Wonder Woman (764), 2017. Single-channel video, color, sound. 14:27 minutes. 1 minute excerpt. 

Taking Patty Jenkins’s 2017 film Wonder Woman as a point of departure, Wonder Woman (764) examines the broader implications of the contemporary superhero film. In the original movie, Wonder Woman is played by actress Gal Gadot, a performance celebrated for its feminist overtones. As Wonder Woman, Gadot presents herself as a model of female emancipation; she kicks ass. On closer analysis, however, the language of feminist liberation gives way to the reality of constraint. Wonder Woman seems to be under the influence of secret messages that direct her actions. These messages speak to Gadot under the guise of destiny, a special path or set of instructions that control her future. Wonder Woman is a weapon of divine justice. Her power comes from above. 

Read my friend Asha Bukojemsky’s review of Wonder Woman (764) and The Surface of Mars for La Furia Umana, “The Fuckable Face of Female Emancipation.” 

The number (764) in the title of this video refers to Emily Dickinson’s poem 764, My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun. When I was working on this video, I was interested in narratives in which women are weaponized or concieve of themselves as weapons – a kind of willing self-objectification. In Dickinson’s poem, she is God’s weapon. The poem is a fantasy of female violence. Dickinson is a “Loaded Gun,” her smile is “Vesuvian” (volcanic), her eye is “Yellow,” she’s a “deadly foe.” She rejects traditional sexual or romantic intimicacy with her “Master” (the pillow talk implied by the “Eider Duck’s Deep Pillow”) in favor of an intimacy based on power. But the end of the poem is ambivalent – her power only goes so far, it’s borrowed. She’s an object, temporarily animated by an external power. Thus, she has “the power to kill Without - the power to die.” Her life belongs to someone else.

In many of my videos, I’m interested in thinking about the trade-offs women make in order to experience a feeling of agency and power within patriarchal institutions. Much of mainstream, pop-feminist media operates on these terms. Women in western film aren’t merely sexually objectified these days, their objectification is more complex. Wonder Woman is paradigmatic: it is genuinely pleasurable to watch the athleticism of her movements as she kills the bad guys and saves the day. But the underlying narrative motivations are all external to her character. She is literally a weapon designed by her father/God/Zeus to carry out his divine plan. She doesn’t age, she doesn’t change her mind, she is a pure vessel for paternal authority. Agency and constraint are two sides of the same coin: “the power to kill Without - the power to die.”  

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away -

And now We roam in Sovreign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him 
The Mountains straight reply -

And do I smile, such cordial light
Opon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let it’s pleasure through -

And when at Night - Our good Day done - 
I guard My Master’s Head - 
‘Tis better than the Eider Duck’s 
Deep Pillow - to have shared - 

To foe of His - I’m deadly foe - 
None stir the second time - 
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye - 
Or an emphatic Thumb - 

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I - 
For I have but the power to kill,
Without - the power to die -