Thursday, September 21, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 13

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 13 (Diana and Steve in the infirmary) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Epione notices Diana's healing
  • Building up the Steve-Diana relationship
  • Production design and luminescent water
  • Reversing cinematic gender roles
  • The watch and the time theme
  • Steve and his father (foreshadowing Steve's death)
  • Amazons as a bridge (connection with Man of Steel)
  • MAJOR THEME: Do something
  • Steve's "do something" message resonates with Diana
  • Movement and editing
  • Steve the reluctant hero (from Wayne Buck)

Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd

DC Cinematic Minute:
I Love That Movie, The Big Lebowski:

<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast, we go scene-by-scene through the Warner Brothers films that are part of the Justice League Universe. In this episode we are going to talk about Scene 13 of Wonder Woman, which is the conversation between Diana and Steve in the infirmary. This analysis was written by myself with Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and Sydney. You can find us on Twitter @ottensam, @raveryn, @derbykid, and @wondersyd.

In our last episode, we covered Diana’s conversation with Hippolyta about what the Amazons should do with Steve and about the World War. Now, we go from that interaction between her and her mother to an interaction between her and the other most important relationship in the movie, with Steve. And in a few minutes, we’ll give a quick recap of how each scene that involves Diana and Steve does a nice job of pushing their relationship forward.

But before we get to Steve, we actually have a quick bit with Diana and the doctor, Epione, played by Eleanor Matsuura. The doctor or healer, by the way, is yet another woman of color following up on a couple who had lines in Scene 12, and the only reason we mention this is that many people criticized the movie for not featuring enough women of color. But anyway, Epione takes the bandage off Diana’s arm and is surprised to see that the scratch has healed so quickly. After the bracelet blast, this is another little indication of Diana’s extraordinary powers. And Epione calls it, “Strange.” This probably means that she has never seen Diana’s supernatural healing ability before, and this leads to a couple possibilities. First, it could be that Diana has never exhibited these abilities before, maybe because she’s never been injured (although that’s unlikely because of all the hard training she’s done for years) or perhaps she’s never exhibited these powers because they were only just now released when she tapped into her power with the bracelet blast. In that case, this is a new and strange occurrence not only to Epione but also to Diana, although Diana is too preoccupied at the moment with Antiope’s death and thinking about Steve’s story that she doesn’t really think about it.

The other possibility is that Diana has exhibited these healing powers before but it’s just that Epione was never aware of them. Perhaps she and other Amazons don’t actually know about Diana’s divine origin. We can’t know for sure how many Amazons know about Diana’s secret -- the only ones who are confirmed are Hippolyta, Antiope, and Menalippe. If Zeus made a big show of creating Diana as the godkiller, then maybe a lot of them would know. But if it was more discreet in the beginning, then it’s fairly likely that a limited number of women know the secret because that makes it easier to keep a secret, and Hippolyta does seem pretty protective of the information, so she has probably kept a pretty tight lid on it for a long time.

A final possibility is that Epione notices the strange healing but attributes it to unknown weapons from Man’s World rather than supernatural abilities in Diana. This could explain why she isn’t more probing of Diana, because she assumes Diana doesn’t know anything about those weapons either.

So the main beat here in this quick interaction is us seeing Diana’s healing powers. The next little thing that happens is that Epione asks if it’s true that Diana saved his life, referring to Diana pulling Steve out of the water. Diana is a bit surprised to hear this, perhaps because she was alone at that point and was already under scrutiny because of her bracelet blast, so she might not have wanted the attention of bringing a man onto the shores of Themyscira. As far as the Amazons knew, Steve might have washed up on his own. But anyway, Diana asks who told her about that, and Epione says that “he did.” This implies that Epione assisted Steve, which means that they’re showing him some compassion and care, and it also means that Hippolyta probably approved of the care being given to the stranger.

Now that Diana knows Steve has talked to at least one Amazon, and that he isn’t a completely off-limits prisoner, she immediately wants to go and talk to him herself, which leads us in to the rest of the scene.

