- Clark covering the "let them eat cake" beat.
Lex's power-based breakdown. Bruce "can't stay down here." Clark and Bruce's discussion (Man of Steel Answers analysis). Clark tails Bruce. Diana shows up and shows up Bruce (part one).
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<TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE>
We just saw Bruce receive his invitation to Lex’s home for a fundraiser to benefit the Metropolis library, which was very likely damaged in the Black Zero Event from Man of Steel event. So Scene 21 picks up right from Scene 20, where we saw Bruce drive by the old Wayne Manor and now he pulls up to the posh and sleek Lex manor. This continues the juxtaposition of Lex and Bruce --- both are orphans, both are struggling to deal with their parents’ death, both are struggling to deal with feelings of relative powerlessness in the face of Superman’s arrival, and both are successful businessmen who have inherited their namesake companies.
Both also keep their father’s legacy right up front and center in their daily lives, either as a reminder or a motivator or a sort of self-punishment indicating a failure to cope and move on. Lex had the old Lex Corp neon sign in his employee’s recreational area, and he says that the Lex in Lex Corp is always a reference to his father, not him. Lex also keeps his father’s study exactly the way it was. And Bruce keeps Wayne Manor and drives by it on a daily basis. A contrast between the two is that Lex maintains things up to the highest standard whereas Bruce as a decaying, abandoned Wayne Manor. This contrast might represent that Lex is putting on his public face as part of his goal of manipulating popular sentiment, whereas Bruce’s alternative identity as Batman is private, secretive, and underground, where Batman operates as a sort of urban legend rather than a public figure.
A fun piece of trivia for me is that this scene was filmed at the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum on the campus of Michigan State University, and I attended MSU for 6 years, including the years when the museum was being built. I walked by it just about every day. Some more fun facts -- Geoff Johns is also a graduate of Michigan State University and he was grand marshall of the homecoming parade just a couple years ago. And Debbie Stabenow, Senator from Michigan, had a cameo in Batman v Superman as the governor at Lex’s party.
But anyway, let’s get into this major scene that features all the main characters with the exception of Lois. We start with Bruce pulling up in his Aston Martin. Clark Kent is there at the press line and he asks, “Who’s that?” A photographer nearby says, “You must be new to the ‘let them eat cake’ beat. That’s Bruce Wayne.” So right away, we’re getting a lot of information. First, Clark does not know who Bruce Wayne is by sight, and so he must not know that Bruce Wayne is Batman. We can also infer that Clark doesn’t really concern himself with the Gotham business world or the social players. From his scenes with the Daily Planet thus far, we can tell that he’s more focused on street-level issues and everyday challenges, like he was in the Golden Age comics, rather than focusing on the high rollers. Now, Clark does seem to know the name Bruce Wayne, probably because he’s a household name in the sister cities, but he definitely hasn’t been very concerned with Bruce Wayne before now.
The point about Clark being separate from high society is confirmed by the ‘let them eat cake’ line, which is, of course, a reference to something supposedly said by Marie Antoinette. Although she probably never said it, it has strong cultural significance as a phrase that highlights the obliviousness of the upper-class to the actual conditions and challenges of the poor. So this line in BvS highlights that Clark Kent, a farmboy from Kansas who works as a reporter covering football games and trying to defend the poor, is out of place amongst Lex Luthor, Bruce Wayne, and the other high rollers at this fundraiser. Clark is only there as a reporter, not as an actual member of this community, and so this line emphasizes Clark’s otherness, which of course he has been experiencing since childhood, while also emphasizing Lex and Bruce’s prominent social status. Ironically, although Lex and Bruce are power players at this event, they are actually the ones who feel powerless and belittled by the presence of Superman.
As Clark looks on at Bruce, it might be at this moment, with Bruce positioned as an out-of-touch aristocrat like Marie Antoinette, that Clark may have decided he wanted to ask Bruce some questions about the Gotham Bat. If Batman is terrorizing the poor areas of Gotham, does this billionaire care or even notice?
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not especially insightful when it comes to costumes and fashion, but I know they’re important in film and I did notice here that Bruce was dressed predominantly in black, which might be a subtle nod to the Batman color schemes but also may indicate that he is in a dark place psychologically.
