**Major spoilers ahead.**
The story of Wonder Woman is the story of every human being’s relationship with good and evil.
When she is young, our hero Diana is told that humans are good and noble, but that they have been corrupted by the god of war Ares, made to turn against one another in violence. It is the duty of her people the Amazons to prevent the evil of total war from arising again.
Naturally, Diana believes it. And she believes it with such a heartwarming sincerity that seeing her disproven by reality hurts a little bit.
After years of a sheltered existence on an island paradise untouched by war or death, she’s thrust into the midst of World War One. She hunts for Ares, convinced that killing the god of war will end the bloodshed and restore humanity to its pristine state.
Ultimately, and in one of the plot’s twists, she learns the true identity of Ares and – more significantly – the true nature of humans. Even when she believes she has defeated Ares, she sees humans continuing their work to kill one another on their own steam and out of their own evil hearts. This is where she loses her innocence, and it’s where she almost gives up on her mission. Her paradigm is broken. Without evil centralized in one evil figurehead, how can a hero defeat evil?
As other reviews have noted, this is a development toward new wisdom in a genre that is all about Good Guys defeating Bad Guys and Making Everything Alright. This story – the hero myth and the salvation myth – actually question simplistic readings of the hero and salvation myths themselves.
This questioning is the process of growing up for all humans: realizing that evil is not a simple boogeyman to defeat, or that good is not a naive trust or simple moral innocence. Pursuing the good requires a square in-the-face confrontation with the evil within us, followed by a choice to encourage the best within us.
Diana grows up by the end of this movie, and she is far more powerful for it. She may hold a more nuanced and darker of humanity, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have ideals. In fact, because she has experienced evil and suffering, she is capable of transformative, powerful love for the world of humans.
There’s one line at the end that I loved. I paraphrase heavily, since I can find the quote nowhere online:
“Heroes never truly defeat evil, but they choose to fight anyway – because they believe in love.”
Heroes never fully defeat evil, because evil is a part of them which they can choose to loose upon the world. The choice is where virtue lies. Wonder Woman and Steve and all other heroes are heroes because, from moment to moment, they make the difficult choice to align themselves with the good.
You can choose to view that inner battle fatalistically. You can choose to give up the fight that will go on forever. Or you can find the purpose in the ongoing task and the ongoing transformation it brings. Albert Camus says it best. In his consideration of the eternal but futile task of Sisyphus, he provided some of the philosophical underpinnings of Wonder Woman’s mission to “fight evil, forever:”
“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
One must also imagine Wonder Woman happy. And if Wonder Woman is us – as all protagonists of our stories are – we have a world to save, even if we have to do it over and over and over again.