Diana’s Naivety in “Wonder Woman” Is Our Own

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

One of the reasons I like the 2017 film “Wonder Woman” is that the protagonist’s struggles to understand the nature of good, evil and humanity reflect a common problem humanity has in understanding itself. Unfortunately, the point may be missed because the character seems much more naïve than we are. Psychologists have shown that we can be similarly naïve in a more subtle way. (Contains mild spoilers.)

At the beginning of Wonder Woman, it’s easy to see Diana, the protagonist, has a very naïve view of humanity. She believes the story that humans were created to be good and were corrupted by Ares, the god of war. When she hears of the horrors of the First World War, she expects that finding and destroying Ares would make it all stop instantly; the people would come back to their senses and stop doing such monstrous things. It’s easy to guess that, whatever the role of Ares may be, she’s in for a rude surprise.

When Diana finally encounters Ares, the Lasso of Truth can’t stop him from saying things about humanity that she finds hard to deny. They are certainly not good beings whose minds were taken over by an evil god. He has given them some ideas, but ultimately, they have chosen for themselves.

Ares believes that humans are destructive creatures who should be purged from the face of the Earth. Diana set out with the belief that humans were inherently good and Ares was the source of evil, but after seeing the truth about humanity, she finds that her way of thinking inevitably leads her to dark places – all too close to Ares for comfort.

Both characters share an underlying assumption: Beings who are good do good things, and only evil beings do evil things. In reality, it’s mostly not about being inherently good or evil, but about being inherently limited.

Diana’s journey prepares her to see both sides of things. She travels with people of the sort she’d consider dishonorable – a spy, a con-man, a sniper, a smuggler – and sees how they’re each trying to get by in a world that leaves little option to be perfectly good. Especially without superpowers.

Cynical as we may be, we have some of the naivety Diana starts out with. In his brilliant and startling book Evil, psychologist Roy Baumeister argues that we have an unrealistic tendency to suppose that, when someone does something that harms us, they must be driven by malicious motives that we ourselves could never share. He calls this the “myth of pure evil”, and it’s also related to the fundamental attribution error and banality of evil.

It’s no wonder, then, that we seek to answer the question of where evil comes from as if it’s an active power. But we don’t need a literal or metaphorical Satan when we have a world full of people with partly conflicting interests, who frequently don’t understand what harms another person or don’t care as much as they should.

Some of the greatest evil stems from the illusion that one is fighting evil, like Ares in the movie, or terrorists who think they’re Luke Skywalker and “enemy” civilians are the Death Star. Even when we don’t actively set out to harm others like that, if we want to avoid ever committing evil ourselves, we must see through the illusion that it’s a force outside of us.

 

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Review: Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

christmas-carol-2009

Wild and wacky action starring Ebenezer Scrooge. Because that makes sense.

I happened to watch the 3D animated adaptation of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol by Disney, so here are a few observations about that.

This story is so well known it’s been adapted even by Disney multiple times. But if someone doesn’t know: it’s about the miserly and misanthropic old man Ebenezer Scrooge and how he’s transformed after being visited by four ghosts on the night before Christmas. In this case, Scrooge among others is played by Jim Carrey. It sounds like an odd choice, but whatever works is all right, and it does work. The voice acting is good. The animation is, too. The film was nice to look at, although I wasn’t wowed enough to buy all the showy antics.

The story and scenes follow the original very closely — and the dialogue even more so, almost word for word much of the time. It’s an interesting choice, and it’s fun to hear good actors make that kind of dialogue with the long sentences sound almost natural. There are some subtle changes to the dialogue to make it more understandable, but even after that, some of it can sound a little cryptic, as in the case of the Ghost of Christmas Present. In any case, a lot of the small adjustments to the original dialogue and scenes are actually an improvement over the Dickens story, condensing it and making it run more smoothly. But then there are the other kind of adjustments…

The biggest problem with the movie is that it tries to be funny. This starts right off with the “Marley’s ghost” scene, which I found to be awkward and unenjoyable — too oppressive to be funny but with too much fooling around to be anything else, either. Looking back, this was probably the worst scene, so it does get better. The rest of the time, it just feels like there are pointless little additions. Goofing around in a modern manner doesn’t seem to fit the story, perhaps because the rest of it is so close to the original. (It’s not like Mickey’s Christmas Carol where the ghost of Marley was funny — because he was Goofy.) Overlapping the attempted humour, there’s gratuitous “action” that seems inappropriate or pointless, like mostly realistic looking people suddenly making unrealistic acrobatic moves, and Scrooge’s visions having added high-speed flying or chases. The latter aren’t entirely out of place because the visions are supposed to be harrowing, but they don’t add anything either and aren’t particularly funny. In fact, I suspect they’re in no small part filler to stretch the story to movie length. About the only really funny part was in the end when Scrooge was high on Christmas, and one can see why — that part was supposed to go like that.