Lex Luthor is then introduced as a “philanthropist, bibliofile” and “true friend of the library of Metropolis.” By the way, this person pronounces it Luther and so that is probably Lex’s own preferred pronunciation, even though some other characters in the movie say Luth-or.
Lex gets a strong round of applause, which could just be because it’s his event but is also likely an indication that he is, up to this point, well loved as a quirky billionaire and his philanthropic efforts to help rebuild Metropolis are paying off in terms of public sentiment.
Lex takes the stage and starts with some self-deprecating comments about being embarrassed by the loud applause and then saying, “speech, speech, open bar,” which is sort of a charming and humble way to say that he isn’t seeking the attention and he knows people just want to drink and continue socializing. Of course, we’ve already gotten a few hints and later in this scene we’ll see pretty clearly that this awkward yet charming exterior is Lex’s mask and that really all of this is just gamesmanship as he is trying to bend the populace and the key players into his plan. There will be some cracks in this mask before the scene is over.
Speaking of Lex’s public presentation, this is completely speculation on my part, but I’ve found it very interesting to think about what the character of Lex Senior was like. The way I imagine it, Lex Senior was very close to the imposing, straight-backed and confident Lex Luthor that people are familiar with from past interpretations… especially Superman: The Animated Series. I imagine Lex Senior being a consummate gentleman who commanded a room and impressed everyone in it with his eloquence. If he had been giving a speech like this, his deep voice would have reverberated through the room and everyone would have been completely impressed.
Now imagining this was the case with Lex Senior, it adds an interesting new layer to Lex’s characterization. I’ve mentioned before that he has a unique combination of spoiled rich kid mixed with abused orphan. Now we can also think of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex as insecure because he constantly feels like he’s not living up to his father’s example and it’s very likely that his father explicitly told Alexander that he was a wimpy, whiny disappointment… even though he’s clearly very smart, he is not the man’s man or the sophisticato that his father may have been.
And if this is the case, Lex would be feeling it very acutely in this scene because public speaking and commanding a room of important people like this would have been his father’s bread and butter. As for him, he goes into some remarks on the Greek origins of the word philanthropy, which is about the most cliche thing you can do in a public speech. So for the characters in the movie, this would seem like a pretty lame speech. But for us in the movie audience, this is a very interesting choice because the Greek context is a perfect setting for the introduction of Diana, who as Wonder Woman of course has lots of ties to Greek mythology. And there’s a great moment when Lex comments on Zeus zapping Prometheus with a thunderbolt and Diana rolls her eyes. For her, she knows the real stories behind Zeus and the so-called Greek gods and she’s probably been hearing people for hundreds of years getting the myths and legends wrong.
So Lex says that philanthropist means a lover of humanity. Indeed, Lex may see himself as a lover of humanity and that’s why he is trying to discredit and take out Superman as a sort of god over humanity, but Lex is only fooling himself if he thinks this way because, as I’ve said before, he never shows any compassion for other people in this entire movie and he uses everyone as pawns in his twisted game.
Later, Lex also talks about the Greek character of Prometheus. Lex says that there was a divide between gods and men and that Prometheus sided with men. According to Lex, Prometheus thwarted Zeus’s plan to destroy mankind. Again, this may be how Lex sees himself, but Lex is not really siding with humanity so much as he hates and is trying to take out Superman. And also, for Lex and for Bruce, Superman’s plan to destroy mankind is only a fiction in their own minds.
On the other hand, we the audience can interpret the Prometheus connection as Superman being Prometheus and General Zod being Zeus, rather than Lex as Prometheus and Superman as Zeus. Like Zeus, General Zod actually did have a plan to destroy humanity and replace mankind with a godlike race -- the Kryptonians. And like Prometheus, Superman chose the side of humanity rather than the gods. So if Lex thinks of himself as the defender of humanity against Superman, the ironic thing is that Superman has already proven that he is actually the defender of humanity, and Superman will defend it again by the end of BvS.
Also, another way that Lex gets the analogies wrong is that he thinks of himself as Prometheus, but later he will actually play god in creating Doomsday, more like Zeus or other creator gods.
