Wednesday, November 8, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 14

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 14 (Diana and the tower) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Podcast updates and looking forward to Justice League
  • Diana's superhero moment of answering the call. -Patty Jenkins
  • Diana's leap (and the bull, aka Zeus?)
  • Emerging powers and connections to Man of Steel
  • Lasso, Shield, and the Godkiller sword
  • Thoughts from listeners -- Omesh Singh, Gustav Ramirez, and Wayne Buck

Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
@JLUPodcast on Twitter

Prepping for Justice League, BvS recap:

DC Cinematic Minute:

Supergirl Radio:

<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast, we analyze the DC Films from Warner Brothers studios that are part of the ever-expanding Justice League Universe. This universe will burst back on the big screen next week with Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder, and we have some content in store for that movie. I just posted a video on my YouTube channel and a post on my blog,, where I give a recap of Batman v Superman for the general audience so that they can be relatively informed as they head into Justice League. So if you have some friends or family who need a bit of easily digestible BvS prep before Justice League, you can refer them to that video or blog post. I’ll put a link in the show notes. And to prepare further, our full JLU podcast team will be having a Justice League preparation episode coming out soon.

But right now, we’re analyzing Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins. In this episode, we’re covering Scene 14, which is Diana scaling the tower. I’m going to present analysis co-written by myself with Alessandro, Rebecca, and Sydney. And we have some happy news amongst our team, by the way, because Alessandro recently welcomed into the world his baby daughter, Kara. So congratulations to him and his family, and I think we can all agree that Kara is a great name.

I do want to say, however, that although Alessandro is adjusting to being a new dad, it’s not actually his fault for our lack of episodes in October. It’s not Rebecca or Sydney’s fault either, even though they are very busy. It is totally my fault. I had a very busy period at work and then took an international trip for work, which was great but also meant several weeks of playing catch-up. Putting that together with the three kids at home, October just ended up being swamped and my late nights, when I usually write and record, were packed with late work or just exhaustion after the kids were in bed. So that is my fault. Thanks for your patience, and hopefully you were carried through that period with our guest appearances on DC Cinematic Minute with Mark and Nathan. If you check out DCEU Minute last month, you can hear Rebecca, Alessandro, and me talking about one of our favorite topics -- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And of course Rebecca has also been rockin’ it on her Supergirl Radio podcast, which is now several episodes into season three. So check that out too at Supergirl Radio.

Alright, so let’s get back into Wonder Woman. To set up Scene 14, we just saw in the last shot of Scene 13 that Diana was inspired by Steve to finally do something and act upon the desires that she had had for awhile. Ever since she was a girl, she had been yearning for an opportunity to not only fight like an Amazon but to fight for the good of the world like the Amazons of old, the Amazons that she heard about in stories as a little girl. Now, with Steve Trevor’s arrival and his tales of war that he brought with him, not to mention a group of actual Germans, Diana has her opportunity to act and to set forth as a hero who can save the world.

So that brings us to this scene of Diana and the tower. Patty Jenkins said, in the art and making of the film book, that in any great superhero story there’s (quote) “the moment where you decide to answer the call.” (end quote) This is that moment for Diana. She is going to literally take that leap forward in her journey, and the weapons and costume that she grabs in this scene will become emblematic of her developing persona of Wonder Woman. It also represents a daughter stepping out beyond the advice and protection of her mother, which is a big moment for anyone -- not just a superhero. And that dynamic between her and her mother makes this a moment of no return, once Diana scales the tower and grabs the sword that her mother expressly said Diana couldn’t wield, she will have to press forward. And this mother-daughter dynamic implied in the tower scene is also why it directly leads to the next scene, where we have the emotional farewell with Hippolyta. But that’s coming next.

