[Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984]
Wonder Woman 1984 is the fourth on-screen outing for Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. In each previous movie, she has faced ultra-powerful, god-like monsters, but this time the true opponent is quite different and so is the manner in which the opponent is fought. The official villains of the movie, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Dr. Barbara Minerva/Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), are both powerful in their own right, but there is a greater villain lurking in the background.
Greed is the true monster of the movie. Greed, the insatiable pursuit of more. This drive for more is the ultimate motivator for the film’s villains.
Let’s start with Maxwell Lord. He takes on the power of the Dream Stone, a relic of an ancient god of mischief that has the power to grant what one wishes at an unknown cost. Lord gains the power to grant wishes as well as the ability to take what he wants from the recipient as a consequence. He becomes desperate to grant people’s wishes because with every wish granted he is able to take something for himself. His desire for more keeps taking him further from the thing that he actually wants, which is to build a life that would make his son proud of him.
As for Minerva, she begins as a good person, although one that is clumsy and largely ignored by those around her. Her original desire is to be like Diana, someone she sees as beautiful, confident, and noticed by others. As a consequence of wishing to be like Diana, she unintentionally gains her powers. Her wish gives her a taste of power, and she wants more. Eventually, this consumes her. Her own goodness becomes corrupted by this desire for more and by the end of the movie she is transformed into the bloodthirsty Cheetah.
For those well-versed in Ignatian spirituality, the term “magis” should sound familiar. The term is directly translated as “more,” but that interpretation is precisely part of the problem in WW1984. After all, greed, the thirst for more, is the ultimate monster of the movie. But it’s the true meaning of “magis” that actually helps save the day.
Interpreting “magis” simply as “more” can be problematic. It can make us think that we need to constantly take on more, do more, and even have more. WW1984 shows the problem with this pursuit of more. While the initial desires of the principle characters are not necessarily bad, it is greed that corrupts these into an insatiable desire for more.
Even Wonder Woman herself is not immune to this desire. It is obvious in the film that she feels alone. It has been decades since she lost her love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and she has outlived her friends. She inadvertently makes the wish to have Steve back in her life before she even knows the power of the Dream Stone. Her wish is shockingly granted.
But what she doesn’t realize is that the consequence of her wish is the diminishment of her own powers. Over time she becomes weaker and weaker, and it is evident that she does not have the power that she needs to face Maxwell Lord and Cheetah. There is only one way to regain her powers: renounce her wish and give up Steve for good. When she first realizes this, Diana is conflicted. She wants to be able to help people, but she also wants to keep Steve in her life. In this sense she also wants more.
“Greatness is not what you think.”
The true meaning of “magis” in Ignatian Spirituality is not “more,” but that which is “better” or “greater.” It’s not about doing more, but about doing the greater good. Diana’s desire to keep Steve and to help others are both good. But in this case she cannot do both.
In the movie, this is because of the consequence of her wish, but in reality, we too are often faced with the choice to do what is greater. We can attempt to do it all, motivated by the misinterpretation of magis, but that will often lead to burnout and a diminishment in our ability to do what is best. This is where discernment comes in, because true discernment is always between good things. Diana sees the chaos and pain around her and knows that she must give up Steve in order to do what is right.
What ultimately allows Diana to pursue the greater good is another concept of Ignatian spirituality: detachment. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius writes that all created things are intended to help us grow closer to God. We must take up the things that help us do this and let go of the things that prevent us from achieving this. This requires detachment or indifference. This does not mean being unfeeling, but rather, having the freedom to let go of something for the sake of pursuing the greater good.
Diana’s detachment from Steve doesn’t mean that she stops caring for him all of a sudden. This much is evident from how painful it is for her to renounce her wish. But she is able to do it because she knows what is the greater good.
How does it all play out? Wonder Woman and Cheetah engage in a physical showdown, but the true final battle is an appeal by Diana to Maxwell Lord and the people of the world to recognize the greater good, or the magis. She invites them to see the destruction that is being caused by their own blind pursuit of more, fueled by greed.
It can be easy to write off the message of the movie because of its fantastical nature, including the fact that much of the chaos is caused by the consequences of a “wishing stone.” But the fact is that our own actions have consequences. And when they are motivated by greed and selfishness, the consequences usually have a negative effect on those around us and ourselves.
Maxwell Lord thought that he was gaining everything. But he was losing his family in the process. Does this not happen in our world? Barbara wanted to be noticed and desired, and she was willing to give up her best qualities, her kindness and goodness, to do so. Does this not happen in our world as well?
Even with the best of intentions, the pursuit of more can keep us from doing the greater good. Like Diana, we might be tempted to do it all, but we can’t. The danger with interpreting “magis” as “more” is that we can take on too many good things, doing none of them well and harming our mental, physical, and spiritual health in the process.
This is a huge temptation for many of us. Rather than taking the time to make hard choices or, God forbid, telling someone “no,” we attempt to do everything until we’re completely worn out. Ignatian spirituality has the tools to help us pursue the greater good. Discernment can help us to take an honest look at what is before us and what would be best, for us and for others. Detachment can give us the freedom that we need to let go of some things, even when it is difficult.
Instead of giving into greed for more, we need to grow in the freedom to let go for the sake of the greater good. Just like Wonder Woman.