Thursday, January 25, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 16

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Wonder Woman, Scene 16 (Diana and Steve on the sailboat).

  • Act 2 and blockbuster formulas
  • Lack of color
  • Diana's naivete about the war, lessons to be learned
  • Steve's appreciation of Diana's spirit
  • Sleeping arrangements and marriage
  • Pleasures of the flesh
  • Music
@JLUPodcast on twitter
Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd

<Transcript below>

Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast provides analysis of the DC Films produced by Warner Brothers. This episode was written by myself with Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and Sydney. You can find us on twitter @ottensam, @raveryn, @derbykid, and @wondersyd. You can also follow the show at @JLUPodcast.

For the last couple months we’ve been focusing on Justice League, but with this episode we want to shift back to Wonder Woman for awhile. The last Wonder Woman episode we had involved Diana leaving the island and leaving her mother, setting off on her own journey to try to save the world, like her mother once did, and also to learn her lessons about the nature of mankind. In this episode, we continue forward with Scene 16, which is the conversation between Diana and Steve Trevor on the sailboat.

In our view, this scene is the start of Act 2. Act 1 was the introduction of Diana and her original status quo, plus the establishment of the problem that needs to be solved -- namely, finding and stopping Ares and thus saving people from the destruction of a world war. It also sets up Diana’s personal character arc. We see in Act 1 that she has yet to step out from the protective care of her mother, and she has much that she needs to learn about the world of men. So as soon as Diana decides to leave the island, she sets things in motion toward Act 2 and now that she’s actually off the island, we are into that second act. And Act 2 will largely be about Diana starting her worldly education. She will continue getting to know Steve on this boat ride, and then when she gets to London, she learns more about the society of Man’s World. Act 2 will also push forward the main threat and it will introduce us to the main characters who we’ll be following through to the end of the film.
Some may argue that Act 2 doesn’t actually begin until the arrival in London, and that’s an acceptable interpretation, but we think that even before she gets to London, she has already left Themyscira and thus entered Man’s World.

Now, the idea of act structure is a big idea about pretty much all storytelling, but there’s also more specific formulas for screenwriting. One popular book is “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (no relation to Zack Snyder) -- it lays out a pretty specific formula for blockbuster movie scripts. For example, it talks about using the first 10-12 minutes of a film to establish a status quo, endear us to a main character or characters, and explicitly state a lesson to be learned. Then the book says that right about 12-to-15 minutes in, there should be a big inciting incident that upsets the status quo and pushes the character forward into the main thrust of the plot. We mentioned this formula back in Scene 7 when, at the 15-minute mark, Steve Trevor’s plane crashed in front of Diana.

With regard to Scene 16 now, we again see Blake Snyder’s template in action as the start of the “fun and games” portion of the script takes off. “Fun and games” is where the so-called “promise of the premise” plays out. For example, in Jurassic World, the promise of the premise is that you’re going to see something go wrong at the park and you’re going to see some action scenes where people have to escape ferocious dinosaurs. In Kong: Skull Island, the promise of the premise is that Kong is going to wreak some havoc on the island before there’s a potentially sensitive moment at the end. In the case of Wonder Woman, the promise of the premise is that we’re going to see a woman who knows nothing about Man’s World, and so she’ll be surprised and perplexed by the things that go on here. And the men should be surprised and impressed – or you might say frightened and aroused – by the super-powered capabilities she has. These are the “fun and games” that the audience is expecting and that the writers can creatively work into scenes throughout the middle sections of the movie. We actually already had a little bit of this with Diana and Steve’s conversation in the infirmary, but now in Act 2 it will go into full gear. In Scene 16 here, it’s a humorous conversation between her and someone from a different world than her. And the fun and games center on discussions of marriage and sex. Future fun and games will include her being out of place in the streets of London, her going clothes shopping, her inappropriate behavior in the halls of power, and her meeting the Oddfellows.

With regard to the production of Scene 16, it was filmed in a studio. They built a life-sized version of the boat and then had it surrounded by green screen to add in the water in post-production. We should say, though, that the arrival in London was real. They got to do several takes going right up to Tower Bridge, they just had to replace some of the anachronistic buildings and recolor the bridge a bit to be accurate to the 1918 era.

We also want to comment on the overall look of the scene. It’s set at night and is quite dark just in terms of lighting. So there’s very little color that comes through. This accomplishes a few important things. First of all, it washes away the color of Themyscira and so is basically a visual reset for the audience as we prepare to enter Man’s World. And second, the lack of color and scenery really focuses our attention on the two characters and their interactions. We basically aren’t distracted by anything else and we can just focus on their dialogue and their body language together. It draws us in to those characters and their developing rapport.