Right now, we start Scene 14 with Diana walking forward in the night and then a very nice establishing shot. The tower is very prominent, and its physical presence and now its prominence here in this moment is a payoff of the set-ups in scenes 2 and 4. Themyscira was laid out and designed this way to make this scene really work and have extra meaning in the story. And by the way, we view the tower from a camera that is placed behind Diana, looking over her shoulder with the tower in center frame. So we’re seeing it basically from Diana’s point of view, and then we go to a close up on Diana as she exhales. Things like this are how Patty Jenkins maintained a clear point-of-view throughout the entire movie, with us seeing everything in the way that Diana sees it and really staying right with her all the ways through the ups and downs of the story.

Diana looks down at the depth of the crevasse, and then we get a shot moving slightly behind the back of her head, with her braided hair going straight down, and this framing provides a subtle connection back to the dive scene from the cliff. These two scenes are linked in the sense that they are the two biggest leaps, figuratively and literally, that Diana has taken in her life, and so to subconsciously make this connection for the audience, the filmmakers provide echoes of the prior shots, and they also have her in the same training outfit as before. This is an important step in her leaving that training outfit behind and moving on into the full Wonder Woman costume.

Seeing the tower, Diana then gets a look of determination on her face and jumps actually away from the tower, right up to a bull. The first several times I watched the movie this always threw me off a bit, because she jumps away, she doesn’t just run away from the tower. So I didn’t think she was getting a lead distance for a running start -- for that, I thought she would just jog away a bit, and then run back to the edge where she was. But she jumps away and then runs back. And I also thought it was a bit odd how she looks at the bull there in the middle for some reason. But I think maybe we have an explanation for it now. We think she actually probably is just backing up a bit from the edge to get a running start, and the reason she jumps back is not because she actually had to jump over a second gap, it’s just because she was testing out her jumps. Having done a quick test, she then just runs all the way back and leaps from where she was before, right at the edge of the big crevasse.

And as for the bull, it not only continues the animal motif that has been going on throughout the Themyscira scenes, but Diana’s relationship with animals and gods-as-animals is often a part of the comic books. So this might have been an acknowledgment of that. Furthermore, the Greek gods often took animal forms. In particular, Zeus has been known to turn into a bull to abduct Europa. And Europa, by the way, is where Europe got its name. Like Diana, Europa also has divine ancestry. Poseidon is her grandfather, and Zeus her great-great-grandfather. And although the circumstances are very different in that Greek mythology story, the presence of the bull right at this moment when Diana is disobeying her mother and leaping onto the tower could be a sign from the gods, a blessing on Diana’s decision to travel to Europe with Steve.

The fact that this bull is up and about in the middle of the night and not sleeping does help the theory that this is a God in animal form watching Diana. The bull could also be used as symbolism for passion, strength, and fulfillment.  

So with the bull looking on, Diana runs forward and leaps onto the side of the tower. She just barely grabs with one hand a protruding rock. And then she looks back and gets a big smile, obviously thrilled that she just did something she probably didn’t even know before now that she could do. The smile also sets up the shift in emotion -- actors are taught, before a shift to fear or sadness, to go to a smile so that the audience will really get the contrast. Diana has the smile now, and we get a shot looking down at her face as the rock crumbles and she shifts into terrified screams. Luckily, no one heard her in the night and on the far side of the tower. As we established before, the novel made clear that there were only people stationed at the one main entrance in the front of the tower.

As she falls, it is revealed to us and to Diana that she has even further powers. She not only has the leaping but she also finds new strength and durability and she is able to actually punch right into the rock and catch herself. In addition to these powers, we also saw in Scene 6 that she has the new bracelet power. So we’re gradually being introduced to the full scope of her powers, and we’ll keep getting subtle new ones all the way until the end of the movie. It’s like Antiope said -- you are more powerful than you realize. Was it the bracelet blast that actually spurred on the release of these new powers? We don’t know for sure. It’s possible, but it’s also possible that she had them all along and just needed to push herself to discover them. She needed to keep testing her limits.

