Saturday, January 13, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Justice League Scene 3

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 3 (world-without-Superman montage) of Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder.

  • "Everybody Knows" song selection
  • Dealing with loss: world (general)
  • Dealing with loss: Lois and Martha (personal)
  • Foreclosure on the Kent farm
  • Newspaper headlines and homeless man

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Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd @NBego

<Transcript below>

Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast analyzes the DC Films from Warner Brothers studios. Our analysis is written by myself with Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, Sydney, and Nick Begovich. You can find us all on twitter and you can also follow the show @JLUPodcast. In this episode, we are going to break down Scene 3 of Justice League, which is the world-without-Superman music montage. We’ll talk about the song selection, the worldwide dynamics that echo the scope that was established for Superman in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, the personal dynamics involving Lois and Martha, and then we’ll finish with some miscellaneous thoughts and observations.

And to get into Scene 3, we can say that the transition is pretty smooth. The burglar in Scene 2 just commented on Superman being dead, and as Batman paused for just a moment, the burglar asked, “where does that leave us?” Then they cut to black and Scene 3 comes in as the visual answer to that question.

A black flag flies with the Justice League logo, serving as the title card for the film. And then the music starts in. The song is “Everybody knows” written by Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson, performed for the film by Sigrid. The song is a great choice, with fitting lyrics and a mood that matches the somber feeling of the scene. The artists also align with the fact that this scene has a worldwide scope. Even though there are the personal moments with Lois and Martha, there are also images from all around the globe, as we’ll talk about later, and the artists of the music are also international. Leonard Cohen of course was a legendary folk artist from Canada, and Sigrid is Norwegian.

And the lyrics work well, for the movie and in some sense on a meta-level. The first line is “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded,” and we see a portion of Superman’s military funeral, which we also saw in BvS. The dice being loaded is like things are stacked against you or the game was rigged, and that idea kind of applies to Superman’s struggle with the world and the fact that he didn’t really get a fair shake with the public; narratives were being twisted and perceptions manipulated by Lex Luthor.
“Everybody knows the good guys lost; everybody knows the fight was fixed.” This also refers to Superman and BvS where Lex was fixing things and the good guys lost in the sense that Superman died.
Some other lines are not as specifically about the ending of BvS but more so just about the general feeling of the world, both in the movie and in relation to current events in the real world. Running through them quickly: “The fight was fixed,” “The poor stay poor, the rich get rich. Everybody knows that the boat is leaking.” “Everybody got this broken feeling, like their father or their dog just died.” “Everybody knows it’s coming apart.” So there’s this general malaise and also a feeling of things deteriorating rather than getting better. The reference to a feeling like someone just died connects more specifically to the loss of Superman, and we also know that, in the movie, both Clark and Bruce dealt with the loss of a father. In fact, loss of parents and loss overall is one of the main themes in the movie that we’ve already identified. We’ll say a bit more about that later, but using the song is a very poetic way of initiating that theme. Whereas Scene 2 kind of clumsily initiated the theme about fear, Scene 3 very elegantly initiates the theme about dealing with loss.
There’s also a line, “Everybody knows that the captain lied,” which if we stretch for it we can connect to Batman as the captain of the soon-to-be Justice League, but he lied to Alfred and even himself in BvS, and that self-delusion is part of what led to this point. Another specific connection to a character is the line, “Everybody knows that you love me baby” which connects to Lois, who features prominently in the scene and was of course the love of Superman. There’s even a line about “long stem roses” and also an emphasis on the flowers around Superman’s monument in Heroes Park.
The song is also very fitting in that it shifts to a more violent kind of tone and instrumentation right when the scene shifts to the anti-Muslim violence on the city streets. And “Everybody knows that the plague is coming” is a nice foreshadowing of the parademons and the unity later in the movie. So overall, kudos on the song selection and the performance and production by the musicians involved.
Next we want to comment on the worldwide perspective in this scene. The filmmakers made a clear effort to establish this as a worldwide phenomena. Right from the start, they show Superman being mourned in the cities around the globe. The black S symbol, which is an homage to the black armband from the Death of Superman comic books, is seen in several locations, starting with his coffin in Arlington, but then it’s also displayed at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris and on the MahaNakhon tower in Bangkok, where the text in Thai on the black banner translates to “we will not forget you.” At the end of the scene, we’ll also see a black banner on the Tower bridge in London, which is a nice connection coming right from Wonder Woman this summer and it is used as a direct flow from Scene 3 into Wonder Woman’s entrance in Scene 4.
But there are a few things that this worldwide scope accomplishes. First of all, it reinforces the impression that Metropolis is not just an isolated fictional city but a city that fits along with the other major cities in the world. And it also places it in a somewhat realistic world because of the sentiments that we referenced earlier. Second, the worldwide scope previews the extent of the threat that will arise later in the film but it also previews the idea that different people from a variety of backgrounds can be unified. And third, and this is especially nice for fans of the full Dawn of Justice trilogy, this worldwide montage echoes similar scenes in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. In Man of Steel, when Zod was arriving and introducing himself to mankind, the filmmakers explicitly showed us people from various countries and continents. Then in BvS, there was a Superman montage that spanned Mexico and Russia and either the arctic or the antarctic. They continued to show that Superman’s impact was worldwide. So now it makes sense that the mourning for his death would also be worldwide.
A more specific connection, of course, is the location of Heroes park and the remains of the Superman monument. That is a key location for every film in the Dawn of Justice trilogy. It was the center of the Black Zero event and the start of Superman’s final battle with Zod, it was the site where Superman and Doomsday started their exterior battle, and here in Justice League it is marked with flowers and memorial offerings, still showing the scars of that battle with Doomsday. And later in the movie, it will be a key location yet again.
Now, it’s not just that the world is mourning. There is also decay and desperation, perhaps spurred on by the loss of a hero and protector. As Amanda Waller said in Suicide Squad, the world changed when Superman flew across the sky, and then it changed again when he didn’t. The world is in shambles and more dangerous now that Superman is gone. Not just because of Superman literally not being there to stop crime, but also the collective cultural spirit of cynicism, maybe because it shook their world that Superman, someone who they thought was more powerful than all of them, could actually be killed. If Superman can die, it reminds everyone of their mortality, and that might lead to some collective hopelessness.
This decay is shown most explicitly in the next scene with the London attack, and it’s later mentioned in dialogue by Martha and Lois, but it’s also shown here in Scene 3, most obviously with the anti-Muslim incident. This can be interpreted as a commentary on current events and anti-Muslim sentiments that are pretty strong in certain segments of society. The way that the scene was staged and shot also really emphasizes the anger and depicts people lashing out in violence. The fact that the police officers were cast to be noticeably smaller than the brutes they were apprehending gives the audience an implicit sense that the criminals are nearly overrunning the authorities and they have their hands full with Superman gone. This moment outside the Muslim-owned business also speaks to the question of how we choose to respond to challenging times. Some people respond with anger and violence. And if the loss of Superman represents a loss of hope, then we’re seeing here how some people respond unproductively to that loss. And as our listener @WonderWoeMan on twitter pointed out, Justice League from start to finish is basically a story about grappling with a reclamation of hope.  And Scene 3 here is showing a starting point for that arc, and it is picking up the reins of BvS in terms of having it be fairly realistic in tone. 