At the end of this section of the speech, Lex says that Zeus retaliated against Prometheus with a thunderbolt. This thunderbolt could be foreshadowing the lightning and energy bolts that will hit the scout ship at the end of the movie, or it could be a subtle reference to either the Flash or Shazam, since both of them have origins involving thunderbolts. But I should mention that @goldenxav on Twitter pointed out that Lex paraphrased and changed the traditional story of Prometheus a little bit. Prometheus was not really trying to protect humanity so much as he was trying to thumb his nose at Zeus, and Zeus’s response was to chain him to a rock, not strike him with lightning. But I think the filmmakers were making slight adjustments to better fit the themes and character arcs they were building into this movie. And as a note for the future, we’ll see Lex again bringing up Greek mythology with Zod’s corpse in the scout ship.
There was some more subtle Greek stuff in the scene as well. In the background, there was a piece of art called “A balance of terror” by Cleon Peterson. It depicts violence between white and black, but it’s unnecessary violence based on prejudice and lack of mutual understanding, which is also what stands between Batman and Superman initially.
Because of all these Greek connections, we want to give a shout out to Casper Richter on YouTube who has done quite a bit of thinking about possible analogies between BvS characters and figures from Greek mythology. For example, he has likened Superman to Herakles, aka Hercules, Batman to Odysseus, Wonder Woman to Penthesilea, Lex to Loki -- the real one, not the Marvel one -- Lois to Psyche, and Knyazev to Achilles. If you would enjoy thinking more about these Greek analogies, definitely track down Casper Richter in the comment boards.
But anyway, during Lex’s speech, Bruce uses the diversion as an opportunity to try to attach his data leash. It is great to see Alfred and him working together, and they have some cool technology, but I’m glad that this movie didn’t overemphasize the technology like, say, the Bond movies do. BvS avoided the trope of introducing a creative piece of technology and then later having it come in handy right at a key point in the action. When things work out perfectly like that, it emphasizes that the characters are in a movie. Here in BvS, they just have technology available and use it as they need it in a very natural way.
Alfred guides Bruce down and we yet again have the motif of falling, with Bruce descending as he does in many of his scenes.
He goes down past the kitchen and toward the computers servers and attaches the device that will allow him to access some of Lex’s personal data files. If you listen to the Man of Steel Answers podcast episode on Lex, you’ll see the it’s possible Lex allowed certain files to be copied. That’s why Bruce didn’t see files on himself as Batman, for example. We also want to point out that Lex is carrying this meta-human thesis that there are other super-powered beings out there, and Lex basically hates the whole idea of their existence, and since the U.S. government via Senator Finch have now interrupted his plans to move against the meta-humans, Lex may be trying to indirectly share the meta-human data with Bruce, who Lex is hoping may join him in preparing for or taking down the meta-humans, starting with Superman. Overall, we are in Phase 2 of Lex’s back-up plans, with the first plan involving the U.S. government, the second involving a possible above-board partnership with Bruce, the third involving a coerced and manipulated Batman, and the fourth involving Doomsday and probably Darkseid.
But getting back to Scene 21 itself, one very important here as Bruce is going down to try to hack into the files is Clark Kent using his superhearing to hack into Bruce’s conversation with Alfred. Although this doesn’t prove that Bruce is Batman, it’s a pretty big clue that something beneath the surface is going on with Bruce and I think Clark is pretty quickly able to put two and two together after this scene.
So that leads to the question of, in this scene with the big three -- Clark, Bruce, and Lex -- who knew whose identity at this point? It’s pretty clear that Lex already knows both of their identities because he is going out of his way to bring them together here and when he interrupts their conversation, he is basically reveling in his superior knowledge -- the fact that he knows something they don’t know. This idea of knowledge as Lex’s power is a recurring idea in this movie and in lots of previous incarnations of the character, and it also comes up when he gets derailed from his speech.