Which brings us to the fact that this scene, in some ways, parallels the flight scene in Man of Steel. Now some people have compared the flight scene for Superman to the later No Man’s Land scene for Wonder Woman, and that comparison does make sense in terms of the emotional weight and the swelling music and the reveal of the costumes. But there is also a comparison to be made between the tower scene here and the flight scene. Diana is testing her own strength and pushing herself, tapping into her powers voluntarily for the first time, all while still not knowing her limits but needing to push herself further for the sake of humanity. She even has a huge grin when she reaches the ledge like Kal-El did when he first leaped, and then falls like he did when gravity got the better of him. But then, like Kal-El, Diana pushes herself even further and surpasses what she thought she could do. So there are several parallels there, although a difference is that in Man of Steel Superman is finally doing what his biological father had hoped he would do, whereas for Diana, she is actually going against her mother’s wishes.

Anyway, the way they did these effects with her punching the wall were really great and memorable, and the sound effects were good too. In this sequence, most people tend to focus on her hand strength in punching the rocks, but notice also that she manages to pull up her entire body weight with just one arm. So it’s not just durable hands but really great strength overall, and it’s just more of that idea that she is gradually discovering more and more of her powers.

They cap it off with the moment in the window when she crushes her handprint into the window sill, reminiscent of a younger Clark Kent bending the metal fencepost. This connection was actually first noticed by our listener, Omesh Singh on Twitter. He said, (quote) “When Diana reaches the top her hand deforms the metal frame. This reminded me of Man of Steel when teen Clark is being bullied and he grabs ahold of, and deforms the metal fence-post. Clark's action was one of holding back. Diana's moment is one of driving forth as she discovers that Antiope was right. (i.e. You're stronger than you believe. You have greater powers than you know.)” Thanks, Omesh.

Now we go inside the tower and we see the lasso, the golden perfect as it’s sometimes called in the comics. It is framed beautifully in a golden curve. These interior designs with the yellow gold and the feminine curves are meant to contrast with the exterior of the tower being rough stone and all straight, harsh edges. She grabs the lasso and then a shield. These are quick cuts, but then we see her jump down to the godkiller sword and the editing slows down to really take this moment in. The sword has several interlocking curved pieces swirling around it, and this spiral apparatus actually matches really well with the gold and the spiral contours of her training outfit that go across her torso and then up over one shoulder. Our interpretation is that the matching spirals are a subtle hint that Diana is the godkiller, the sword isn’t. Because that is, of course, why the filmmakers put so much emphasis on the sword here, moreso than the lasso, shield, or even the costume. They show her jumping down, walking up to it slowly, we remember back to when she looked at it as a little girl, and then the music swells and we see her grasp it and pull it out of its place. It all has a clear weight of importance, and that is because we the audience are still supposed to be thinking that it’s legitimately the godkiller, what will make it possible to defeat Ares. But not only the training outfit but also these new powers that we’re seeing, they are all hints that it’s actually going to be Diana who is the godkiller. There’s even a point where Diana in the background is kind of lined up with the godkiller in the foreground, subliminally telling us that she is the godkiller.

By the way, Gustav Ramirez, one of listeners from YouTube, thought that maybe there’s a link between fake swords -- one in Wonder Woman and one in BvS. Here, obviously the godkiller is a fake in the sense that, even though it’s a great and possibly magical sword, it’s not actually able to kill a god. And then in BvS, we saw Diana and Bruce talking about the fake sword of Alexander. In the first instance, when Diana was younger, she didn’t distinguish that it was fake. But in BvS, she’s older and wiser and she knows it’s fake right away. Thanks, Gustav.

So Diana grabs the sword and then as she is leaving her eyes catch sight of her costume, but it’s blurred to the audience, so we can guess what it is but we are left in the dark about it for now, and this builds some anticipation because we know a costume reveal will have to be coming later. Also, the fact that the costume ends up being her perfect size suggests it may have been made for her to wear, just waiting for the right time to be given to her. Perhaps she even knows that it was intended for her and that's why she takes it. This is just speculation, because it’s also possible that it’s old, revered armor from a fallen Amazon, but it’s all fun to think about. And we can even keep a keen eye out in the Justice League movie during the history lesson about the Amazons.