In many interpretations, both of the character and the current movies, Superman also represents America’s leadership in the world -- whether that be leadership just in the sense of military might as the country with the largest defense spending by far, or American leadership in terms of the shining city upon a hill, as Ronald Reagan described it. From this perspective, the death of Superman would represent the loss of American leadership, as has happened just in the last year or so specifically because of a retreat to isolationist positions and against globalism, trying to close its borders, and America withdrawing as a leader on things like climate change and nuclear anti-proliferation. Many political commentators here and abroad are writing about the loss of American leadership, and like the loss of Superman, it leads to the question of what will rise up in its place. On an international level, there’s Europe trying to claim the mantle of moral leadership and countries like China and Russia trying to leverage American decline for their own advantage. But what’s more relevant to Justice League is more of the emotional level -- where do we find hope and inspiration if America is no longer providing it like it used to? Or do we abandon hope and optimism and replace it instead with anger and hatred at outsiders or those we view as other? The movie answers this question by making the case that we need to stick together and find our strength in our common connections. And if we keep to the notion of Superman as representing America, then the movie is actually saying by the end that America is needed as an international leader but it should not be alone, it should be a collaborative partner with other nations.

There’s a lot more to be said about that, but we’ll just leave it there for now. Getting back to more in-story details, one thing we’ve said on this podcast in our BvS analysis was that at the very end of that film, there seemed to be a clear hint of inspiration. We’re thinking about Bruce’s final monologue and the candlelight vigil where people said that Superman’s monument was all around them. That inspiration found in Superman’s sacrifice, we said, was a big part of how Superman managed to defeat Lex even though Lex succeeded in killing him. Yes, Superman died, but he was not publicly defamed like Lex had hoped -- instead, Superman was a beacon of selflessness and inspiration. So in that sense, Lex’s plan backfired.

