Wednesday, August 30, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scenes 10-11

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on scenes 10 (Steve's lasso interrogation) and 11 (Steve's spy mission) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Using film, production design for the throne room
  • Flow and questions answered
  • Lasso of Hestia
  • Diana and Hippolyta's reactions to Steve's testimony
  • Weapons manufacturing in Turkey
  • First glimpses of General Ludendorff and Doctor Maru
  • Steve's escape and airplane flight
  • Hippolyta's fears
  • Returning to some past critiques of scenes in the DCEU

Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd

Available on YouTube:

Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast, we analyze the Warner Brothers films that are part of the Justice League Universe. We love the depth of these movies and so we take the time to go through them scene by scene. We’ve finished our analysis of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad and now we are continuing forward in Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins. It took a bit longer to get to this episode than I anticipated, and that’s totally my fault -- the rest of the team has been on the ball. But I had a bunch of work responsibilities that came up with the start of the semester and we also had a couple different family visits to squeeze in before the end of summer. My apologies, but I’m back on track now, just in time for the digital release of the movie. This episode is going to focus on Scenes 10 and 11 of Wonder Woman, which are Steve’s interrogation by the Amazons and also his description of his spy mission in Turkey. This analysis was written by myself, Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and Sydney. You can find us on Twitter @ottensam, @raveryn, @derbykid, and @wondersyd.

Scene 10 involves some more of the beautifully lush Themyscira location and it features the throne room set that was mostly a practical set built by the production team. We want to start this episode by commenting on the film capture and the throne room set. In past episodes, we’ve talked about the design of Themyscira and how its visual palette contrasts with Man’s World. But we didn’t talk about the actual film capture overall. Patty Jenkins, like Zack Snyder and David Ayer but in contrast to other superhero movies, shot on film instead of going purely digital. In an article from the magazine American Cinematographer, Jenkins said film capture is best (quote) “if you are looking for epic, smooth elegance. It can soak you into a period without you noticing you’re in the modern world. You can’t do that yet with digital - I’ve tried. Film creates an illusion of a glamorous world. That was important because we were trying to bake in the elements of both period and illusion. Film’s veneer brings it all together.” (end quote)

She said they didn’t want to go full period piece like a BBC documentary -- they still wanted a comic book pop in the visuals, and to get a visual template for the lighting and the colors, Jenkins used artist John Singer Sargent. Singer Sargent often had a soft, three-quarter light from the front of his subjects that faded away to a deep black in the back and in the corners. They wanted this deep black in the film so that the colors of Themyscira and even the grays of London would be vibrant. And capturing those deep blacks is better accomplished with film rather than digital cameras.

Now, as for the throne room specifically, we see the Amazons with Steve Trevor and there are some steps at the front leading up to the big spiral-backed throne as the centerpiece to the room. In the novelization, the spiral is called the spiral of Andromeda, and Andromeda is not only a mythological princess but the name means “ruler of men,” so it’s fitting not only for the throne room but also for this scene where Steve Trevor is kneeling before them. The other smaller thrones off to each side have a circle back. But the spiral especially connects to the seashell motif that we’ve talked about before, with production designer Aline Bonetto drawing inspiration from the Amazon’s emergence from the sea. The spiral is also a naturally occurring shape, and the Amazons are highly attuned to nature. The natural elements are also present in the throne room through the stone pillars, the vines, and the natural sunlight streaming through.

Speaking of the light getting through, there is no ceiling and no doors for the throne room. This open concept for the Amazonian seat of government is meant to contrast sharply with the government in Man’s World. Indeed, in London when we see the halls of leadership there, there is a strong emphasis on the doors themselves, closing on Diana and sending a clear message of who’s allowed in and who’s out. Bonetto described it this way: (quote) “It’s a very open world. It was the notion that these women were completely free. That they hadn’t been conditioned and therefore the world they lived in would be very natural. There would be no doors, no closed spaces. It would be very open. So the throne room was really inspired by that.” (end quote)

Also with regard to the look of the scene, I remember in some of my viewings that I felt like this scene gave me a better sense of the Amazons’ colored armor, seeing some rich reds and blues, together with the golds and browns. The fact that there is some color in their armor foreshadows what Diana will end up wearing with the Wonder Woman costume, and the fact that, in Scene 10, she’s still in her tan and beige training outfit shows that she hadn’t taken up her full role yet and she was still less experienced than the other Amazons, even though she was up on the steps as the princess. The other Amazons in the scene are a mix of Hippolyta’s guards, the warriors from the battle, and some of the Senators.