In the end, I did enjoy the movie, but not as a comedy. I watched it as a close, well animated, well acted adaptation of the original with some pointless and mildly irritating additions. I have to give it a low score for being an unfunny comedy, but I wouldn’t recommend against watching it if you’re interested. Everything else besides the few glaring bad things is good.

Rating: 2.5/5

Review: Mr. Holmes

Mr HolmesI remember reading years ago that of all fictional characters, Sherlock Holmes had had about the most movie adaptations. In the past several years, this is still easy to believe. Even “different” portrayals of the character now seem commonplace. Nor is it a new idea to make it different. As far back as 1988, the comedy Without a Clue turned the whole concept around by making Dr. Watson the real detective who’s stuck in the shadow of his own literary creation and the actor he hired to play him. And of course there’s the “rodent Sherlock Holmes” Basil of Baker Street made widely known in Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective, two years earlier. So now, while I enjoyed Sherlock and to a lesser extent the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film and its sequel A Game of Shadows (and just didn’t see the other recent versions), I’m getting a saturated feeling again. Do we really need more of this? Is there room for yet another adaptation, no matter how different?

It turns out that yes, if it’s different enough, there was room for one more.

Mr. Holmes, an adaptation of the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, stars Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes in his nineties — and fighting against a seriously deteriorated memory. Continue reading

Review: Spectre

A climactic conclusion to Daniel Craig’s James Bond arc that uses every James Bond cliché but doesn’t manage to do a lot with them that’s interesting.

Towards the end of last year, I got persuaded to see the newest James Bond movie, Spectre, even though I had not seen any of the previous movies since Casino Royale. Since Spectre ties heavily to the earlier installments, I’m obviously not the best person to review it, and I can’t discuss everything… but I do want to say a few things.

The obvious first: If you haven’t seen the other Daniel Craig films, you can watch this one, but it’ll be missing something. As in, “Who the heck are all these people?” Eventually you’ll roughly figure it out, and I was actually informed later on that I wasn’t supposed to know as many things as I thought. This movie makes references back to all the others and ties them all under the theme of “Spectre”, the classic criminal organisation, being behind everything. Of course, this leaves the question of whether it actually makes sense, which I can’t comment on much. I know I didn’t get any sense of “Ohhh, now it all makes sense” about how Casino Royale was tied in. Anyway, you certainly get the feeling that they were going for an epic conclusion. They also make the stakes high in other ways such as having the whole MI6 being threatened.

This movie really uses every Bond cliché: Continue reading

Filosofi Matrixissa

Click here for the English version: A Philosopher in The Matrix

Huomatkaa, etten ole täysin samaa tai täysin eri mieltä kummankaan hahmon kanssa.

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Mies, Jolla On Pitkä Takki Ja Aurinkolasit: Mitä jos kertoisin sinulle… että kaikki, mitä luulit tietäväsi maailmasta, on illuusiota?

Filosofi: En usko, että olisi koherentti ajatus, että kaikki uskomukseni voisivat olla väärässä yhtä aikaa.

MJOPTJA: Niinkö? Mitä jos sanoisin, että maailma, jonka näemme ympärillämme, onkin vain tietokonesimulaatio, ja me olemme todellisuudessa kytkettyinä siihen loputtomissa riveissä sähkölaitoksella, jossa meidät orjuuttaneet tietokoneet käyttävät meitä energian tuottamiseen?

F: Hmmm. En itse asiassa usko, että se vaikuttaisi mihinkään kovin paljoa. Continue reading

A Philosopher in The Matrix

Click here for the Finnish version: Filosofi Matrixissa

Note: I do not fully agree or disagree with either of the characters.

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Man in Trenchcoat and Sunglassses: What if I told you… that everything you thought you knew about the world was an illusion?

Philosopher: Oh, I don’t think it’s a coherent idea that everything I believe can be wrong at the same time.

MiTaS: Is that so? What if I told you that the world we see around is nothing but a computer simulation, and we are really hooked into it in endless rows in a power plant, enslaved by computers who are using us for producing electricity.

P: Hmmm. I don’t think that would make a lot of difference to anything, actually. Continue reading