And we also wanted to say that there is good pacing throughout this part of the movie. We saw the battle on the beach, which was an intense and fatal action scene. And then we got to follow that up with the intensity of Steve’s story, which was a burning question that needed to be answered right away. And now that is immediately followed up with a more emotional and somewhat funny and touching scene, so we’re getting a good flow of different energies across these scenes. And they are well connected, too, because of the links like the bandages and the bruises from the earlier battle. And of course Diana and Steve want to use this opportunity and the privacy they have to get to know a little bit more about each other.

That brings us to one really strong aspect of Act 1 of this movie, and really the movie overall, which is that each scene with Diana and Steve does something meaningful to push their relationship forward. In the first scene, we see Diana taking an important plunge forward in her life, where up till then she’d always been held back, and Steve was part of this important moment. It was also obviously their first meeting and on the beach they showed a mutual curiosity toward one another. Then in the next scene they faced danger together and fought at each other’s side. They provided mutual defense, each saving the other. Then, in the lasso interrogation scene, their connection grew as Steve shared his story and his fears about the war. Diana immediately connected with that story and shared his concern and compassion, both of them mutually wanted to do something to stop the war.

So you’ve probably noticed that mutuality is a common thread in their relationship development. And that mutuality will continue here in Scene 13.

But before we get into their interactions, we need to mention the set design and cinematography. It’s amazing that even the caves are beautiful on Themyscira. One especially striking feature is that the water is luminescent, which is how the Amazons get their light at night. Because their bioluminescent water looks different than what we actually see in nature, it’s likely that it is another magical aspect of the island. It may also have healing benefits, which is why it is so plentiful in the infirmary here. When Steve asks later why the water does that, it further suggests that is has some magical properties.

With regard to the water, Director of Photography, Matt Jensen talked about it as the visual element in this scene that is really unique and stands out. In general, he said in the art and making of the film book, (quote) “The thing that you want to do is… remember that a comic book is built on singular imagery. … Even though we were shooting a drama, you still want to be image driven in your approach. … There has to be something that is visually striking about every scene and hopefully every shot.” (end quote) And I think they really did meet that goal in Wonder Woman, and it being so beautiful to look at and so visually compelling is a big reason it was so well received. And really the DCEU overall has maintained a focus on images, as opposed to a dialogue-heavy or action-driven approach. There are so many iconic visual moments in all the films. And Man of Steel, BvS, and Wonder Woman especially do a great job of combining the visual with the dramatic so that the combination reaches new heights of cinematic storytelling. They don’t just have luminescent water because it looks cool, but it adds to the magic of Themyscira and it represents Steve Trevor’s character being revitalized and reborn, in a way, about to set forth with new purpose and new vigor. Man of Steel didn’t just have Kal-El walk out of the scout ship because it looked cool, but it represented his birth as Superman from father Krypton and mother Earth, with the planets shown on either side of the scout ship doorway. In BvS, it wasn’t just cool to see Batman flung to the edge of the building and then looking down in the rain toward camera, but it represented the fact that his character was coming right up to the edge of his dark path of vengeance, where he was in danger of losing himself. Zack Snyder, in particular, is a master at bringing these “singular images” to the screen and it’s why he often gets praised for making movies that are like the comic books come to life. Sometimes he also gets criticized for being too visual, but we would suspect that this is because people are not receiving the visual meanings in the ways that they are intended. He marries the visuals together with the themes, as you can even see in his new short film, Snow Steam Iron, shot with an iPhone and yet still very visually striking.

Back to Wonder Woman, though, we mentioned Matt Jensen and we should say that he had prior experience on another superhero film, Fantastic Four in 2015, and he also worked on Game of Thrones. And by the way, another Game of Thrones alum is Fabian Wagner, who is the DP for Justice League.

Alright, let’s get into the scene with Steve and Diana. It starts with a funny beat of him watching his own toe in the water, and you can tell that he’s feeling much better than he was when he was wrapped up in the lasso of truth. Seeing him having fun in the water also lets us know that we can relax for a bit after the stress of the previous scenes and we can open ourselves to some new information and some banter between the two characters.

