You probably know that originally Christmas was a somber religious holiday. It was the 12 days after Christmas that the partying took place, culminating in Epiphany, the day that the Magi, or the Three Wise Men, came to Jesus baring gifts, representing official acknowledgement of his Divine nature.
One of my blog posts that got the best feedback this year was My Top 10 Gratitude List for Summer 2020, which you can read by clicking here. Now that we are approaching the conclusion of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, I thought I would use the concept of the 12 days of Christmas to share some of the things that I’m most grateful for at this moment of the end of an extraordinary year. One thing I’ve learned this year is to give up on the expectation of perfection from myself, others, or life in general. So I’m calling it 12-ish to give myself some latitude. If I don’t end up posting each of the next 12 days, well, OK. It’s 12-ish.
I’ll start with what is foremost in my mind today: the movie Wonder Woman 1984, which I watched last night to cap off a lovely, quiet, intimate Christmas at home.
The professional reviewers in general haven’t been very positive about this movie. I understand their complaints, but I disagree. I cried a lot during this movie, both in sadness and in joy. I really loved it as feminine recasting of the typically-male-perspective trope of a superhero movie.
It has a female director and a female star and a female villain? or at least antagonist. But beyond that, I think it asserts female values into a traditional masculine venue. The plot is just so much more focused on relationships and emotions and, to me at least, really kind of a spiritual message than the male superhero movies I’ve seen (granted, that is a limited number because most of them don’t really appeal to me unless they are a SUPER big deal and/or have Chris Hemsworth in them). Wonder Woman is, of course, an incredibly strong and powerful, incorruptible, and yet beautiful and sexy hero. Still, she feels deeply. In this movie, she even weeps. Do we ever see male superheroes weep? Or, more accurately, do we see anyone weep in the male-dominated superhero movies? To me, Wonder Woman’s weeping and yet carrying on doing what she needs to do to save the world makes her a stronger hero than any of them. And not to give away any spoilers–like we all know superhero movies ends up with the world surviving, right?–but I love that the power that saves the world is NOT the awesome, incredible, sole powers of the superhero, but instead…well, I wish I could say. But the alternative is, to me, a much more feminine power or technique. Plus, I of course respond to the movie’s focus on children, both as innocent people to be protected but also powerful forces not to be underestimated. Again, I think that is a more feminine theme that is not typically involved in the typical (male) superhero movie.
I get some of the reviewer critiques. But I think they overlook how this movie is breaking open and transforming what we should expect from our superheroes. It doesn’t hurt that the male supportive side kick/love interest is Chris Pine, who is just a HAIR behind Chris Hemsworth as my favorite Chris in the great Hollywood Chris contest. Both of them are, to me, head and shoulders above Chris Evans and Chris Pratt. I don’t want to get distracted by that, but still, I love Chris Pine in this movie. I thought the way they handled his role in one of the big climactic scenes in the movie was so masterful.
However, all that, as great as it is, is not why I’m launching this series of posts with this movie.
I moved to North Carolina in 1997, after living my entire life, with some periodical gaps, in or around Washington DC. But every year, I would return to the DC area either right before or after Christmas to visit my mother (up until her death), my father and his second wife (who I love, but since they married after we were all adults, she has never wanted the title of “step-mother”), and whatever assortment of my three brothers and their wives and children could join us. Since my son was born in 1999, he has never missed a Christmas in DC, and it is now one of his favorite Christmas traditions to visit the museums and galleries by day and spend time with family by night.
Until this year.
My father is 93, so none of us would expose him to the potential germs we would be bringing from New Mexico, Philadelphia, Williamsburg, or Research Triangle NC, among other places with the grandchildren. We have a Zoom get-together planned for next week, which will be great in that it will include more of us than our physical gatherings have had in years.
But still, it’s not the same as going to DC.
However, Wonder Woman 1984 is the next best thing! Because it is set in DC in 1984. I was a young single professional living in Dupont Circle in 1984, working in a national educational non-profit that was trying to protect equal access to education during the Reagan administration. I can so relate to those times, those fashions, those pop culture treats sprinkled throughout the movie.
