There are plenty of big moments in Wonder Woman we’ll all be talking about for the foreseeable future. This is an appreciation for all the smaller, quieter scenes in the film that have stuck with me after six showings.
Who will I be if I stay?
Origin stories are a vital part of a hero’s identity. Not because they tell us what the hero can do or how they can save people, but because they tell us exactly why the hero wants to in the first place.
And while many hero’s origins stem from either a tragedy or traumatic experience, Wonder Woman is unique in that her motivation for helping others stems solely from her inner goodness and innate sense of justice.
Diana’s epic No Man’s Land scene is a perfect example of this. Despite the demand of their group that she must move on, and Steve’s insistence that they can’t save everyone in this war, she steps into the war-torn patch of land to save innocent because it’s the right thing to do and that’s just who she is.
And while No Man’s land will undoubtedly be remembered the most, it’s this initial scene just as Diana is set to leave the island that I feel highlights the depth of Wonder Woman’s innate sense of justice and goodness.
At this point in the movie, Diana has only ever lived in paradise, has only ever been surrounded by light and optimism and love. Yet she chooses to leave behind perfection, to leave behind her home and embark into the dark unknown because she is and wants to be the kind of person who helps others, no matter what.
The Diana who rises from the trenches of No Man’s Land and says, “This is what I’m going to do,” shows us who Wonder Woman is when she is literally confronted by war and suffering.
The Diana who stands on the shores of paradise and asks her mother, “Who will I be if I stay?” shows us who Wonder Woman is when war is only an idea and suffering just a nebulous concept.
Both versions show us a Wonder Woman who is compassionate, filled with goodness and, above all, inspiring.
Who took that from your people?
Part of Diana’s journey in Wonder Woman is learning that there is a complicated, messy duality to mankind — that within each person exists both divine goodness and profound cruelty.
And while her final scene with Ares and her closing monologue for the movie clearly spells this out for the audience, it’s this smaller, more intimate scene with Eugene Brave Rock’s Chief that we first see this idea begin to take root in Diana’s mind.
We — along with Diana — have just spent half the movie with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor and seen his heroism and goodness in full display. Yet here we have a moment where we’re given insight into the darkness in his own soul and his own people’s history.
In a broader sense, too, this is a huge moment in terms of calling out — in a big budget, superhero film — the genocide and suffering inflicted on Native Americans by White Americans.
There’s no explanation or defense from Steve Trevor (though I think he wouldn’t give one, even if he weren’t sleeping); it’s simply stated factually and without equivocation — just as it should be.
The scene is only six or seven lines long, but manages to serve as a reminder of the plight of Native Americans while also building one of the major themes of the movie and deepening Chief’s overall character arc.
Who will sing for us?
Charlie is initially introduced to us as a brawling, drunken marksmen who seems destined to fill the role of boozy comic relief.
However, we very quickly see that Charlie — just like the rest of flawed, complicated characters in this film — is struggling with his own inner demons.
After his PTSD keeps him from acting in a critical moment, he experiences a sense of crippling self-doubt and suggests that coming along could only be a detriment to the entire team.
But instead of placating him or pitying him, Diana again shows her deep sense of compassion and empathy by simply validating his dignity as a human being.
As Sameer says in the scene before, everyone –including the audience — knows that Diana is more than capable of handling herself. Diana recognizes this in herself as well, but also recognizes that Charlie is not just a hired gun or drunken fool — he’s an imperfect, valuable person who is worth more than his marksman skills.
By responding to Charlie’s suggestion that he stay behind with, “But who will sing for us?” Diana not only acknowledges Charlie’s trauma — she likewise meets where he is and, more importantly, accepts him just as he is.
Is this what people do when there are no wars to fight?
This moment, though sandwiched into the middle of one of the most romantic scenes in the entire film, is a quietly heartbreaking moment.
It’s a reminder that while Diana was raised on a veritable paradise, she has also spent her entire life training for and preparing for war. She is a princess, yes, but a princess in a culture where war dominated many of the conversations.
Not to say that she didn’t have a great childhood — I’m sure she did — but as the only child ever on an entire island, we can certainly say that it wasn’t exactly a normal one, either.
This one moment of respite signifies perhaps the first time that Diana gets to enjoy life and love and the company of other people and think about the fact that one day soon, she’ll be able to experience all these things without the specter of war hanging over her.
What’s it like?
Ok, yes, this is basically the same scene as the previous one, but this exchange is so evocative to me that I felt like I needed to talk about it specifically.
Life without war, Steve tells Diana, contains breakfast, reading the paper, getting married and growing old together.
Even while Diana initially laughs at the glib response and Steve smiles through the first few lines, it soon becomes a litany of things that both parties realize they want with each other.
In the moment, the litany signifies a life that neither Diana nor Steve have ever known. But there’s a hopeful sense about it — a feeling that maybe, perhaps, these two individuals will have the chance to have a breakfast and read the paper and grow old together.
Yet a repeat watching of this scene casts a more heartbreaking shadow over this moment, because we now realize that the list can only ever be a description of a life that that Steve will never know.