And the worldwide population is mourning Superman and honoring him, so in that sense Superman did die a hero. But it seems as though the general public didn’t all take up the mantle of being his monument and being heroes in their daily lives. It seems as though things have given way to negativity and depression. So were we wrong about that inspirational bit at the end of BvS? One explanation is that the inspirational part may have been short-lived. Maybe people intended to live as monuments to Superman’s ideals, but it’s part of human nature that we drift back into more modest habits. Furthermore, villains may have also been unleashed, and without Superman around, they were bolder and able to get away with more. It seems like one of the trailers mentioned how terrorism was on the rise with Superman dead, and that would fit with this idea. Overall, as Jor-El predicted in Man of Steel, Superman can set an example but this scene may be showing a bit of mankind stumbling and falling, but one day -- in fact it will be by the end of this movie -- they will join him in the sun.
Anyway, the public adoration of Superman clearly aligns with the fact that Superman won them over with his sacrifice at the end of BvS, and maybe they desired to live by his example but, realistically, that’s easier said than done.
Now let’s move into the more personal elements of the scene, specifically Lois Lane and Martha Kent. We see a figure moving toward the monument in Heroes park, in the dreary rain holding a black umbrella. There is an elegant shot from above that shows the black umbrella coming into the gap amongst the flowers around the monument. We also see an unnamed character laying flowers, with a jacket that has a Superman S on the back. And then eventually we see that the earlier person was indeed Lois Lane, Superman’s fiance and his world, with their love story having been profoundly developed over the first two films. She brings us to a very personal level of the theme of dealing with loss. Whereas some in the general public may deal with loss by showing anger or despair, Lois here is clearly showing sadness. Later on we will also learn that the loss has affected her productivity and her sense of purpose, but for now it’s more about the raw emotions of missing Clark at home and in general.
Stopping for a moment to empathize with Lois, there are a few things going on here. Yes, this is a woman who has lost her romantic partner, so that is relatable in a general sense. But more acutely, she has also lost her fiance before even getting to be with him as fiancees. It’s the loss of a loved one and also the loss of the future that you had envisioned with that person. And going even further, if we think about Lois’s role in Batman v Superman, we realize that Lois also hurts because she knows this was not just a loss for her but for the whole world. In BvS, Lois was very aware of what Superman meant to the world and that he was a beacon of hope that meant something. Her actions in BvS were to try and protect the reputation of Superman so that he could continue being a force for good, and she also tried to protect Clark from the slings and arrows of the public so that he would be able to continue. She was even willing to put her personal desires aside because she knew that the things he could do for the world were more important than just her. So she loved Clark but she also cared about what Superman represented in the world and what his future potential could be as a hero for years to come, and now, despite her efforts, Superman is lost. She was unable to protect Clark and Superman both. And this scene beautifully captures both of those elements, showing Lois at the public monument and also in the privacy of her bedroom.
And the other main personal connection in the scene is Martha Kent. Of course she represents the idea of a parent losing a child, which is emotionally powerful and known as one of the great tragedies in any parent’s life. We also get some more specific layers from the scene and from our knowledge of the the prior films. Losing Clark is especially painful for Martha because she never wanted to share her son with the world. She knew of the dangers of being Superman, and if she had her way, he would’ve just stayed close to her as her safe little boy. But she allowed him to have the choice, and he made the choice to sacrifice himself as Superman.
We see that she’s moving out of the Kent Farm. This is yet another important location in the Dawn of Justice trilogy. It was the serene and stable location for a transient Clark in Man of Steel, and the sacredness of home was violated when Zod was looking for the codex. Then in BvS, it was the place where Superman went when he was dealing with the weight of the world and needed to hear some comforting words from his mother. But now, having lost both Jonathan and Clark, with the gravestone shot reminding us of their resting places, Martha is letting the house go. She either doesn’t want to live there anymore, perhaps because of the painful memories or because there’s no one left who would be coming back to visit, or it’s possible that she can’t live there anymore. Either way, we see that it’s foreclosed by the bank and that’s a loss for her too. And she’s basically letting it go, similar to how Bruce let Wayne Manor go and then it deteriorated and deteriorated, as we saw in BvS. Luckily, both homesteads will be reclaimed by the end of Justice League, representing the return of hope and purpose.
So we see how hard the death is hitting Martha and Lois, and we see that it’s affecting their life situation, too, not just their emotional state. So that is something that will be followed up on in the movie. And like we said, this clearly establishes the theme of how we deal with loss. That question is something that can be traced in several different ways going forward.
