The overwhelming reception of the female-helmed and directed Wonder Woman movie has audiences entertained by the clash of Amazon warriors, with their call to virtue and sacred duty, and the prolific annihilation tactics of the evil Nazi empire on the big screen, but is there more behind this cinematic wonder than meets the eye?
Aside from the visual effects and amazing technological feats in reconstructing World War 1 London, and the imaginary island of Themiscyra, with it’s never before filmed army of all female warriors, there seems to be another imaginary work trying to develop behind the scenes. Something far more beautiful and alluring: could it be a call to Sacred Honor and Virtue or is it something else far more beautiful?
When we first meet Diana, she is a little girl, fascinated by the art of battle. She begs her mother to let her train, and even sneaks out in the night time hours to train in secret. Over time, we see she has developed into an excellent warrior and has become one of their best skilled fighters. But it’s not until we see a clash of virtues between Diana and the Queen of the Amazons, over the fate of mankind, that we begin to glimpse what sets Diana apart and makes her the best warrior of all the Amazons. She invokes the Queen’s mercy with a call to Sacred Duty, a reminder of the call of the Amazons to protect mankind from the horrors of war and to defend them against injustice. We see from the beginning how war has already compromised the Queen’s sense of sacred duty. She rejects Diana’s appeal. But Diana is not convinced. She sets out to join the cause and rid the world of conflict. She vows to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Through her developing relationship with Steve Trevor, we see that Diana is both beautiful and good. We watch, uncomfortably perhaps, as the two struggle to keep chaste. Steve awkwardly tries to remove himself from the snares of physical attraction in accordance with the purity standards of his time. We watch as he offers to sleep tied to the side of the ship in order to be apart from the beautiful woman as she rests, and later he quickly removes his hand from hers when she naively grasps it in an attempt to mirror the cultural behaviors around her. But for all his efforts to be a man of virtue himself, we soon see these standards are only culturally deep.
Diana’s own naivety toward the virtue of beauty in the masculine form seems to hinder this call to chastity also. Having been brought up believing men were “essential for procreation but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.” When Steve inquires of her father, Diana informs him, “I had no father. I was sculpted from clay and brought to life by Zeus.” Steve’s response, in perhaps an attempt to steal a laugh on the part of the screen writers, is actually quite apropos for today’s standards. In a culture where so many daughters are born fatherless through death, abandonment or outright rejection, suddenly Diana’s belief that she was sculpted from clay and brought to life by a god is not so much funny, as it is sad. It begs the question that society is asking today, just what kind of influence will come from the fatherless generation? Steve’s response therefore becomes less humorous as it is more a bewilderment when he fumbles out the words, “well, that’s neat.” It’s no wonder the two fall into the entrapment of unchaste relations, or that Hollywood would feel compelled to portray it as such, when it is the popular expression of so many in our day to respond to things we do not understand with the bewilderment of a child, “well, isn’t that neat.”
Dr. Timothy Patitsas, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, was interviewed in the journal Road to Emmaus for his findings on “Chastity and Empathy: Eros, Agape, and the Mystery of the Twofold Annointing.” In it, he writes, “Eros is the kind of love that responds passionately to divine Beauty by making a complete gift of self (all that we have and are) to the Beautiful.” Dr. Patitsas’ call to redemption is not unlike the conflict we see portrayed on the screen between Diana and Steve Trevor, “We must redeem our outlook on chastity with a “beauty-first” rather than “sin-first” approach. In the sin-first approach, Christianity eventually collapses into a moral system and the battle for chastity becomes destructive because we’re picking up the spiritual struggle by the wrong handle.”
Not unlike Diana’s quest for justice, as the portents of her movie profess “Justice begins with her,” Dr. Patitsas explains “Chaste eros is of life and death significance, not only personally, but for our Church and for our civilization. Without chaste eros, social justice in the home and in society is not only unattainable, but unthinkable.”
Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the beautiful Woman of Wonder is no doubt a sacred thing to behold. She most excellently captures on screen the beauty and virtue of a noble woman that so many, both men and women, desire to possess off screen. It’s the kind of portrayal that makes one think that behind the call to Sacred Duty is a much higher call to Sacred Beauty. That perhaps the real wonder of this movie is not that she is a Wonder Woman who can fight with honor and defend the call to justice, but rather more importantly, that she is herself a wonder because she is Beauty.
“Chastity is eros in its holy form,” writes Dr. Patitsas, “and Beauty is the light of this holy eros, for Beauty is the only thing that can make the eye chaste.”
Unlike Steve’s conclusion in the movie that family and love are something foreign to him because he has never had them in his life, purity and chasteness are not about missing out, but become about partaking in something divine and awesome.
According to Dr. Patitsas, “An unchaste eros is an incomplete eros, a weak eros, or even a fake eros. It’s a form of theft – we try to take the beautiful and run off with it in order to consume it. Theft is the primordial sin (as it was in the Garden of Eden): we took what had not been given. This is the opposite of thanksgiving.”
Suddenly, we can begin to see that behind everything in life, there is a profound call to something more, even in the seemingly off-handed scenes of a movie. We realize the call to Sacred Duty and Justice are not just about virtue; they are about protecting and revealing Beauty.
“Chaste eros becomes pure agape. The transition, though, is difficult. Without agape, eros remains stunted, partial, until it collapses and isn’t even eros: the fire goes out and all that remains is selfishness and egoism.”
A Clarion Call has gone forth, a call to Truth. Love. Beauty. All Sacred Wonders for our time. How will we embrace them? This is our season to find out, “Her time is now.”