Clark just now during this scene has gotten a big hint that Bruce Wayne is Batman, but he didn’t know it before the scene and he might not be 100% sure yet but he has enough to go on that I think he does some digging after this scene and figures it out quickly. As for Bruce, he actually does not know Clark’s identity as Superman yet. At first I thought that maybe Bruce did know Clark was Superman and his derogatory comments were meant as subtle jabs at Clark himself, but Zack Snyder, I think it was in the Empire podcast interview, confirmed that Lex is the only one who came into this scene knowing the secret identities. And I guess that makes sense because Bruce is totally obsessed with the idea of Superman as a dangerous alien threat and so probably has not been as concerned with tracing his human identity and human connections.
Lex, on the other hand, knows Clark’s identity and will of course use that it heartless ways later on.
The fact that Lex knows Bruce’s identity and may have even wanted Bruce to steal some of the files, makes this next part of the scene with Mercy Graves pretty interesting. Mercy checks in on Bruce down in the basement and we get some funny lines as Bruce tries to be nonchalant and cover for his presence near the computer servers. I laughed at the bathroom line and the “I like those shoes.” This scene also had some of the good dry humor between Bruce and Alfred, such as the line about a Metropolis lady making him honest… “in your dreams, Alfred.” And this, again, hints at Alfred wanting a different life for Bruce but also continuing to work as his partner even if Alfred disapproves. The mention of a woman upstairs also foreshadows Bruce’s first run-in with Diana.
But before he goes back up, we have Mercy, who may have been assigned by Lex to keep an eye on Bruce but not to actually stop him from his activities. This is why it was pretty easy for Bruce to get out of his tight spot.
Bruce says to Alfred, “I can’t stay down here.” This is a multi-layered line, just like the one back in Scene 7 when the officer said “Try not to shoot the good guys,” because on the surface level Bruce is obviously saying that he can’t stay there so conspicuously while the data is hacked. But at a deeper level, I think this is Chris Terrio, the script writer, just having fun with Bruce’s overall character arc as someone who has fallen and who goes down to rock bottom before breaking himself out of his funk right at the last minute. We know Bruce can’t stay down in that fallen state, because at some point he needs to come back to a more healthy, stable version of Batman.
Okay, back upstairs, Lex is concluding his speech. Because this is a library fundraiser, he is talking about books and he says that books contain knowledge and “knowledge is power.” Lex then loses it a bit, saying “what am I?” “What was I saying?” The patrons become a bit concerned about Lex’s mini-breakdown, and Lex loses it even a bit more as he says that “the bittersweet pain amongst men is having knowledge with no power.” And he recoils at this paradox -- that knowledge is power and yet that one can be in the painful situation of having knowledge with no power, knowledgeable but powerless.
As with Scene 16 when Senator Finch was visiting Lex, we get a lot of insight into Lex as a character in these moments when his cracks show a little bit. Most people have interpreted Lex’s breakdown as a pretty simple thing where Lex is just a bit crazy or a psycho who usually holds it together in public but who lost it a bit here. I don’t think this is wrong, but I’m more like Man of Steel Answers in my interpretation, which is that Lex’s breakdown is directly tied to what he was talking about at that time. He was saying that knowledge is power, and this led to him fumbling with, “What am I?” Throughout the movie, Lex gathers and uses knowledge as his power to achieve what he desires. He has knowledge of the meta-humans, research on Kryptonite, he knows the secret identities, he knows Bruce’s history and pressure points, he has the scout ship teach him about thousands of worlds and Doomsday, et cetera. So Lex has a lot of power through his knowledge gathering, but his whole philosophical position and worldview is that he is one of the regular people, a member of humanity who is trying to fight against the dictator and despot that Superman represents. He views himself as the underdog or the mortal trying to bend god to his will. So it reveals a deep contradiction within himself to recognize that he has lots of power, and so he breaks down a bit at the paradox that he is powerful and yet he hates the powerful and seeks to dethrone it.
To say it another way, Lex has the knowledge but lacks the physical power to take on Superman -- he needs Batman or Doomsday for that -- and he also lacks the political power to get the government on his side. So he feels powerless and may have a bit of a Cassandra complex, which refers to the Greek figure who could foresee the future but whom no one would listen to. Yet, it’s clear to all of us that Lex does have a lot of power, because look at this party he’s hosting and his wealth and his ability to manipulate public opinion and get other people to do his will. He has power, even if he likes to think of himself as the underdog sticking up for humanity, and so later when he says that it’s a lie that power can be innocent, he is actually indicting himself whether he wants to admit it or not.
