“The Truth Is Enough”: Wonder Woman 1984 and the Cost of Perfectionism


This world was a beautiful place just as it was. And you cannot have it all. You can only have the truth. And the truth is enough. The truth is beautiful”.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a flashy homage to 1980s superhero movies. It’s a love story. It’s a story about grief. It’s a story about family. It’s a story about the need for people to collectively choose the greater good over their own selfish desires.

That’s the beauty of an effective piece of media. It can mean something different to every person who interacts with it.

For me, Wonder Woman 1984 is a story about perfectionism.

It’s a story about what we lose when we chase the facade of a perfect life instead of standing in our truth and loving our lives—and ourselves—for all of the messy imperfections, losses, and struggles that make us who we are.

The plot of this film is based around three wishes: Max Lord’s wish for unlimited power, Barbara Minerva’s wish to be special, and Diana’s wish for her love, Steve Trevor, to return to her. Each of these wishes is made (not always knowingly) out of each character’s belief that their lives would be perfect—that the cracks in them left by trauma and loneliness and loss would be filled—if they could just have that one thing.

As Max says, “You can have it all. You just have to want it.”

For a moment, we get to see these characters having it all. We get to see Max turning his facade of power and prestige into reality. We get to see Barbara turning heads and charming crowds. And we get to see Diana gloriously, deliriously happy with Steve.

It’s perfect. Max gets his revenge on the businesspeople who doubted him and embarrassed him in front of his son. Barbara gets the attention she’s always craved—and the power to handle herself when that attention turns violent. And Diana gets to have Steve in her life—and her bed (or, more specifically, his futon)—again, eating breakfast and going to work the way he’d told her about all those decades ago. This is what perfection looks like for these characters; this is what they’ve always thought their lives were missing. This is what they saw in their mind’s eye when they looked with secret envy at successful oil magnates and confident coworkers and happy couples.

But what does it cost them?

Perfection is a lie. That’s one of the central points of Max’s character. His entire persona is built around convincing people that their lives can always be better by simply acquiring more—more power, more money, more fame. But we learn very early on that he’s a fraud, and that sense of the emptiness of pursuing something you can never fully attain permeates so much of this film.

In even Diana and Steve’s happiest moments (the ones that glow in the warmth of Gal Gadot and Chris Pine’s otherworldly chemistry as they kiss in bed, try on clothes, and stroll through Washington, D.C), it’s worth remembering that Steve’s body isn’t his own. Right from the start, Diana can’t have it all—even if she can only see Steve, it’s still not the same. It’s still not real.

Because he’s gone.

But she’s not ready to accept that yet.

Instead, we see Diana do something superheroes don’t often do—especially not ones held up as paragons of truth and justice. We see her make the wrong choice, the selfish choice. We see her be human.

We see her be imperfect.

The more Diana chases the perfect life embodied by those idyllic early scenes with Steve, the more we see her fall apart. We see her lose what makes her special—and it’s not her powers (though she loses those too). It’s her warmth, her selflessness, and her compassion for humanity that she begins to lose as she clings more tightly to Steve and the life she wants to build with him.

Diana’s desperation is echoed in more dramatic ways by Max and Barbara, who both lose the best parts of themselves in their quest to chase their idea of perfection—to satisfy their gnawing ache for more. Barbara loses her kindness; Max loses his way as a father. And it’s all because they, like Diana, believe those things are a small price to pay to finally have what they’ve always wanted.

What they believe they deserve.

And that’s the dangerous thing about perfectionism—it often tricks you into believing you deserve perfection. That it’s your turn. That you should get to have this one thing, even if it means sacrificing the best parts of yourself in order to get it and keep it. Even if it means watching the world burn. Even if it means destroying yourself.

Perfectionism has a human cost. Our relationships, our health, and our true selves are often sacrificed at the altar of it. And we see that in Wonder Woman 1984 as the film reaches its climax and all three of its main characters have begun to fall apart: Max’s health is deteriorating and he’s left his son in danger; Barbara has turned into Cheetah and has lost nearly all of her grasp on her humanity; and Diana is left bleeding in the streets, unable (and unwilling) to stop the chaos around her as she clings to Steve, not letting him go.

That’s what we do when we chase perfection. We want to fix what we think is broken in ourselves, so we cling to what we think will fix the broken pieces instead of accepting that to be human is to be broken—to be imperfect. And eventually, we can’t stand on our own without it—whether it’s money or power or validation or a relationship.

But through it all, there’s one character who doesn’t make a wish, one character who has been to the other side and back and carries with him the wisdom to know that life is beautiful as it is—it doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth living.

Steve Trevor is a gift—and not just because he’s played by the best Chris (sorry, Evans!).

It’s Steve who tells Diana that believing she can’t be truly happy without him is crazy. It’s Steve who reminds her that the world is so much bigger than the two of them. It’s Steve who isn’t bound by this world and its ideas of perfection anymore. He’s the embodiment of acceptance—ready to let go again whenever Diana is ready and gently steering her toward the truth.

He’s already gone. She’s always been grieving.

And that’s okay.

It doesn’t make her less of a hero. It doesn’t make her weak.

Her loss, her pain, her tears—they’re parts of her that aren’t perfect. But they’re also parts of her that allow her to better understand this beautiful, imperfect world that needs her.

