of Christ, and it is obvious from the decisions made by the director Patty Jenkins that this was planned. The movie is wrapped up in faux Greek mythology, true, but there’s no mistaking the Christology here—to make sure you’re getting the message, the cinematographer practically hits you over the head with it in shots such as when Diana descends slowly to the ground in the attitude of the cross after defeating her arch enemy.

Since there’s no way to adumbrate this thesis without revealing plot details, please stop reading now if you haven’t seen the movie.

Diana lives among the Amazons, but we find out later that she is not fully an Amazon. Her mother was an Amazon, yes, but her father was the High God, Zeus himself. Diana was Zeus’ gift to mankind, that she might defeat their common enemy, Ares (shall we call him Lucifer?), and bring peace to the earth. As an Amazon, she already has the mission of providing a bridge for humans to obtain greater enlightenment, but as an Amazon and a god, she has the power to overcome the obstacle they cannot—the machinations of their enemy. In all this, Diana is clearly a type of Christ.

Diana leaves her paradisiacal homeland behind to undertake her mission to seek out and defeat Ares and bring peace to mankind. The time period is World War I, and she is eager to find the front and fight. Her human companions, including the handsome Steve Trevor, think Diana is a bit “off,” though they are also amazed at her supernatural battle skills and bravery. This is a savior who has brought a sword with her, you see. One of the things her companions find odd is that she insists there is actually a supernatural creature named Ares who desires mankind’s destruction. Echoing modern sentiment about the devil, they simply do not believe he exists.

But he does, of course. There really is an Ares (a Lucifer) in the movie who is disguised as a politician (nailed it). When he finally reveals himself, Ares describes how he cannot force men to do evil, but merely whispers evil ideas into their ears and humans do the rest. What motivates Ares? He believes Zeus was foolish to believe humans could be good, and to prove he is right and Zeus wrong, he attempts to corrupt every human being, bringing blood and horror to the earth in the process. The movie also tells us that before he came to afflict mankind, Ares waged war in Heaven before Zeus was able to thrust him down to earth.

The final conversation between Diana and Ares before she finally defeats him is a profound essay on the mission of our Savior. Diana has been profoundly traumatized by witnessing man’s inhumanity to man, including a poison gas attack on innocent civilians. Sensing this, Ares asserts that because of their depravity, mankind does not deserve Diana’s efforts on their behalf. Instead, he argues, Diana’s mission of bringing peace to earth demands she should join him in his efforts to facilitate their self-destruction.

Diana is deeply affected by the self-sacrificial death (preventing an even larger gas attack on civilians)of the man she loves, Steve Trevor. She reaches a momentous conclusion, and one that Christ reached as well. It is true that mankind does not deserve redemption. Mankind does not deserve the ultimate sacrifice of the innocent and divine Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, for all have sinned and fallen short of the mark. And it is true that many will never willingly choose redemption, and will refuse it when offered. Ares speaks truth in this, similar to Lucifer’s habit of telling partial truth in order to perpetuate more effective falsehoods.

But Diana knows a greater truth, one also preached by the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Man may not deserve redemption, but they are redeemable. That belief—that man is redeemable, and that there are at least some who will not refuse that divine gift—is the greater truth that motivates Diana’s efforts. She has seen their potential for nobility in the actions of Steve Trevor, equal in significance to the depravity she has also witnessed.

Diana then reveals the greatest truth of all, a truth that Ares can never know: love is the key to redemptive change. To love mankind and to believe in their potential for redemption places Diana in unalterable opposition to Ares. Her love and her belief empower Diana to finally defeat Ares, setting mankind free from his noxious whispers (though not from what evil may lie in their own hearts). Her descent in the attitude of the cross follows her final victory over the Adversary, who in true LDS fashion, she identifies as “brother.”

There is also something in this film for Mormon feminists. Diana describes the mission of the Amazons as being a bridge between heaven and earth, a bridge to help mankind find a higher knowledge and way of living. Amazons have been endowed with special power and special knowledge to help turn the hearts of men away from Lucifer. We know that the role of the daughters of Eve in the Great Plan of Happiness is not only to bring souls through the veil into their second estate and point them towards what is right and good through loving those children, but it is also to get the sons of Adam to “partake”—to get men to see the infinitely expansive meaning of life, and to get men to follow them in embracing it and shunning the evil one, and in putting their own personal self-interest to one side. Women endowed in the temple of God receive real priestesshood power, making them in a sense, the Amazons of this fallen world—the bridge, if you will.

It is true that the Adversary can warp women as well, and in the movie this concept is represented by the character of “Dr. Poison,” a female scientist who is the creator of the dreadful chemical weapons that Steve Trevor is trying to destroy. Dr. Poison has used her special powers and knowledge to support the cause of the Adversary and his mortal henchmen. Perhaps she has been warped as a result of never having known a good man, or the love a good man could offer (the party scene suggests something of the sort). In contrast, the very first man Diana ever met was a noble and brave hero. Indeed, it can be argued that the reason Diana refuses the argument of Ares is that she has experienced the integrity, self-sacrifice, and love of a good man in the person of Steve Trevor. There is something deep here, and reminds me of Elder Christofferson’s injunction to the brethren: “We must be men that women can trust.” The power of women to lift men comes about in part because women have been given evidence of the divine potential of men by the way men have treated them. When women only meet men who can never be trusted, their own power is degraded as a result.

Wonder Woman has much to recommend to Christians, and I would say, especially to Mormons. The clear Christology of Wonder Woman is made all the more remarkable when one considers the perversity of her creator, William Moulton Marston, as well as the burgeoning anti-religious sentiment in our increasingly secularized society. Perhaps Christ in the form of a beautiful and kick-ass Amazon is all that our contemporary society can handle at this point in time. But Diana and Christ would tell us that that’s all right,. Christ loves and believes in us nonetheless, and will fight by our side until the last man standing—just like Wonder Woman.



Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2017) "The Christology and the Mormiana of the Wonder Woman Movie," SquareTwo, Vol. 10 No. 2 (Summer 2017), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerWonderWoman.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

I. Mee-Eun Fell

What a brilliant article! I loved this film and it's feminist messages but your Christology interpretation nailed it.

The success of superhero films lies in its subliminal messages about what it is to be a great - usually - man: bravery, pursuit of justice, overcoming weaknesses. Wonder Woman finally gave us a superhero film with a subliminal message about what it is to be a great woman, and it was perfectly captured in Wonder Woman's declaration: "It's not about what you deserve, it's about what you believe. And I believe in love."

This, indeed, is the greatness of women. Through all ages and cultures, we see women sacrificing their metaphorical paradisiacal islands to serve and love (children, husbands, neighbors, strangers) because they believe in love, regardless of any notion of fairness or deservedness.

What a wonderful message celebrating the femininity of women. For me, this has clarified the inner conflict I struggle with between my LDS conviction that women are divinely appointed to be the primary nurturers and my world view that this often leads to unfairness. If we are striving to be Christ-like, then maybe it's not about what's fair, maybe it's about what you believe?