All of this clearly goes into the big themes of how one wields the power they have and how one deals with feelings of powerlessness. Lex is a good example of what not to do on both counts.
After Lex’s speech, the party continues and it’s fun to note that the band is playing “Night and Day,” by Cole Porter, a foreshadowing of Lex’s “Fight Night” speech.
Bruce notices Diana, and I think this is a great introduction for her because she’s mysterious and we’re drawn in with questions about her just like Bruce is. As she walks by, Bruce takes special notice, but the dramatic irony is that she’s not just walking by for no reason, she’s actually heading out to get to Bruce’s device before him. I love it that Diana outfoxes Bruce multiple times in this movie, but she doesn’t gloat about it, she’s just very confident and matter-of-fact about her abilities.
Clark stops Bruce and wants to ask him some questions. He has heard some of Bruce’s conversation with Alfred, so he at least suspects that something is up with Bruce even if he doesn’t know for sure yet that Bruce is Batman. Clark’s line of questioning may be about trying to get some further hints or insight on whether that might actually be the case.
Then Clark and Bruce go into their dialogue together. So this is a pretty big cinematic moment, the first interactions between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. There’s a lot going on in this dialogue and we think it was really expertly written, but for the sake of time, and because you can find lots of other analyses of this interaction such as from Man of Steel Answers in the analysis of Trailer 2 -- I’ll put a link in the show notes (http://www.manofsteelanswers.com/35-batman-v-superman-trailer-2/ ) -- we’re going to go pretty quickly through it and just give some main thoughts.
It starts with Clark trying to get Bruce’s attention but Bruce initially wants to blow him off. Then Clark gets his full attention by bringing up the “bat vigilante in Gotham.” Bruce is now fully engaged in the encounter and he tries to exert dominance over Clark by quipping that he’s the sort of person who owns newspapers and also referring to Clark as “son” in a belittling way. Clark stands his ground and says that Batman is trampling on civil liberties and that good people are afraid.
Bruce gives his instant classic line, “Don’t believe everything you hear, son” and Clark responds that he’s seen it, not just heard about it as a legend or rumor. The third critique that Clark levels against Batman is that Batman thinks he’s above the law. This is a big personal point for Clark because he’s dealing with his own issues right now of the government, through the Committee on Superman, trying to establish where Superman fits in national and international law.
Bruce does not actually respond at all to the concerns raised about Batman. He immediately redirects attention toward Superman, which of course is what’s on his mind night and day. Bruce basically views any indiscretions or concerns about Batman as insignificant compared to the power and potential threat of Superman, and psychologically, Bruce has basically been feeling as though Batman’s efficacy has been a lie and if Batman has been ineffective in changing the world, then it’s not really necessary to reflect on the methods by which Batman was going about his insignificant business.
Bruce points out that, for most of the past two years, the Daily Planet has been idolizing Superman. This is basically the “love affair” that Perry White was referring to. Bruce suggests that there should be more concern and fear about the great power that Superman holds, because if Superman decided to “burn the whole place down” there would be no stopping him.
For me, a really important moment happens next when Clark responds, “Most of the world doesn’t share your opinion, Mr. Wayne.” Of course, he’s not saying the world disagrees that Superman would be unstoppable. He’s saying that the world disagrees that we should be afraid of Superman or we should prepare to take him out. I think Henry Cavill’s acting is great here because he shows a look of sadness on his face and he delivers the line in a way where he is rebutting Bruce but he’s not really happy about it. Clark feels the weight of people like Bruce who see Superman as a threat but he also feels the weight of “most of the people” who worship Superman as a hero. The anger and fear of the haters and the adoration of the Superman proponents are both part of the heavy burden that Clark is trying to figure out how to handle.