Moving beyond the setting and to the flow of the scene, we think the comedic elements of this interrogation scene were a good call as way to step down off the intensity of the beach battle. There was not only the fighting there but also the grief of Antiope’s death, but that scene gave room for all those emotional beats to land and now we can shift gears a bit and get more acquainted with Steve, who is not directly connected to Antiope and who is more of a charming, comedic character so it makes sense that we get to know him through a bit of humor. Flow like this, from action to emotion to a more light-hearted release, is part of why Wonder Woman got praised for good pacing. It was the momentum within the scenes and then also the momentum between scenes and the emotional ebbs and flows that seemed to be sequenced effectively. But we would also point out that pacing isn’t only about that flow, it’s also about raising questions in the audience’s mind and then developing those questions over time, adding elements or refinements to the question, and it’s about answering the questions at just the right time -- not too early, or it will seem like a kind of pointless question, and not too late, or the audience might get frustrated or lose interest. Getting your audience to ask questions and want the answer is what pulls them forward through the scenes, or in a novel it’s what makes something a page-turner rather than a chore to read. And in Wonder Woman, we had the question of who Steve Trevor was and how he ended up with a whole mess of Germans chasing him. The audience probably had the question immediately upon seeing him crash into the water and then seeing the Germans just outside the protective barrier, but the filmmakers took this question and then made it explicit at the end of Scene 9, then they brought us into Scenes 10 and 11 to answer it for us. So we didn’t have to wait very long for the answer --- just through the beach battle action scene. But it still gives us this sense of flow through this part of the movie. And then there’s also the question of what the Amazons are going to do with Steve and how it’s going to come to pass that Diana leaves with him, and those questions will be gradually answered over the next several scenes.

So, Steve is kneeling there in front of Hippolyta and the Amazons, and he has the gold glowing lasso around him. We really liked how they portrayed the lasso of truth -- not only the visual look of it, which was also great in Batman v Superman, but also the way that its powers affected people. It didn’t put them in a trance where they were like robotically stating the facts; instead, it was like it infuses the person with an overwhelming urge to be forthcoming and they can actually have an inner struggle with that force, but the lasso is ultimately going to win out. The notion of an inner struggle rather than a clean, super-imposed obedience is more fitting with the overall theme of the film about people having constant battles within themselves between good and evil -- a superhero can’t just vanquish evil for them. So we appreciate that subtle coherence, and moreover, the way they handled the lasso also gave an opportunity for Chris Pine to have some fun with the scene. He really shines in his performance here, physically showing how the lasso is sort of doing battle with his personal desires and his training as a spy. We can really see it in his face and mouth and then there’s the great comedic timing of his pauses, grunts, and ultimately his bursting confession. Scene 10 basically rides entirely on his performance, first with the revelations about himself and then with his heartfelt descriptions of the war, which we know must be genuine, having already seen the power of the lasso earlier in the scene.

But to go through it in detail, Steve begins with the typical military response when captured: name, rank, and serial number. “Captain Steve Trevor, Pilot, American Expeditionary Forces, Serial Number 814192.” The Amazons don’t really know what to make of this, so of course they want more. We get a static, up-close look at the lasso. And although we saw it already in BvS, this scene will give us quite a bit more information about it in a second. The glow is very obvious, and this likely helps the general audience understand that it is magical. And its truth-provoking power seems to be enhanced when it’s tugged on, possibly because this causes it to tighten around the subject, and so they get more information out of Steve. He reveals that he is assigned to British Intelligence. Feeling its power, Steve asks what this thing is and Diana answers, “The Lasso of Hestia compels you to reveal the truth.” And Menalippe adds that it is pointless and painful to resist.

