Wonder Woman and the lie detector share the same origin story: William Moulton Marston. In the real world, he gave us the lie detector. In the fantasy world, he gave us Wonder Woman and her “Lasso of Truth.” 70 years later, Wonder Woman’s opening line, delivered without a tinge of irony, launches possibly the most sincere movie of 2017:
“What one does when faced with the truth, is more difficult than you would think.”
In a cinematic genre that has come to prize wit over substance, DC’s latest superhero blockbuster asks us—unapologetically—to believe in truth again. And with nowhere else to turn in 2017, an enchanted lasso represents our best hope for an objective reality.
In a cinematic genre that has come to prize wit over substance, DC’s latest superhero blockbuster asks us—unapologetically—to believe in truth again.
The cultural waters in which Diana Prince (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) finds herself are inherently skeptical to any sort of virtuous proclamation. In the West, we are experiencing an increasing cynicism towards idealism. We are tired of disappointment. We are tired of confusion. We are tired of lies. And as a result, we find ourselves reluctantly inhabiting a post-truth world. The recognition of objectivity in our current moment feels as though it would require supernatural intervention.
Enter Wonder Woman. The film, under the direction of Patty Jenkins, emanates sincerity, holding to an almost Neo-Platonic vision of Truth, Beauty, and the Good that fits nicely alongside the Greek mythological origins of Wonder Woman herself yet challenges the current Hollywood status quo. In an interview with The New York Times, Jenkins explains:
“I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world.”
The rare presence of sincerity in modern filmmaking represents a new sort of vulnerability: unabashed truth-telling.
This idea is most present in Wonder Woman’s “Lasso of Truth.” Superficially, it functions as a polygraph, forcing the lassoed ‘victim’ to reveal undisclosed information. On a deeper level, its very existence implies an actual Truth to be revealed—an assumption that wouldn’t have raised eyebrows when it was conceived over 70 years ago. But now, in the post-truth age of 2017, the “Lasso of Truth” is more magical than ever.
In the post-truth age of 2017, the “Lasso of Truth” is more magical than ever.
Chris Pine, one of the co-stars in Wonder Woman, remarked in a recent interview that the most common question he’s received while promoting the film is, “If you could lasso anyone with the ‘Lasso of Truth,’ who would it be?” It might just be low-hanging movie-star-interview fruit, but I believe it also highlights our fascination with this mystical tool.
And what strikes me more than the coercive nature of the lasso are its metaphysical implications; namely, that anyone under the lasso’s grip is, by definition, revealing Truth. Amid uncertainty, we can be certain.
A rejection of objectivity has led many to side with Nietzsche in the hopes of becoming free to construct their own reality. But as Kierkegaard or Sartre might say, the anxiety of our current moment is really the “dizziness of freedom.” Rejecting a foundational reality, we become overwhelmed with choice and we are, in effect, paralyzed. In a similar way, Aziz Ansari’s critically-acclaimed Netflix series, Master of None, grounds its main character’s conflict around this anxiety of choice (see the season one finale for a painfully poignant analysis of eating out in the age of Yelp). In the mire and confusion of this newly-found freedom, we now long for some objective ground to steady our dizziness. We need Wonder Woman and her Lasso of Truth.
However, we must be careful. The longing for certainty if realized uncritically can generate dictators. But it is here that Wonder Woman embraces another path. One of the defining moments of the film occurs about halfway in, when Diana enters “No Man’s Land.” It is here that she must reconcile her beliefs about the world with the reality presented to her. Yet her movement is captivating. As Tyler Huckabee notes in his feature for Relevant, “Diana doesn’t abandon her principles; she just expands them. She doesn’t become discouraged, but she doesn’t bury her head in the sand either. She maintains what’s true about what she believes and adds a bit of real-world wisdom and experience to it.”
This is the third way. A belief in objectivity—in Beauty, Truth, and Goodness—requires neither a rejection of the complexities of the world nor a rejection of those who think differently. In fact, it requires more work. It requires a willingness to enter into the mess of a seemingly contradictory reality with a hope and a trust that there is something worth fighting for.
A belief in objectivity—in Beauty, Truth, and Goodness—requires neither a rejection of the complexities of the world nor a rejection of those who think differently. In fact, it requires more work.
And thus, the sincerity of Wonder Woman and her Lasso of Truth arrive as a brief but necessary respite from the cycle of deception and disillusionment that plagues our cultural landscape. It unearths a newly repressed desire for wholehearted sincerity, even Truth, that we forgot we could believe in.
The critical and financial success of Wonder Woman proves audiences are ready for a strong female superhero. We might also be ready to face the Truth.
Caleb Gotthardt is the Online and Social Media Manager for The Veritas Forum.