Archives in the Movies: Wonder Woman
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Like most of the world, I was enthralled by Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Princess Diana of Themyscira, aka Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman. She made Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice tolerable for the ten minutes she was on screen and she made Justice League somewhat worth watching. Somewhat. But it’s in her own movie, the 2017 box office hit Wonder Woman where she shines the brightest. Directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster) with a script by Allan Heinberg, Wonder Woman gave us Diana’s origin story for the modern DC Extended Universe of films. But where the movie gives us a fantastic superheroine story, its brief foray into the archives is less wondrous.
While the story proper takes place during World War I, the film is bookended by Diana in the present day reminiscing over the original photo of herself, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and their motley crew of scoundrels taken after a particularly intense sequence that took us through the trenches to No Man’s Land to a Belgian village under attack by German soldiers. A digital copy in the possession of Lex Luthor was her primary motivation in BvS, but this time around Bruce Wayne gifts her the original daguerreotype glass plate as a thank you and as a means of keeping her probable immortality a secret.
As part of her double life, Diana Prince works as a curator/conservator/antiquities dealer at the Louvre in Paris, France. When the glass plate arrives via Wayne Enterprise’s private courier, we the audience see that Diana’s office is full of Ancient Greek weaponry, swords and shields, and all manner of artifacts. Is it an accurate image of a museum staff member’s office? Probably not, but it’s a stunning imagining of what a curator’s office could be even in the hyper-realized world of superheroes. Unfortunately, Diana shows a severe lack of conservator or antiquities knowledge when it comes to handling a one hundred year old glass plate.
“GLOVES!!” shouted myself and my friend Rachel (also an archivist) when we saw the movie and Diana decided to touch an artifact with her bare hands. Wonder Woman basically committed a cardinal sin of conservators and preservationists. Unless her demigodness somehow prevents her from producing oils that would be transferred to the glass plates, she’s just damaged a piece of history even if it’s technically a personal item. Yes, I understand that’s not the point of the movie and it’s a very brief scene to get us started on the main narrative, but come on! I don’t care what institution you come from, but most anyone would understand the importance of wearing gloves when handling anything over a couple decades let alone a century. It’s common sense and if one were to say, moonlight as a conservator/antiquities dealer in order to safeguard the artifacts of an ancient culture you belonged to and happen to be thousands of years old, then maybe one might have picked up on a few skills and techniques in order to pass as a professional who would be hired by the premiere French institution of art and history.
I admit it’s a small gripe, but it’s still one that speaks to perpetuating the idea that a person can just pick up an old artifact without causing damage. It’s a movie, so of course it’s going to be about the visual aesthetic of Diana holding the only proof of her existence as Wonder Woman prior to fighting Doomsday. It’s about her remembering the first man she ever met and fell in love with. It’s not about following the basic tenets of her non-superhero profession.
But would it have killed you to put gloves on, Diana?
Well, at least she was wearing them in Justice League. Live and learn, right?