The first part of this scene is basically an objectification of Chris Pine as the male love interest. He is positioned with no clothes on and then he will be sized up by the main character. This is clearly a reversal of the typical gender roles that have existed in cinema for basically a century. Usually it has been women who were subjected to scenes like this where we get to know them very early in the movie in a scantily clad, sexually-objectified way. One such scene that really stands out to me is Alice Eve in Star Trek Into Darkness where the filmmakers put her in underwear for no good reason. And that scene, interestingly enough, was with Chris Pine. But here in Wonder Woman, these filmmakers turn the table and make it so that a woman gets to ogle at the bare-skinned man. And it’s great that Diana is actually pretty unimpressed. She has some curiosity and asks if he’s typical, but it’s not that big of a deal to her. This makes sense for her character because, growing up on Themyscira as the only child on an island of women, she hasn’t been socialized into the shyness or the titillation at the sight of the human form, and she doesn’t blush as people in Man’s World usually would if they walked in on someone like that.

This straight-faced reaction from Diana makes this moment pretty unique, and it also does serve a bit of a purpose for the character arcs, because being exposed and vulnerable like this can sort of push “fast forward” on their budding relationship and allow them to move more quickly toward connections, because they dispensed with the physical shyness right away. Steve is embarrassed for only a moment or so, and then he gets over it because he sees that Diana is nonchalant. Diana also has maybe a slight moment of hesitancy on the word “say” but she gathers herself and continues matter-of-factly. She hasn’t seen men like this before and so she is naturally curious.

Steve has his pause and then his “above average” response. This part got consistently good laughs in the theater screenings that we went to, but I personally would’ve preferred one penis-related joke instead of two, and my choice would’ve been to go with the penis/watch mixup. But that’s just me.

The watch joke, though, is the next thing. Diana asks, “What’s that?” And there’s some humor in Steve’s reaction as he isn’t quite sure what to say. And I admit, some of this humor comes from the fact that in the previous line Steve was assuming she was talking about his penis, and now he’s thinking maybe he had misinterpreted the first part. So his confusion is funny, and we’re all kind of smiling trying to think about how he might respond. But then he figures out that she’s referring to the watch. This humor here is based on Diana’s naivete about men, and it definitely works. But of course she would’ve actually learned a lot for many years, very likely including anatomy and biology, and they have many animals on the island, so she would know about male mammals and such even if they don’t have human males. But with the watch comment, she’s actually already moved beyond biology and is looking at his items and a glimpse into his culture, so it’s actually Steve who is more hung up on anatomy.

One really great thing about this penis/watch joke is that it actually continues well beyond the moment when Steve realizes his mistake. It goes all the way through the lines where they’re talking about what a watch does, and Diana is surprised because, “You actually let something that small tell you what to do.” This is double entendre itself -- she’s teasing him for letting a watch tell him what to do, but that watch was confused for a penis, and so this is a subtle nod from the writers to the idea that men are often led by their sexual urges and testosterone. And this is commonly cited as an advantage that women have over men -- stereotypically, women are less prone to mindlessly following their urges. Now we’re not saying whether that’s true or false -- and certainly it differs from individual to individual -- we’re just saying that it’s a common notion, and this scene alludes to it in a subtle way that is pretty clever. There will also be several times throughout the movie where it touches on differences between men and women, but also common ground, too.

On a more serious note, we also want to say a bit more about the watch, and more importantly, about the theme of time. Yes, time is a small thing in the sense of the watch, but time is also a huge thing in people’s lives, at least people who are mortal. Diana, as an immortal, probably has a very different sense of time. And so here she may be saying that she’s surprised Steve lets time tell him what to do.

But in the end, even Diana comes face to face with the power of time. Time wins out as Steve runs out of time. But thankfully, Steve knew he was running out of time and he knew he had to make a choice in that moment at the climax of the movie. So in essence, time ran out but it didn’t tell him what to do --- Steve made the choice of what he wanted to do with his last moments. This all becomes a sort of lesson for Diana -- she sees what time means for mortal men, and she learns the significance of the watch, not only as a memento of Steve Trevor but also as a representation of the lesson why people let time have power over them. Life is short, and you never know when you might run out of time altogether. It’s a painful but important lesson, and the time theme begins here in Scene 13 with a very memorable bit of dialogue so that audience can’t miss it, and the filmmakers also put in a physical object so that we can be reminded of this theme later.