To close out this scene, though, we just want to point out a few other things we noticed. First of all, for those who are interested in mapping out the geography of this universe, we see from the foreclosure sign that it’s listed by Comanche Realty and the town is Comanche, Kansas. As far as we can tell there’s no town called Comanche in Kansas, but there is a Comanche County in South Central Kansas, right on the Oklahoma border.
There’s also a moment in the scene where we see a newspaper vending machine and the headline -- “David Bowie, Superman, and Prince -- aliens called back to their home planets?” This reminds me of similar jokes in the Men in Black movies about celebrities being aliens, and there it was done for humor, but here it’s actually fairly realistic. If an actual alien like Superman were confirmed to exist, then there would be lots of speculation and stories about other people possibly being aliens. And people with special talents or quirks would be likely targets for conspiracy theories like this. So this sort of story is actually pretty plausible.
We also noticed on the newspaper that other headlines read, Citywide Crisis and Supergerm could end humanity. These headlines not only reinforce the feeling of general malaise and negativity but they are also reminiscent of DC comic book stories. Any use of the word “crisis” stands out to DC fans because that word is often used to refer to universe-changing events, and there have been many stories in the comics about supergerms or infections, including some even in recent years, perhaps inspired by the real world concerns about antiobitic-resistant bacteria. The only other headline we saw was a partial phrase at the top that said “waging war on the human race.” We don’t know what that is in full, but it’s kind of a foreshadowing of Steppenwolf.
The last little tidbit we wanted to mention was the homeless man on the street whose sign reads, “I tried.” We took this to be an homage to Watchmen, with the film being directed by Zack Snyder and it has the famous “End is nigh” guy. So this is sort of saying, I tried to tell you the end of the world was coming, and now it’s here. This may seem a bit premature because the end of the world doesn’t seem imminent yet, but with Superman gone and the loss of hope it may feel like it’s headed that way without anyone who can stop it. Some fans of Snyder’s have also said that this “I tried” could be like Snyder saying that he tried to make his Justice League film, but it was overridden by the studio executives. That doesn’t quite work out timing-wise, though, because this scene seems to have been filmed by Snyder as part of principal photography, so it was before the full WB takeover and reshoots. If you wanted to stretch for a meta-level meaning, however, you could try to say that it’s maybe Snyder’s comment to those who hated Batman v Superman. He tried to make something special and meaningful and was pushed out by certain segments of the audience and by WB from following his vision fully.
But anyway, that’s some pretty loose speculation. Looking across the scene overall, it had some nice emotional weight reinforced by the music and the smooth camera movements, plus the use of slow-motion. Thematically, this scene sets up the idea of dealing with loss, and in terms of scope, this is basically the only time that we see how the world has responded to Superman’s death. The only other real presence of ordinary people in the film is the Russian or Ukrainian family, and they don’t have a direct connection to Superman in the sense that they don’t grieve for him and they don’t call out for him, and it actually ends up being Flash who saves them.
With regard to the trilogy, this scene is very well connected, in our opinion, to both the style and the substance of the prior films in the series. As Deo Robinson, one of our listeners, wrote on YouTube: (quote) “the montage not only ties MOS and BVS together, but even SS. That film's entire premise was based on Superman's death and there was a brief montage of his funeral and the people's reactions. I also like how it made the world's void left by him very clear without words or exposition. Just people mourning and criminals getting bold.” (end quote)

End of Episode

That’s our analysis of Scene 3. As we mentioned before, the final shot in London flows nicely into Scene 4, and this world-without-Superman montage also forms a great bookend with Lois’s final monologue. Basically, this scene shows the sadness of a world that has lost hope, and her monologue describes the return of that hope. And here where we see the black S’s of mourning draped on skyscrapers, it will be replaced by the shirt-rip and Superman returning to the skies at the end of the film. Because of this parallelism, it might’ve been nice if this montage had actually been the opening scene of Justice League, but alas.

Next up in the movie is Wonder Woman’s opening scene, and speaking of Wonder Woman, we are actually going to turn our attention back over to that film by Patty Jenkins. This will allow us to focus on Wonder Woman around award season, when it has already been nominated for a Producers Guild award for best picture and the producers, including Zack Snyder, have already been recognized by the American Film Institute. Moreover, by spending the next few weeks on Wonder Woman, it will bring us that much closer to the digital release of Justice League for when we continue that analysis.
But thank you for listening, and as always, we thank some other great DC podcasts -- the Suicide Squadcast and Man of Steel Answers.

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