The new Wonder Woman film directed by Patty Jenkins brings a feminine perspective to the typical “hero’s journey” of the DC Comics genre.
We first see Diana, Princess of the Amazons, growing up on the idyllic isle of Themsyscira, where women learn the art of battle in preparation for their mission to save the world from Aeres, the God of War. Like many a young girl, Diana loves her beautiful mother, but chafes at her protectiveness. She longs to go cavort on wild horses and wield swords with her favorite aunt, General Antiope. Although her aunt secretly tutors her in the warrior arts, Diana remains loyal to her mother until she is called to rescue a man who crashes out of the sky onto the shores of Themsyscira. A tournament is held to decide who will return him to Man’s World. Diana wins, and sets off to bring a message of peace to his world, becoming the shero we know as Wonder Woman.
Diana’s origin story is subject to interpretation. She’s the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, molded from clay , raised on an island gifted to the Amazons by the gods. The Amazons are a matriarchal society rich with culture, far more advanced than our own, steeped in magic and sisterhood. Queen Hippolyta wants to shield her daughter from the brutality of war, so forbids her to engage in the games played by other women on the island. Diana could view herself as a victim, a fatherless child over-protected by her mother, isolated from the world, and doomed to a life of loneliness. Or she could see herself as a treasured princess, beloved by her mother, surrounded by strong women, and nurtured by her aunt in the skills she will need to fulfill her destiny to save the world.
Steve is a British spy who is trying to save the world from a devastating poisonous bomb being invented by the Nazis. Once Diana learns of the evils of the Great War in Europe, her choice is clear. She believes that Aeres is causing the devastation, and she is called to vanquish him to save mankind and return the world to peace.
To do so, Diana must defy her mother and flee the island with her new-found ally. Had she been a male, Diana would have received a hero’s send-off. Her mother would have packed her a box lunch and promised to host an elaborate banquet when she returned triumphant to the castle. The “male” figures in her life, in this case her aunt and the other Amazonian warriors, would have showered her with advice and secret weapons.
But Diana was no man. Hippolyta tells her, “You were my greatest joy and now you are my greatest sorrow,” and sends her off without so much as a kind word. Her aunt has been killed, and the other Amazons sit by powerless as Diana sets off on a ship to save the world. Everyone knows there is no going back. Everyone knows there will be no hero’s welcome home. Diana manages to take the sword that Hippolyta has told her is the secret weapon that will kill Aeres, but it turns out to be an empty promise. She herself is the secret weapon, armed only with the knowledge and skills passed down by her beloved aunt.
Like the traditional hero, Diana gains allies and enemies as she embarks on her journey to a challenging, unfamiliar world. In a series of super heroic battles, she is tested many times, and each time she rises to the challenge. Finally, she emerges victorious from her greatest ordeal, a fight to the death with Aeres.
This is where Diana’s quest diverges once again from the traditional hero’s journey. Had she been a man, we would have seen her march through the streets of London triumphant, holding the spoils of the battle proudly above her head. That would have initiated the return to her home, a hero bearing the rewards of the battle.
Instead, we see Diana quietly approach a wall of photos, searching for the young man who started her on this journey and sacrificed his life in service of the higher cause. She has won the battle with Aeres, but is disillusioned with her success. The world is still full of avarice and greed, and her mission to restore peace and beauty has been thwarted.
As we leave our heroine, she is alone and spiritually empty. She vows to change the world through the power of love, but it is not clear how that transformation will happen. She has rejected the male definition of success but doesn’t have a clear vision to replace it. This will be a long, lonely journey inward — a descent into the dark feminine.
In the words of Maureen Murdock, author of The Heroine’s Journey:
The heroine must become a spiritual warrior. This demands that she learn the delicate art of balance and have the patience for the slow, subtle integration of the feminine and masculine aspects of herself. She first hungers to lose her feminine self and to merge with the masculine, and once she has done this, she begins to realize that this is neither the answer nor the end. She must not discard nor give up what she has learned throughout her heroic quest, but learn to view her hard-earned skills and successes not so much as the goal but as one part of the entire journey. She will then begin to use these skills to work toward the larger quest of bringing people together, rather than for her own individual gain. This is the sacred marriage of the feminine and masculine — when a woman can truly serve not only the needs of others but can value and be responsive to her own needs as well. This focus on integration and the resulting awareness of interdependence is necessary for each one of us at this time, as we work together to preserve the balance of life on earth.
There is no doubt a sequel is in the cards for Wonder Woman. Will the director take on the challenge of the heroine’s journey, or revert to the male narrative of adventure, reward and the triumphant return?