Steve’s actual lines about the watch go like this: “It’s a watch. It tells time. My father gave it to me. Been through hell and back with him.  Now it’s with me, and good thing it’s still ticking.” So he is also referring to his father here, which is why the watch is so meaningful to him. And it suggests that his father is dead, which is why it has been passed down, and the fact that the watch is still ticking suggests that Steve is happy but somewhat lucky to still be alive. This sets up the watch as an object that can foreshadow Steve’s death later on. We also can presume that Steve’s father suffered great turmoil in his time. The fact that both father and son have been through pain and tragedy is actually something that bonds them together, and the connection and clear love is something that Steve and Diana have in common -- father to son, and mother to daughter, respectively. The nature of the relationships is different, but the fact that they both of strong connections to a parent is a commonality between them.

Oh, and while we’re talking about it, we don’t necessarily think this will happen, but if Wonder Woman 2 involves Diana going to Hades to reclaim Steve, then this line about “hell and back” will be completely epic, in retrospect. Just putting that out there.

Okay, next in the scene Steve covers himself with a cloth around his waist. And once he does this, he feels a bit more confident and he then asserts himself in the conversation and takes the lead. He asks Diana some questions, which gives the audience a chance to learn a bit, too. And it shows that Steve has probably been wondering lots of things up until now but this is the first good chance he’s had to try to get some answers. He rattles off several questions, where are we, what is this place, why does the water do that, how come you don’t know what a watch is? But Diana only answers the last one -- how come you speak English so well? She says that they speak hundreds of languages. This is a big set-up that has a few payoffs later in the film. One is when she spars with Sameer, another is when she translates the notebooks for the British, and probably the most important payoff is when she is able to connect with the woman from Veld and then goes to save the village.

About the Amazons and their multiple languages, Diana says, “We are the bridge to a greater understanding between all men.” In a way this is a commentary about women in general, not just the Amazons. William Moulton Marston would agree that women play a huge role in sanitizing the actions of men and bringing greater compassion and understanding to the world. But for the Amazons, it also refers to their divine mission to spread peace and love.

By the way, this idea of Diana being a bridge between men is a good connection to Man of Steel, where Jor-El hoped that Kal-El would be a bridge between the two peoples. And in terms of the performance here, Steve’s pause and then his line delivery, “Right,” is similar to how he’ll pause and say on the boat, “Well that’s neat.”

The next beat in the scene is Steve thanking her for pulling him out of the water. He’s giving her credit and humbling himself, which is not easy for him to do, which we can see because he looks away right as he says the thank you. And we’ll see that later, too, that he is a bit uncomfortable with being saved by a woman, especially because he doesn’t know her full capabilities yet. But to his credit, he does actually come out and say thanks. And then to her credit she thanks him right back, for what he did on the beach. Diana is sharing the credit, rather than gloating or saying “you’re welcome.” These two thank-you’s also continue the mutuality pattern that we mentioned earlier. Their relationship is very new, but it is already being built on reciprocity. And it also speaks to an equality-based form of feminism that seems to show up throughout the film. She doesn’t bask in the glow of a woman having saved a man -- it was just what needed to be done at the time and she was capable of doing it. When he praises her for it, she just points out that they were both doing what they could. She thanks him as well for his efforts on the beach, which included killing the German who killed Antiope and was actually about to shoot Diana.

The equality angle is echoed later in the film, such as when Steve says in Veld, “You did this,” and she says, “We did.” Even the framing of many of the shots later in the movie involve placing Diana and Steve or Diana and the other Oddfellows together in equal positions.