That line clarifies for us what we are seeing from Steve and it lets Steve know that he might as well just tell the truth -- there’s no way around it now. But before we get to his full story, a bit more about the lasso. Going back to the classic run by George Perez, (Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Gods and Mortals, p. 47 and 48), he described how the Lasso of Truth was forged by Hephaestus from The Girdle of Gaea herself. A fun note from Perez’s Gods and Mortals is that Hephaestus makes the lasso specifically because he hates Ares. The DC Wiki says that the Lasso is “empowered by the fires of Hestia”, so that connects with Diana’s line in the film about Hestia. And our understanding is that Zeus and Hestia are siblings, so if the film kept that relationship, then that would mean Hestia is actually Diana’s aunt. And she might have even been one of the goddesses visible in the Scene 3 history lesson, with her siblings Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades.

The lasso of truth is also known as the golden perfect and in Earth-Two continuity, the lasso was formed from Aphrodite’s girdle instead of from Gaea’s girdle. As for the film, it’s interesting to notice that Diana is not the one using it here on Steve, and later it’s actually Steve who uses it on himself. So we do not see Diana using the lasso for its truth-telling powers until the very end with Ares, and at that point it’s hard to tell if it can work on a god. We don’t see Diana using it on a normal human, which is perhaps a surprising omission. But what we do get to see Diana do several times throughout the movie is use the lasso in combat. We’ll talk about it in those scenes how the filmmakers wanted to give her some special powers with the lasso and make it so that it’s an extension of herself and she can guide it and bend it beyond the laws of normal physics.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Back to the scene with Steve. We want to make a few comments about the actual powers of the lasso. I will admit that at first I was expecting the lasso to only allow statements to be uttered that were true in an objective sense. And because of this expectation, I actually had a nitpick because later Steve says that the war involves “weapons far deadlier than you can even imagine.” This cannot be a true statement because Steve has no way of knowing what the Amazons are capable of imagining. So at best, Steve should’ve only been able to say that he doesn’t think they would be able to imagine anything deadlier than what’s taking place in the Great War. And even this is not a very good statement, because surely the Amazons can imagine something very, very deadly… even deadlier than anything that can exist in reality. So either way, I was initially thinking that the lasso should’ve prevented him from making a hyperbolic statement like this. But since then I have softened my position on this. First of all, you could write it off as just being a figure of speech, and maybe the lasso doesn’t work on hyperbole. Second, my co-writers pointed out to me that, even though it’s not exactly true, it is not really a lie either because Steve probably honestly believes that the Amazons can’t imagine the brutality of the war. So to him, he’s not lying, even though he may end up being wrong about the Amazon’s powers of imagination. And he doesn’t know about their brutal history as slaves of man and their past battles, so we can forgive him for not knowing any better. And this idea that the lasso compels sincerity and forthrightness rather than absolute truth matches with how Doc from Man of Steel Answers interpreted it as well. And that does make some sense because it’s not very realistic for the lasso to force absolute truth since truth is usually a matter of perspective. As Diana says in the comics, the lasso can be used to demand “your truth” from the person she’s caught in the lasso.

Steve continues on by telling the Amazons that they are in more danger than they know. Again, he doesn’t know this for sure because he doesn’t know what the Amazons know, but we can take this as his sincere feelings based on what he does know about the situation. Hippolyta demands to know his mission. Steve tries to hold it in but ends up bursting forth that he is a spy. And then he repeats it several more times, “I’m a spy,” as he realizes there’s no turning back now. The lasso has forced the information out. It’s one of many humorous beats from Steve Trevor, performed well by Chris Pine, and from here on out he speaks more easily as he seems to have given in to the lasso.

