- Belle Reve and "The House of the Rising Sun"
- Deadshot doesn't have any friends
- Griggs portrayed by Ike Barinholtz
- Vengeance and holy ghost motifs
- Harley Quinn's gymnastics background
- Initial set-up of Harley's character
<Transcript of the episode>
But more important than the series’ financial success is the fact that these movies have given us compelling and complex characters and lots of thought-provoking material to dig into.
In this episode of the podcast, while I await Alessandro Maniscalco’s return from vacation, I’m going to go over the first couple scenes of Suicide Squad, written and directed by David Ayer. These two scenes introduce us to Belle Reve penitentiary and the two main characters of the film, Deadshot and Harley Quinn. As we’ll see by the end, Deadshot and Harley are definitely the core of this movie as they get the fullest development and are central to each of the major turning points in the plot of the film. So it makes sense that the movie opens up with them first.
After seeing the Warner Brothers shield and the new DC logo, which has grown on me pretty quickly, the film opens up on water and a skyline in Louisiana. It then cuts to an establishing shot of Belle Reve penitentiary on the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Belle Reve was created by John Ostrander in 1987 in his revitalization of the Suicide Squad in the comic books. It is a prison for metahumans and super villains.
This is our first location, and really one of only a few major locations in the film. Even though this film is epic in terms of its cast of characters, it is pretty simple in terms of its locations -- Belle Reve and a mostly evacuated Midway City make up the majority of the action in the movie. Of course, we see quite a bit of Gotham City in flashbacks and we also get little snippets in other locations like Los Angeles and Waller’s restaurant, but the thrust of the movie is Belle Reve and then Midway City. In this way, it kind of echoes classic movies like The Dirty Dozen or Full Metal Jacket where there’s a military flavor and you first form the team in one location and then send them out onto a mission in a second location.
As we go into Belle Reve, the filmmakers use a nice framing device with the security cameras. Several times, we look across the security camera footage and then cut in on one of the scenes. First is Deadshot, but before we go there, we have to mention the first of many songs from the Suicide Squad soundtrack -- the number one album in the country this week, by the way.
The song used for Belle Reve itself is “The House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals. Each song seems to have connections in both style and substance to the character or setting that it is paired with in the movie. This particular song refers to a house, which connects directly to the Belle Reve penitentiary, and it also references New Orleans in the first line, connecting to our setting in Louisiana. Furthermore, the song says that this house was the ruin of many a poor boy, from which we can interpret that incarceration may make people monsters rather than just contain predetermined monsters.
Now, we go in to Deadshot’s cell and see him with his shirt off working out with a sort of homemade punching bag. From this we can infer that Deashot has not resigned himself to his fate as an inmate and still has something to fight for in his life. We learn very soon that the source of his motivation to keep on going is his daughter.
One of the security officers, Griggs, comes up to Deadshot’s cell. And Griggs was one of the pleasant surprises for me, especially in the first sections of the film. I thought his timing and chemistry with the other actors, especially Will Smith, was really good. Griggs is played by Ike Barinholtz, who you might recognize from MadTV. Mad Magazine, by the way, is published by DC Comics.
Griggs comes over and he has his banter with Deadshot about the “loaf.” It’s pretty funny and it makes good use of the sliding slot on Deadshot’s door. The interaction, together with the soundtrack, immediately sets the tone for this movie as one that incorporates a rock aesthetic, or anarchic punk rock art as David Ayer described it, and where humor can come from the sardonicism of the characters. It sets a very different tone than, say, Batman v Superman with the murder of the Waynes, yet Suicide Squad maintains a similar realism and when Batman appears, it seems to fit very well.
Thematically, the key line here in Scene 1 is Deadshot saying, “Only my friends call me Floyd.” And Griggs responds, “You ain’t got no friends, Floyd.” So this identifies friendship as one of the literary subjects of this movie and we can keep an eye out for what sorts of friends Deadshot either has or is able to make throughout the movie. We will see that he has a strong bond with his daughter, but that’s not a friend relationship. He has lost his wife, and he seems to work alone. So he basically doesn’t have any friends, but maybe he’ll be able to make some on the Squad.
This first scene also sets up a recurring motif of threats. Here, it’s Floyd threatening Griggs and Griggs calls him out for threatening a staff member. We’ll make note of this for later when we can connect it to some other threats, mostly involving Deadshot one way or another.
Floyd also specifically refers to raining down like the “holy ghost.” This is part of the trinity in christianity - god the father, god the son, and god the holy ghost. There are some explicit references later to god and the devil, so we’ll just mark this holy ghost utterance for analysis later, but the idea of the holy ghost does plant the idea of redemption because Deadshot is in prison and is presumably there because he really has done some evil things. But for him to rain down like the holy ghost would position him on the side of god rather than evil, and maybe something akin to the holy ghost is how he can transition from the evil to the good. I’m not saying that’s exactly what happens in the movie, but these are the sorts of ideas that can come out because of them including the phrase “holy ghost” here in the first scene.