Here in Scene 13, now that Diana has thanked him, Steve wonders if they might be letting him go. She tells him that she tried but that it’s not up to her. This suggests that if it were up to her she would let him go. She wants to make it clear that she shouldn’t be blamed for his captivity. She seems to care about what Steve thinks. She says that she even asked to be sent with him, but with a glance from Steve she quickly realizes that she comes off as overtly wanting to be with him so she corrects herself by adding “or anyone, an Amazon, the Amazons.” Interestingly her correction has an implied segregation between her and the Amazons, suggesting she isn’t an Amazon. She could have said something more along the lines of “or any Amazon” which is inclusive of her.

Steve asks “The Amazons?” not knowing who these people are and asking for clarification. Diana responds, “It is our sacred duty to defend the world.” Here she is a bit more inclusive about identifying as an Amazon, however the “our” could also be viewed as her and the Amazons as separate, but with the same duty.

“And I wish to go, but my mother will not allow it.”  Steve says he doesn’t blame Diana’s mother for not wanting to let Diana go because it makes sense for a mother to be concerned for her child. And he himself would not want anyone he cares about near the war.  Although this is an obvious statement with regard to family and loved ones, it is interesting that it is referring to Diana specifically as the two are beginning to have feelings for one another suggesting Steve doesn’t want Diana to be hurt by the war either. Perhaps we’re reading too much into it, but at the very least there’s a hint of his eventual feelings for her. Likewise Diana asks Steve why he wants to go back, perhaps thinking herself that she doesn’t want to see the war hurt him, but more prominent is her wanting to understand why Steve would put himself in danger if he could avoid it. Perhaps she is looking to see if he has the same moral compass that she does, to validate her feelings for him.

This line where Diana asks why Steve would go back to such a dangerous war is also a clear foreshadowing of his death. He does go back to the war, and it does end up killing him, which is a great sorrow for the people who care about him.

So Diana asks why he wants to go back, and he says he doesn’t think “want is the word”.  He guesses he’s got to “try”. He brings up his father again, who said, “You see something wrong happening in the world you can either do nothing or you can do something.  And I already tried nothing.”

This idea of do something or do nothing, with the clear answer being to do something, is one of the most important themes of the movie. We’ve already seen it with Steve in Scene 11 when he realized he had to do something about Doctor Poison’s research. And we’ll trace it in future scenes as well. It becomes a mantra for Steve that actually resonates with Diana as well and serves to connect the characters in yet another way. Right here in Scene 13, the idea of doing something and not being held back speaks directly to Diana. She has felt held back by her mother and her situation on the island, but now, through her conversation with Steve, she is inspired and determined to act. It also connects with an unknown force in her core related to her divine creation.

We mentioned earlier that the father/son, mother/daughter relationships are a connection between Steve and Diana, but there’s also a contrast here. Steve’s father gave him a choice, but Diana’s mother had been trying to limit Diana’s choices, eventually giving her directives as a queen rather than advice or gentle guidance as a mother. The complexity, though, is that Hippolyta gave the order not because she is a tyrant but because she has a mother’s protective love, and it’s hard to blame her for that, especially given that Hippolyta knows much more about the threat than Diana does.

But right now, Diana would rather listen to Steve than to Hippolyta, because Diana has been looking for the opportunity to do something. She has that opportunity now and she decides to act and to retrieve the godkiller sword. This crossing over of Steve’s arc (about doing something) and Diana’s arc (about compassion and pure-hearted heroism) takes the movie to the next level. It’s not just fun banter, and it’s not just themes, plot, and characters, it’s themes that are embodied in the characters and the characters’ messages and inspirations that push forward the plot.

And even though we love those deep threads, we also recognize the great acting in this scene, especially by Chris Pine, and the great directing by Patty Jenkins. One thing that Patty laid out and that Chris executed really well were the movements out of the water, picking up the watch, putting on his clothes -- it not only helped to make the scene feel natural but it provided some movement to contrast with a pretty stationary Diana, and more than that, Steve’s movement in the scene served to emphasize the moments where he kind of slows down and stops -- one place he stopped was the thank you line, and the other place that he stopped, after putting on his pants and grabbing his shirt, was his line about “already tried nothing.” Then he moves again. So the blocking brings a nice visual emphasis to the most important lines of the scene.