Steve’s Spy Mission

This moves us to Scene 11, which is the flashback to Steve’s spy mission. He says that British Intelligence placed General Ludendorff at a secret military installation in the Ottoman Empire, which was basically present-day Turkey. Steve posed as one of the pilots and went there to the installation, expecting to find the German forces basically depleted. But the intel was wrong. As Steve is saying this, we get to see the setting from which Steve came and it explains why he was wearing the German colors. The fact that Steve is a pilot also connects to the character history and factors in in an important way at the end of the movie. We also get to see the character of Ludendorff, who is the leader of the German army. He is not really featured in this scene -- the attention goes much more to Doctor Maru in this scene, but we do see Ludendorff’s powerful stride and his trenchcoat, and we’ll get to see more of him in Scene 17. We also covered him in our Wonder Woman preview episode, because he actually was a real person in World War 1 who did push for the idea of total warfare, with all of society contributing to the war effort and thus war being a good thing for a nation. But as for Steve’s infiltration of the secret installation, we see that Steve’s spying was actually quite fruitful as he learned that the bleak reports of the German forces were false and that they were instead quite equipped with bombs and some new weapons that were even unknown to the rest of the world. This our first vague indication that an outside force may be helping the Germans.  

As a side note, it’s an interesting parallel that the Germans have a hidden installment surrounded by mountains, and the Amazons have a hidden city surrounded by ocean.  And Steve goes from one hidden spot to another like connect-the-dots from Man’s world to Woman’s world.

At the base, Steve sees the Turks assembling the weapons in what look to be dirty and dangerous conditions. There are people of many different ages, and mostly women. This was on purpose, as the filmmakers wanted to show that women were actually involved in the war effort, but they wanted a stark contrast between the Amazons who were involved as warriors under their own direction as women, versus the women here who were factory workers under the command of the male war effort. And then in the back is Ludendorff and Doctor Isabelle Maru. Steve calls her Ludendorff’s chief psychopath, giving us a clear hint that she is prone to violent behavior, which will be confirmed in a moment, and it also suggests that she is in some sense not in her right mind. This also turns out to be true because, at least in certain brief moments, Ares is exerting influence over her. It’s like the devil is whispering in her ear sometimes, which is something that we might associate with psychopathy. Overall, of course, she predominantly makes her own choices and is a villain in her own right, not just a puppet of Ares, but she also has more of a dark side than Steve even realized at that point.

Steve also say the boys in the trenches call her Doctor Poison. As we’ve said before, this connection between Doctor Poison and the poison gases of World War 1 was a stroke of genius, and having her be sort of a wartime legend who got her nickname from the soldiers is a nice way to bring in a comic book character in a believable way. The green lab coat that she wears is an homage to her costume in the comic books, though we think the face plates were an original conception for the movie. And they were really great because they do stand out so well visually. And they were an era-appropriate way to mask her facial damage, which the novelization suggests was from her previous tests with dangerous chemicals and weapons.

To emphasize Steve’s comments about Doctor Poison, we get a brief sequence where we see her testing out one of her new gases. There’s a poor soul locked in the back room with a gas mask on as the gas flows in, and although he coughs a bit, it soon becomes clear that the gas mask has allowed him to survive. This angers Maru, and she triggers a chain that rips the gas mask off him so the test subject dies anyway, and Maru’s anger also suggests that she is trying to concoct a poison that will even work through gas masks. And later on we’ll see that she succeeds in this endeavor. In fact, she must already be very close to this breakthrough because Steve takes the notebook right here in Scene 11 and it is this notebook that Diana translates later for the British generals. When she translates it she talks about the formula for a hydrogen-based gas that would go through the gas masks. So Maru right here in Scene 11 already has a formula but it obviously isn’t quite working yet. So if the British actually checked the formula that was written down, they might have found that it didn’t work and conclude that she doesn’t have a working poison yet. And they wouldn’t know that, in the meantime, she had perfected it, with a little breezy help from Ares.

