Wonder Woman 1984 and the Orwellian Genius of Its Setting

The Wonder Woman sequel is officially titled Wonder Woman 1984, which appears to be a reference to the George Orwell classic.

The Wonder Woman sequel is currently filming and we just got our first proper look of the production thanks to returning director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot. But perhaps even bigger than the reveal that Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor will look so good following his untimely death at the end of Wonder Woman is the revelation that the sequel will be titled Wonder Woman 1984.

We already knew the Wonder Woman sequel would be set in the 1980s, but the fact that 1984 isn’t just the setting, but part of the title, suggests an unanticipated Orwellian significance to the picture. Indeed, George Orwell’s most famous literary work is Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel about a future in which a totalitarian government has slowly worn away the freedoms of its citizens through the use of propaganda and surveillance. And it’s unfortunately just as relevant now as it was when it was published in 1949. Could Wonder Woman 1984 be drawing inspiration from the dystopian text? Gods, I hope so.

As I’ve waxed poetic about before, period dramas are as much about the time they are made as the time they are set—often even more so. Like science fiction, period dramas use another setting as a way to reflect back on our contemporary times and anxieties. This is true in the first Wonder Woman film, which uses its First World War setting as a way to challenge contemporary American isolationism.

Placing the origin story of Diana in World War I, a global conflict that dragged America into a period of intense isolationism, begs a comparison to the current rise in American isolationist sentiment, which is most pronounced in the rhetoric of President Donald Trump and his “America First” mantra. Diana’s arc in the film is about the responsibility relative outsiders have in conflicts of which they are not an active part.

If Wonder Woman took on the theme of American isolationism and the horrors of war, what will Wonder Woman 1984 choose as its thematic nemesis to both explore and potentially slay? The horrific themes of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which now seem less dystopian and more prescient, would be a great place to start. 

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For the uninitiated, Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in a then-distant future where London is part of a totalitarian empire called Oceania. The world’s population have become victims of a perpetual war, the government surveils everything its citizens do (even policing their thoughts), and there is a daily ritual called The Two Minutes Hate in which Party citizens must watch a video featuring the Party’s enemies and perform their anger toward them. This is a reality in which the government dictates how you think and who you love.

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever,” Orwell writes in one of the book’s most disturbing scenes, conjuring a cynical vision of eternal oppression and nihilistic cynicism. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, it’s not the literal boot that is the scariest tool of Oceania’s totalitarian control; it’s the total erosion of independent thought. We are far from the reality that Orwell extrapolated out in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but I think we can all agree that we’re not as far as we’d like to be from it.

It would be fitting, then, if Diana took on subjects like surveillance, the dangers of extreme nationalism, and the erosion of independent thought as thematic nemeses in Wonder Woman 1984. Based on one of the first images from the film (featured above), which sees Diana staring into a wall of television screens, the movie seems poised to do so. Granted, this is a big jump to make from one production still, but the image does invoke the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, where citizens all have telescreens that act as televisions, security cameras, and microphones in their homes, where the Ministry of Truth can say whatever it wants and make it “truth.”

Further, the actual year of 1984 was also a year of hyper-nationalism and partisanship with the Cold War far from cooling. After an escalated arms race, the United States and Soviet Union appeared to be edging closer to oblivion to many at that time, including Alan Moore who infused such pessimism into his own dystopian superhero tale published two years later, Watchmen. A scenario of frosty relations between American and Russian governments (if not American and Russian presidents) no longer seems so remotely distant, nor does Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince facing an era of patriarchal conservatism that could be all too pleased to keep women in a certain place–no boots required.

It has already been hinted that Wonder Woman 1984 will have espionage and thriller elements. So Diana attempting to thwart an escalation of tensions, or even a government raising its boot in the Orwellian pose above man and woman alike, would not be a stretch. It is in fact grimly perfect, so much so that it appears to have been placed in the film’s title.

Seventy years later after its publiciation, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Fourand its parallels to our own reality are insidiously still here. We live in a time when our personal information is gathered by government agencies and corporate entities alike and when our president and our news agencies can say whatever they want, regardless of its basis in fact, and face little to no accountability for misleading the public. If Wonder Woman, a fictional character, can’t take corporeal form and save us from these horrors in the real world, then I at least want to see her to do it on-screen in her sequel.

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