This line also shows that Bruce has successfully hijacked the conversation because Clark is no longer pursuing his line of questioning about Batman. And Bruce revels in his dialogic victory with one more barb: “Maybe it’s the Gotham City in me, but we just have a bad history with freaks dressed like clowns.” Ben Affleck delivers this line brilliantly, showing his world weariness and his cockiness all at the same time. And the clear reference to the Joker is a nice bit of world building that also makes the point that Batman is mentally trying to classify Superman as one of the members of his rogues gallery, even if Superman hasn’t literally become a villain yet. And it’s particularly telling that Bruce referred to Joker because, as we just saw in Scene 20, it is the Joker who murdered Robin, basically a family member, and Superman’s inadvertent role in the Wayne Financial building collapse was also like the loss of family for Bruce, which is something that he has yet to get over going all the way back to the opening scene of the movie.
Before we get to Lex’s interruption, we want to share some comments from editor David Brenner who was interviewed by ProVideo Coalition. Brenner said the editing for Clark and Bruce’s interaction here in Scene 21 was about building to close-ups. They started with a wide shot of the event overall, and you can follow Bruce’s eyes to Diana, but eventually we come to mid-shots for Clark and Bruce’s dialogue. They eventually push in to close-ups on Bruce, while Clark stays on a medium shot. I think this emphasizes that, even though they both have qualms with the other, it is really Bruce who is the one that is dealing with things more intensely and who is more volatile, so as an audience, we need to track more closely to his emotions.
Okay, so continuing on with the scene, Lex annoyingly inserts himself into the conversation, calling them “Boys.” Of course, Clark Kent the journalist is not really that important of a person so why is Lex making a big deal about the two of them? Probably because Lex knows their identities and he’s just having some fun and games with his playthings, his chess pieces that he’s beginning to move into place. This also means that when Lex makes his “do not pick a fight with this person” joke, he’s laughing to himself about his own cleverness. Moreover, Lex actually does mention to Bruce the possibility of partnering on research and development, and I think Lex is actually somewhat sincere about this. If Bruce Wayne wanted to partner with Lex to develop the capability to take down Superman, I think Lex would be all about it. But of course, as we know, Bruce is on a mission where he needs it to be Batman, not Bruce Wayne, who takes out Superman, as we explained last episode.
Also, Lex’s line about partnering with Bruce is kind of ironic because they do end up partnering, but it’s all unbeknownst to Bruce.
At this point, Alfred chimes in to Bruce’s ear to say that the data hacking should be complete and Mercy comes to escort Lex to see the governor. Bruce using his earpiece gives Clark another opportunity to listen in and this time Clark follows Bruce. This leads to a key moment for each character. For Bruce, he finds that his device has been removed and then he sees that Diana has been standing just behind, waiting for him to see her so that he knows who took it and that it wasn’t Lex’s people, but then she exits before Bruce can catch up to her.
Again, I really like the mysteriousness of Diana in this, her first scene; I like the sort of nod to her character’s espionage-type past, and I like that she shows up Bruce, which intrigues Bruce more than anything.
For Clark, he notices the report of the fire in Mexico and that brings him to an important decision point. Continue following Bruce and maybe gain some more information about Batman’s illicit activities? Or go and save the girl’s life at the fire? Clark makes the choice to go save a life, which shows that Clark still has his priorities in order and still has his altruistic spirit, contrasting with Bruce who is pretty clearly jaded and going down a more vengeful path. Bruce hasn’t been primarily concerned with crime fighting for some time, and instead has been spending his time and energy on his Superman hunt.
This sets up the Superman montage next because Clark, unlike Bruce and Lex, often thinks of other people, and so it’s ironic that this selfless character is the one most under attack by the public, the government, and Bruce and Lex themselves. Bruce is focused on his psychological crisis and Lex just thinks entirely about himself and only uses other people for his own gains or his own games. Even Mercy Graves, who was a loyal assistant, probably for years, he sends into her fiery death without hesitation.
The end of Scene 21 here includes a classic shot of Clark loosening his tie, which is a staple of Clark Kent / Superman media.
So overall this was a great and dense scene, but I did have one nitpick. I thought it was an odd choice to have Knyazev there at the party. It seems reckless for a known criminal to be at Lex’s party because Lex is still clean and innocent in the eyes of the public, and there was no real purpose for the story to have him there.