But I guess the fact that they see she’s at least working on a hydrogen-based poison is enough to inspire some of them into action, especially Steve. And as he says in Scene 11, even though his mission was just to observe and report, he “had to do something.” This phrasing is very important for the character, and they emphasize it with a one-shot right on him as he narrates it. The “I had to do something” idea for Steve is made most explicit in the infirmary when he is talking about his father, and it becomes a thread for the character and it also extends beyond him to Diana as well. We’ll talk about this “do something” idea more as it comes up later in the movie, but right here it already gives us some information about the kind of person Steve Trevor is -- he is a good person who is brave enough to act when he is faced with the opportunity to try to do something right. It also connects him to other characters in the DCEU who feel the urge to act, like Clark Kent throughout his entire life and Diana, as we’ll see in this movie and as we’ve already seen when she joined the fight against Doomsday.

So Steve makes the decision to grab the notebook and, to the Amazons, he explains more of his reasoning. He says that if Dr. Poison completed her work, “millions would die” and “the war would never end.” Steve doesn’t know about Ares, but for the Amazons this should sound an alarm because it is the kind of thing that Ares would want, an endless war.

As Steve is walking out of the building, Dr. Maru notices her journal missing, and she quickly calls to stop the suspicious looking man leaving the facility.  Steve runs and has a nice slide under the wing and steals the plane, which was fortunately already running.  This explains how he happened to be flying a German plane into Themyscira. It also gives another little action sequence that is good pacing after the bigger action scene on the beach, especially because there isn’t really another action sequence until Scene 20 almost 30 minutes from now. This little dose of Steve Trevor action, together with Diana’s tower climb, helps to fill the gap from an action perspective.

In the plane, instead of just flying away, Steve turns around and takes out the other planes to prevent them from going after him, and then he drops an explosive into the warehouse to hinder their operations. This by-hand bomb drop is a nice connection to the time period and is very different from how planes or drones drop bombs today. The filmmakers emphasize this moment by including a sideways shot as the explosion rocks from left to right across the screen, with the ground on the left and the sky on the right, rather than down and up. This was a cool visual choice here, and there’s another sideways shot later when Diana is enraged and is riding off on a horse. That one I don’t think worked as well as this one, but maybe they are linked in some way? We’ll think about it again when we get to that scene.

This flashback scene ends with an iconic shot of Steve Trevor the pilot, looking over his shoulder, and then flying off toward the sea. His plane is a German Fokker E-3. In German it’s called the “Eindecker” (one wing). It is a real plane from World War 1.

We then cut back into the throne room and Steve insists to the Amazons that if he can return the book to British Intelligence it could prevent millions from dying and it could stop the war. Diana asks what war. Her ignorance could because the island is isolated from the rest of the world and they know nothing of the affairs of Man, or because Hippolyta has hidden current events from Diana specifically, not wanting to tempt her into interfering. Hippolyta’s reactions in this part of the scene are pretty intense and emotional, so whether she knew about the war or not (probably not), but she is certainly reacting to the fact that she knows her daughter will want to leave the island to go help. A great performance from Connie Nielsen here, especially right after the moment where Steve says “war to end all wars.” This is Hippolyta realizing that the time she has feared has finally come.

So Hippolyta is reacting very personally, thinking about her daughter and herself. For Diana, she is reacting to the suffering of others, not thinking about herself. We see Diana’s naivete and we also see her genuine compassion and concern -- all of these are important and consistent characteristics for her in this movie. Steve is surprised that the Amazons do not know about the war. He goes on to describe how atrocious it has been with so many innocent people dying, including women and children. Diana is devastated to hear this. And it’s important to notice that her reactions are powerful, her compassion profound even though she is just hearing about people’s pain and suffering, second hand. Many people have trouble feeling compassion if something is far removed from their personal experience; and many others need to at least see the suffering, like in a television advertisement with some Sarah McLachlan music or something, but for Diana, her compassion is free-flowing based even on verbal descriptions. And then her compassion will grow even more profound when she sees them face to face, and this increases her resolve and determination to do whatever she can to stop the war, and warfare in general, if possible.