The editing also works well here, with simple coverage of the two characters, but it started with wider shots of the room and a couple shots that have both of them included so we can tell how they’re positioned relative to one another. And then we cut back and forth between medium shots, and eventually the editing goes to the tighter shots, with Diana saying that she wants to go with him and then Steve reacting to that idea of her and him together. After emphasizing that moment, the editor goes back out to a wide two-shot and then the medium shots until the very end of the scene when we go close again on Diana, and this is a very purposeful close-up because it shows Diana wordlessly reacting to Steve’s idea about doing something. This lets us know that Diana is making an internal choice and that brings us to the next scene.

End of Episode

That is our analysis of Scene 13 in the infirmary. We should also mention that the “do something” line reminds us of the famous quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We would add women to this quote. But credits it to Edmund Burke, although variations of this idea have been credited to other people.

On the topic of Steve Trevor and the moment where he gives Diana credit for saving him, this actually connects to the early history of Steve Trevor in the comic books. In Sensation Comics #3, for example, Comic Book Resources pointed out that William Moulton Marston was drawing attention to the sexism of the day by ending the issue -- an issue where Wonder Woman was most certainly the hero -- by having everyone in the public giving credit to Steve. It’s like people just assumed that the hero must be the man rather than the woman. To his credit, Steve Trevor deflected the praise and said that it was Wonder Woman, his “beautiful angel.” In fact, this was kind of a running gag in the early comic books that people would try to give Steve credit and Steve would end the issue by saying it was actually Wonder Woman who saved the day.

But Steve Trevor is a hero in his own right. As Wayne Buck, a listener from YouTube, describes: “I see Steve as a reluctant hero, unlike Diana who has no reluctance (and is perhaps a bit naively eager to act on her compassion). Here's the evidence for this: in the flashback scene to the German camp, when Steve sees the notebook and realizes he has an opportunity to take it, he looks away with an expression of "Rats, there's something more I could do." He, of course, reaches into the office for the notebook and runs all the risks that entails, but Chris Pine with that expression has signaled to us a bit of reluctance on Steve's part. Steve sees what he needs to do, and does it, but he isn't eager for the opportunity to do good. Later, in the scene in the infirmary, Steve reports that his dad said to him, "When you see something wrong you can either do nothing or you can do something." But then Steve says, "And I already tried nothing." So his first "natural" impulse earlier in his life was to be a bystander, but then (for reasons we don't know) accepted that he could not just stand by. (There is an interesting parallel to Rick in Casablanca, which Patty Jenkins has acknowledged as a strong influence.)”

So thanks, Wayne, for those insights.

Now that really is everything we have on Scene 13. But one of the things we do in this concluding portion of the episode is to catch things that we missed in prior scenes. Looking back at the history lesson scene, Scene 3 in Wonder Woman, we did mention the pearl and shell motif. But one of our listeners, Omesh Singh, made some very nice additional connections related to that motif. He pointed out that not only is Diana positioned as a pearl, with her sleeping area designed like a shell, but Young Diana is also sheltered by Hippolyta and so Hippolyta is protective like a Shell. This positioning of daughter and mother as pearl and shell is reinforced when Hippolyta says "You are the most precious thing in the world to me," like a precious gem. Omesh also noted that pearls symbolize wisdom and in that scene Hippolyta was trying to impart wisdom, for example, that "War is nothing to hope for."

So that’s just an additional bit of interpretation for Wonder Woman. And we can keep an eye out for the pearl and wisdom motif later on in the film. If, however, it’s more Batman v Superman content that you are craving, then we recommend the DC Cinematic Minute podcast, from Too Old Media. Alessandro and I will be guests on there next month, but in the meantime you can hear them going through the first several minutes.

And if you want to venture out beyond DC, you can hear me as a guest on the “I Love That Movie” podcast. I had a great time there with Lisa talking about the only movie that I like even more than Batman v Superman -- and that’s the Coen Brothers classic, The Big Lebowski. So check out “I Love That Movie” -- it was a fun episode.

And of course back on the DC side of things, there’s the Suicide Squadcast for movie news and Man of Steel Answers for additional analysis. Long live DC!

No comments:

Post a Comment