Even more, I loved how well the movie captures what I think of as the “real” Washington DC. The Washington Post, to which I maintain an online subscription, had a great article entitled “How Patty Jenkins turned ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ into a personal Washington story” (click here to read that story.) It talks about how director Patty Jenkins lived in DC in the 1980’s, and it shows.
Because here is the thing. Washington DC is not nearly as popular a place to locate a movie as NYC or LA, maybe even Miami or Chicago. When it does, it is usually focused mostly on the famous landmarks that everyone will recognize, such as the White House, the Capitol, or the Washington, Lincoln, or maybe Jefferson Memorial (especially during cherry blossom time). Plus they typically use the following tropes, which drive me crazy:
- Everyone lives in Georgetown
Just like in Friends or Seinfeld in New York City, somehow even low-level or erratically-paid workers live without roommates in a spacious and well-equipped apartment in the most expensive neighborhood in the entire city.
- Distances are totally unrealistic
Because filmmakers want to cram in as many landmarks as possible, they have people wander from one to the other in the same scene in an impossible timeframe. I saw one movie where the good guy was running from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial while the bad guys were shooting at him. Guess what? Those places are 2.5 miles apart. If assassins can’t kill an unarmed man running two and half miles, they need to find a new profession.
- They stick made-up buildings in places they could never be
Another “guess what folks?” The area around the big landmarks, outside the mall, is totally developed by governmental or commercial buildings. There are NOT large millionaire estates sitting across the square from the White House or the major monuments…except in too many movies.
- Of course, there is never traffic, not to mention police, during the chase scenes, or any other people around during the romantic scenes
Washington DC is probably one of the most security-oriented places in the world. It has the DC police force, of course, the Metro (subway) security staff, and the US Capitol has its own guards. The White House has the Secret Service. Then there is the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. There are 177 embassies in DC, each with their own security arrangements, not to mention spies with some of them. And then there is the military. When I lived in DC, it so happened that the Iranian embassy was located on my block. When the first President Bush announced the Persian War, by the time I came home that night after an evening meeting, there were heavily-armed military on all four corners of my block. So I think if someone was shooting at someone running for two and a half miles, someone would have shown up to check it out.
This is not to say that Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t dabble in a few of these old tropes. I love that she lives in the Watergate building, although the love interest apartment is a recognizable Georgetown location–but the movie doesn’t make that clear. The bad guy’s office has way too much green area to be in downtown DC, which the movie seems to say but doesn’t make it clear. I love that it seems that Wonder Woman doesn’t have a car because she takes a taxi or the Metro everywhere (although the big Metro scene doesn’t make sense for the presumable route based on the color lines shown, but that is a small detail).
Still, overall it is clear that this is someone who knows the city and who is using real places, real situations, real lifestyles, real (at the time) businesses, etc. to depict the city. I love that.
So along with the story, this movie fills my void in not being able to visit a place I consider a home, if not my home now. It includes scenes filmed in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the Hirshhorn Gallery, the Air and Space Museum, and the National Mall. It shows the Watergate and scenes that feel really realistic about Georgetown, even if maybe it wasn’t filmed there. The scenes in the subway system are DEFINITELY real, because they include the screens announcing time to the next train, which we absolutely did not have in the 1980’s. There is an opening scene shot in a mall, which was filmed in the now-closed Landmark Mall that was right next to where my mother lived (in a suburban development also build by and called the Watergate, but in Alexandria, VA). Commander Salamander, Galaxy Records, the exercise clothes, the Miami-Vice colors…they all recalled that time for me.
So this movie is a gift to me because in a year where I can’t go home again, it brings home to me. Thanks not only to Patty Jenkins and Wonder Woman 1984 for that, but for all the movies and TV shows and other streaming options that have allowed us to revisit where we would love to be but choose not to in order to keep ourselves and others safe.