Steve doesn’t want Diana to punish herself because he’s gone, along with her dreams of a perfect life. He doesn’t want her to put their love on a pedestal, so perfect that nothing else could ever touch it.

“I’ll never love again,” Diana says, and in any other movie, that would be the most romantic line. But in Wonder Woman 1984, Steve Trevor tops it:

“I pray that isn’t true.”

That’s what love should be—not an ideal that makes it impossible to move on when it’s gone, but a beautiful reminder of all our imperfect human hearts are capable of. Losing love doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to find it again, and that’s what Steve taught Diana. Their love story might not have been perfect—over too soon and filled with almost as much pain as pleasure—but its imperfections didn’t make it any less meaningful, worthy, or beautiful. That’s the truth—they loved and lost, but there’s beauty and healing to be found in both of those things.

And that’s the truth Diana stands in when she finally renounces her wish.

That moment—Diana, standing in the sun, bleeding and crying, whispering “I love you” into the crowd—shows Wonder Woman at her most human. In that moment, she’s all of us, standing in our painful, broken, messy, imperfect truth and letting the world see it. And when that happens—and only when that happens—her wounds heal, her powers return, and she becomes more than she ever was before.

Only after letting go of our tethers to the idea of a perfect life can we finally fly.

That was Wonder Woman 1984’s most empowering moment, and it’s because of all that comes before. Flying represents freedom, and this is Diana finally free after accepting the truth—that she loves Steve and he loves her, but he’s gone. And that’s okay.

She’ll be okay.

Her life won’t be perfect. There will always be a part of her that misses him. But that’s okay.

That doesn’t make her less worthy of saving the world. In fact, it’s only in acknowledging the truth of her loss—the truth that her life will never be perfect—that she’s able to save the world.

Because acknowledging our imperfections, acknowledging that our lives aren’t perfect, acknowledging that we all have times of feeling afraid, lost, powerless, and lonely—that’s how we connect with others. That’s how we empathize. That’s how we help each other feel less alone.

That’s how we change the world.

Because we don’t have to be flawless to be heroes. We don’t have to have a perfect life to have a good life. We don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love.

And there’s no better example of that than Max Lord.

Just as Steve helped Diana face the truth, Diana showed the truth to Max. His quest for more—his blind drive for perfection—was rooted in a childhood shaped by abuse and bullying, two things that often make people believe they have to be perfect to make the hurting stop. But despite its understandable origins, his insatiable hunger for power and perfection was killing him and putting his son’s life at risk.

That’s when he knew that it had to stop. Because a life without Alistair could never be better than the life he had with him. His son was the one price he wasn’t willing to pay for perfection.

And that saved the world.

But would it be enough for him to earn his son’s love, after everything he did?

The beauty of Wonder Woman 1984 is that its message is clear: We don’t have to do anything to be worthy of love. All we need to be is exactly who we are.

Even if that’s “a pretty messed-up, loser guy.”

Just like Diana standing in her truth out in the open sunlight, Max telling his son the truth about his faults and failings with all the heartbreaking pathos and sincerity Pedro Pascal possesses represents him being his best self. And just like Steve’s love for Diana at her most broken and vulnerable gave her the strength to work toward self-acceptance, Alistair reminds his father of this movie’s most valuable lesson.

“I don’t need you to make me proud. I already love you, Daddy—because you’re my Dad.”

That’s it. That’s all we need to be. We don’t need unlimited power or confidence or money or fame. We don’t need to be the person we were when we thought we were at our best years ago. We don’t need to make anyone proud. We just need to be ourselves. We just need to stand in our beautiful truth, because the truth is enough.

We’re enough.

And that’s a hard lesson to accept (one look at Pascal’s deeply moving performance as Max takes in those words can tell you as much). The world often teaches us that love and worth and perfection are all intertwined. But that’s a lie. And nothing good is born from lies.

We’re all imperfect. We all wish things—about our lives, about ourselves—were different. But in the end, we’re all so much more than just the things we wish were different.

We’re so many things. And what a beautiful truth that is.

7 thoughts on ““The Truth Is Enough”: Wonder Woman 1984 and the Cost of Perfectionism

  1. You know I can’t comment on the movie since it’ll realistically be ages before I watch it but everything about this is beautiful and I hope it’s something you can keep close to you and look back on it whenever you need to remember this. You are always enough and worth it just as you are.

    • Thank you so much, my beautiful tropical fish! Writing all of this was exactly what I needed today, and I’m hoping that it’ll be what someone else might need too.

  2. Katie! This is beautiful, especially this: “That’s what love should be—not an ideal that makes it impossible to move on when it’s gone, but a beautiful reminder of all our imperfect human hearts are capable of.” Your love for this aspect of the movie is definitely making me appreciate the wish plotline more. I’m so glad you were able to put this into words!

    • Thank you so much, Kelly! I was so defensive about this movie, which I knew meant I had to dig deep and figure out why, and the result was this post. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading it!

  3. Pingback: Hot Links: Here's What We're Reading This Week | Fangirlish

  4. Pingback: Here’s to Women | Nerdy Girl Notes

  5. Pingback: Using It: Pain, Purpose, and a Year in a Pandemic | Nerdy Girl Notes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s