The scene ends with Steve making a very personal statement, while under the lasso’s influence, “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.” So this lets us know that he has been pretty deeply involved in the war and so we can assume he has quite a bit of trauma and horror that he’s experienced. He maintains a charm and a sort of happy-and-confident air, but there are several moments like this where we can see that there’s some loneliness and pain underneath, too, and that sets him up for a meaningful connection that he can develop with Diana throughout the movie.

So overall, these scenes accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time. We got character development with Diana -- her reaction to hearing about the war -- with Steve -- his personal involvement in the war and his need to do something -- and with Hippolyta -- her sadness because she knows her daughter will want to leave. The scene also introduced Doctor Poison in pretty memorable fashion, and it established the macguffin that is the notebook. It also established the World War 1 context, with the 27 countries and the 25 million dead, plus we got to see a bit of the German operation and the Turkish environment. So these are some previews of Man’s World, which we know Diana will be headed into shortly.

The filmmakers used these scenes very effectively with regard to pacing and momentum -- they  answered some short-term questions (like how Steve got to Themyscira, what he was doing, and where the Germans came from), but they are keeping the bigger questions unanswered, like what Ares’s role might be in the War, or how Diana is going to be able to make a difference, and this draws us further into the plot as we are eager to see what Diana and Steve are going to do next, given all of this information.

End of Episode

That is our analysis of Scenes 10 and 11 of Wonder Woman. To close out this episode I just wanted to mention some things about two DCEU scenes that I’ve critiqued in the past, but both of those critiques have been answered recently. With Wonder Woman, in our early episode about themes and characters, I said about the ending of the film that Etta Candy didn’t seem to get a proper resolution. She was close to Steve Trevor and even alluded to his possible death, yet didn’t really get a moment at the end to process or react to his death on screen. But that is somewhat addressed with the home media release of Wonder Woman, which includes an extra scene at the end with Etta. Now, in this new scene, Etta does get some more screentime at the end of the movie, but it’s not really an emotional closure. Instead, it alludes to the next mission that she is going to organize for the Oddfellows. So it is good to see her again, but it’s more of a connection to Justice League rather than closure for Wonder Woman. All in all, I’m actually fine with the fact that it was not in the movie proper -- I think it works better as an extra feature, actually.

The other scene I want to mention is back from Batman v Superman, and it wasn’t really a critique of the scene itself but just of the placement of the scene. It’s the email meta-human scene with Diana. We mentioned back in our analysis of that scene that it somewhat interrupted the flow of the approaching fight between Batman and Superman. We recognized how important the Justice League files were in terms of giving us new insight into Lex’s activities, which was especially important at that point because we had just heard his monologue on the helipad, so with that new information about his mindset it was interesting to see the other files that he had on meta-humans. We also knew that it was important for Bruce to take the step of sharing with Diana and for Diana to see that there were other meta-humans out there, which factored into her decision to step back out into the public as Wonder Woman. Basically everything about that scene worked for us, except possibly the placement of the scene in the flow of events. Recently on twitter, however, I heard from Fake Scorpion 112 who made a great point that I hadn’t thought of. Fake Scorpion pointed out that Bruce Wayne thought it was fairly likely that he would die in his fight against Superman, so sending the files to Diana was kind of an insurance policy in the case of his death, so at least someone else would have the information about the meta-humans besides Lex. This idea that Bruce was aware of his possible death was made explicit in the film itself, as Alfred told him it was suicide and Bruce talked about it being his legacy. So this interpretation seems to make quite a bit of sense, and it also explains why the emails had to be opened before the Batman-Superman fight, because it had to be during the time when Bruce thought he was headed toward his impending death but before we see that he actually survives the fight. So there ya go -- I only had a few very minor criticisms of BvS at all, and now Fake Scorpion 112 has cleared one of them up for us.

Alright, that does it for us. Thanks for listening. And check out the Suicide Squadcast or the Man of Steel Answers podcast if you’re looking for more DCEU content. And on YouTube our own contributor Rebecca Johnson has some nice videos about Batman v Superman, including her most recent one focusing on the cinematography. So check that out at her YouTube channel, duck milk prod.
And long live DC.

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