One critique of this scene is that there’s a little Chekov gun that never goes off. Floyd says that he’ll get out of prison and eventually come after Griggs, and although Deadshot does get out because of his involvement in Task Force X, there’s never actually any retribution or conclusion between him and Griggs… at least not that I caught in my viewings of the movie.
So scene 1 ends with the prison guards having “some fun” at Deadshot’s expense, and then we cut right to Harley Quinn’s cage and her theme song, which is “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore. The lyrics from this song include the phrase, “I’m not just one of your many toys.” In one of the trailers, we saw Joker referring to his toys. And Harley is tied to Joker, but it’s by her own choice, even if she was coerced initially. At this point, though, she’s not owned by the Joker, nor is she owned by Belle Reve or Amanda Waller. Even if they try to use her like a tool or a toy, she always maintains a bit of an upperhand on the situation.
The song also says, “Don’t tie me down ‘cause I’d never stay.” This implies that even though Harley is caged, she’s not going to stay that way.
We see her hanging upside down on a homemade apparatus made from what looks like a bedsheet. This gives us a strong hint of her background in gymnastics. There’s a nice cut where we go from her hanging upside down to an upside-down angle on the guards coming in.
Reading between the lines here, we are getting a strong indication of how dangerous Harley is. She’s being held in a special cell with a sort of buffer zone outside of it, there is a whole crew of guards coming in to deal with her, Griggs says to stay back and light her up if she moves, and we will soon see that her cage can have an electrical charge sent through it. In this scene, Griggs even makes an explicit reference to her putting five guards in the hospital. So even though she doesn’t actually lash out yet, we know she can do damage.
Like the last scene, Barinholtz plays Griggs really well here, balancing some physical attraction toward Harley with constant commentary on her mental instability. He’s sort of a stand-in for the audience where we know Harley is bad news but we are simultaneously drawn toward her as a compelling character.
Margot Robbie also does a nice job in just a minute or so establishing a baseline for her characterization of Harley. She says playfully that she’s bored and licks the cage bars, but she also says forcefully that she sleeps with who she wants, when she wants. We can extrapolate this out to her relationship with Joker, where she’s indicating that she is tied to the Joker by choice rather than by coercion. We’ll have to watch more to judge for ourselves whether or not that really is the case.
Griggs has Harley zapped on the cage bars and this triggers a stylized flashback where we see Harley huddled against a wall and guards nervous to approach her. We also see her getting force-fed in a gruesome manner, a foreshadowing of the torture that she will also have at the hands of the Joker, and Griggs tells Harley that his job is to keep her alive until she dies. Because of the premise of the movie, we know that Harley will eventually be conscripted into the Suicide Squad and so Griggs is basically saying that he has to keep Harley alive so that her life can be sacrificed for the purposes of Task Force X.
The flashback ends with Griggs taking a selfie with a tortured Harley, sort of reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib photos from Iraq. Then, back in the cage, Harley runs straight toward camera and knocks herself out on the bars. It doesn’t even seem like she’s trying to come after the guards, she’s just actually trying to knock herself out. Maybe the memories are too painful and she prefers unconsciousness, or maybe she’s exerting some agency by hitting herself with the bars rather than being zapped by the guards.
The scene ends with an encapsulation of the Harley character - “That is just a whole lot of pretty and a whole lot of crazy.”
From my perspective, we don’t have a clear theme established for Harley in this scene but we do have a very potent introduction to her somewhat manic personality and some of the hardships she’s been through at Belle Reve, even if we don’t yet know what she did to get there.
Her gymnastics, though, set up a Chekov’s gun that does go off later when she jumps and grasps Joker’s rope. And this scene also shows her with white hair and an off-white outfit, so this will contrast nicely when her colors come out later.
But anyway, overall, in Scenes 1 and 2, we have moved around Belle Reve and we’ve met our two main characters and seen both of them enduring some brutality at the hands of the guards.
End of Episode:
Next up in Suicide Squad, we meet the character who I would call the third most important in the movie -- Amanda Waller. For our next episode, though, I think we’re going to switch back over to Batman v Superman because we have an amazing scene to cover over there -- Lex on his helipad.
Also, if you check out my blog at http://comicandscreen.blogspot.com you can see my analysis of the amazing box office numbers from Suicide Squad and the solid comic book sales numbers from DC Comics. Be sure to check out the Suicide Squadcast for DC-related news, and as always I thank Man of Steel Answers for being an inspiration to me. Thanks for listening.