Because we are Christians of the Latter Day Saints variety, around my house 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 the list of approved media.
Our standards for that designation, however, 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,” 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, we hope that a gospel-centered conversation arises 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 Comics 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, the Wonder Woman movie is the story of Christ, and it is obvious from Director Patty Jenkins’ decisions 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 Diana descending slowly to the ground in the attitude of the cross.
Warning: ‘Wonder Woman’ Spoilers Ahead
Since there’s no way to adumbrate this thesis without revealing plot details, please stop reading now if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t wish the plot spoiled.
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 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.
Diana leaves her paradisaical homeland 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 amazed at her supernatural battle skills and bravery. This is a savior who has brought a sword, you see. One of the things her companions think very odd is that she insists there is actually a 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, 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. 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 Temptation of the Christ Figure
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 her 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, having just witnessed the self-sacrificial death of the man she loved to stop an even larger gas attack, reaches a momentous conclusion—one that Christ reached, as well. It is true that mankind does not deserve redemption. Mankind does not deserve the innocent and divine Christ’s ultimate sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, for all have sinned and fallen short of the mark. And many will indeed never willingly choose redemption, and refuse it when offered. Ares speaks truth in this, similar to Lucifer’s habit of telling partial truth to perpetuate more effective falsehoods.
But Diana knows a greater truth. Man may not deserve redemption, but they are redeemable. That belief—that man is redeemable, and at least some will not refuse that divine gift—is the greater truth that motivates Diana’s efforts. She has seen their potential for nobility in Trevor’s actions, equal in significance to the depravity she has also witnessed.
Diana then reveals the greatest truth of all, a truth Ares can never know: love is the key to redemptive change. To love mankind and to believe in their redeemability places Diana in unalterable opposition to Ares. Her love and 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, whom (to the interest of this LDS Christian) she identifies as “brother.”
The clear Christology of the “Wonder Woman” movie 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 right now. But that’s all right, Diana and Christ would tell us. Christ loves and believes in us nonetheless, and will fight by our side until the last man standing—just like Wonder Woman.
Hudson has two X chromosomes, and is raising her children to be good Christian feminists.