Now, again referring back to BvS, Diana has a different shield and a different sword in that movie, which of course takes place about 100 years in the future. By the end of Wonder Woman, it becomes clear that she will need a new sword. As for the shield, it’s not necessarily a continuity error because we don’t know what happened over those 100 years. She does work with antiquities after all, so it’s possible she could get her hands on some really high quality weapons. And anyway, it can likely be excused for the same reason that Superman’s suit had a few unexplained alterations between MoS and BvS. We just have to allow a bit of freedom like this for the costume designers and prop masters in the movie.

Speaking of the sword and shield from BvS, Nick Begovich reminded us that the Tech Manual for BvS describes another made-up language commissioned by Snyder. A linguist developed the Kryptonian language for Man of Steel, as many people know, but they also did an Amazon language for BvS! And they used that Amazon language to inscribe a Joseph Campbell quote onto the shield. It’s from his book "Goddesses: Mystery of the Feminine Divine" and it reads "Life is killing life all the time and so the goddess kills herself in the sacrifice of her own animal."

To close out Scene 14, Diana is looking at the costume and we cut to a close-up on her face, an ending very similar to Scene 13, but whereas in that one she was contemplating what she had to do, here she is more resolved and she’s already doing it. The music then gives us a subtle hint of the Wonder Woman rhythmic motif and we’re on to Scene 15.

End of Episode

Thanks so much for listening. It’s good to be back digging into these movies. We’re going to try to get one more episode done for Wonder Woman before Justice League releases, because that will take us all the way through the Themyscira scenes. And as I mentioned before, we are also planning to have one preparatory episode for Justice League so look for that next week before opening night on Thursday.

You can also continue checking out our friends over at the Suicide Squadcast and Man of Steel Answers. And as for us, to close out this episode we want to share some thoughts from another one of our listeners, Wayne Buck. He had some thoughts about Diana’s motivations, which are relevant to this scene because this was where she really set herself into motion down the path as Wonder Woman. Wayne wrote, (quote) “Diana's motives are more complicated than just wanting to do good and help others. She's wanted to be a warrior from a very early age... She has a romanticized view of war -- as her mother knows and tries to disabuse her of. We have to imagine her as desiring and training for battle her entire life to this point, which likely is hundreds of years. But in all those years, she's never had the opportunity to engage in a real battle -- until the beach battle just moments before. She's gotten a taste, but only a brief taste, of what battle is like. I see her as excited by that battle, embolden by her own success on the battlefield, although inevitably also a bit sobered by the realities of death and loss. Yet she finally sees an opportunity to be what she has wanted to be her whole life -- a true warrior. So she is eager to seize this unexpected opportunity presented by Steve's arrival and news of the war in Man's World... But her mother tells her to do nothing, and in the scene in the infirmary it seems she has acquiesced, albeit reluctantly, to her mother's command. It is only when Steve relates his father's story and of how he himself "already tried nothing" before accepting that he needed to "do something" that Diana resolves to defy her mother, "do something" and leave the island to realize her destiny. (I have to say that iconic side-wise glance of hers at the moment she absorbs the meaning of what Steve has said and resolves to defy her mother is beautifully done. It's a look that we will see many times in the movie whenever Diana determines to do something -- including having Steve stay in the room with her the night after they've liberated Veld.).” (end quote)

So thanks so much, Wayne. We are continually grateful to have such observant and savvy listeners. In response to your ideas, I agree with your nuances about her almost being a bit too eager to be a warrior, and using "do-good" as an excuse to take that step forward -- a step forward that she wanted to take anyway, but this has now finally given her the chance. We've been laying the groundwork for this interpretation in our analysis of Diana as a younger girl, looking up to the Amazons but them having real war experience (not just the glory but the pain) and her being naive about it. And I think these points not only play into this tower scene, with her appropriate the objects of war from their glorified holdings, but they will also play into the next scene when she explicitly tries to phrase her actions as about doing good, which is true, but her mother also sees another truth, of her precocious and ambitious daughter stepping out into a dangerous situation without truly grasping all that it entails --- kind of like that young girl who jumped out from the path and was only lucky to have her mother nearby to catch her.

Alright, that does it for us. Thanks again for listening, and long live DC.

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