Now, at the beginning of the scene, Diana is still looking back at her home as they drift further and further away. This is well acted by Gal Gadot as she projects the sadness at leaving home, even though she is excited and determined to be setting out. In a way, one could also view her experience as an immigrant story, going along with the ultimate immigrant story that was depicted for Superman in Man of Steel and especially BvS.

So Diana starts the scene looking back, almost matching the eye line of Hippolyta who was looking out at her in the previous shot. And then she turns and starts her conversation with Steve. She naively asks how long before they reach the war, not realizing the magnitude of the conflict, and thinking about it as a specific destination rather than a complex and multi-faceted world event. When Steve says how expansive it is, she then specifies that they should go where the fighting is the most intense, because that’s where she’ll find Ares. So this shows how they are currently thinking about things quite differently – Steve has actively been a part of the war and knows the dynamics from a human perspective, but Diana is focusing on Ares and she views the war from an Olympian perspective, as an outgrowth of Ares’ influence.

Steve scoffs at Diana’s desire to confront Ares and probably thinks she’s both na├»ve and delusional. But he tries to be a little bit careful in how he approaches the topic. He asks, “Ares, as in the god of war?” He’s obviously skeptical, but he just asks her for some clarification.

She doesn’t seem to notice his disbelief and responds matter-of-factly that Ares is the responsibility of the Amazons, and that only an Amazon can kill him, with the godkiller sword. She’s mistaken here because she doesn’t yet realize that she’s not just any Amazon, she is a demigod and that will be key later. But her pulling out the sword is a quick reminder of an important plot point and we see Steve, visibly concerned that Diana thinks a simple sword will be enough to stop the Great War. Remember, he has seen firsthand the terrible weapons and carnage of this war, and so a sword obviously seems well short of the task.

Steve clearly recognizes Diana’s naivete. When he touches his face and looks away, it’s a clear sign that he is kind of embarrassed at what she’d been saying, though she doesn’t even realize that it comes across that way. He again tries to be kind of diplomatic in how he approaches this conversation, and he says that he appreciates her “spirit,” but then he tries to offer some insight into the complexity of the situation, saying the War is a great big mess and there’s not a whole lot they can do about it as individuals. But they can try to get to the “men who can.” Diana doesn’t acquiesce to his view of things. She asserts that she is the man who can do something about it. Steve again looks away.

Diana continues and says that once Ares is defeated, the Germans will be free of his influence and be good people again, and the world will be better. Note that she only thinks the Germans are under the influence of Ares – so the Germans are the bad guys, and the allied side are the good guys. And overall, this is where we clearly see Diana’s naivete laid out – she thinks that ending war is as simple as killing the big bad guy. This exact sentiment leads to the lessons that Diana will have to learn before the end of the movie, and it does play out later when Steve stops her from confronting Luddendorf at the party, after she finally does kill Luddendorf, and then at the end with her actual fight against Ares. We’ll talk about this more later, but it is potentially unclear by the end. When a person says that stopping war or conflict is as simple as killing the big bad guy, then obviously they need to learn the lesson that it’s not as simple as that. That many forces and many people are to blame for large-scale conflicts. Diana does seem to learn this lesson after she kills Luddendorf, and she has the passionate conversation with Steve near the airfield. But then there’s kind of a mixed message at the very end, because Diana eventually kills the real Ares, and it does seem to release the Germans – at least the ones in the immediate vicinity. Right after that, the war is over and we see the happy armistice celebration. So doesn’t this send the message that actually killing the big bad guy can solve the problem, as long as you kill the right bad guy? That would go against the lesson that Diana was supposed to learn.

This is a legitimate critique, but one where we think Batman v Superman can come in to save the day, per usual. In Batman v Superman, we see that Diana’s lessons about the nature of mankind did not end with the death of Ares. She also saw what happened after World War 1. Even with Ares out of the way, there continued to be a century of horrors, including World War 2, which was even more brutal and evil than World War 1, with the holocaust and the emergence of nuclear weapons, and then there was the Cold War and human rights violations and famine and terrorism and a deteriorating environment and so forth, right up to the modern day. So taking this long view, Diana certainly learned her lesson that mankind is much more complex than just a single bad guy, and there is more blame to go around. In some ways, we are all complicit in the evils of society.

But anyway, all of this that comes later is marked pretty clearly here by Diana saying that the war will be over once she kills Ares. And because she finishes her sentiment with the idea that the “world will be better,” this is actually a nice glimmer of optimism in what must’ve been a very rough few years for Steve. It’s a comforting thought to know that people still have hope in the future and that it might all be better one day. Steve seems genuinely touched by her positivity and passion, and he smiles and decides to let her have the point. He says, “Great,” and she says, “You’ll see,” which comes across to the audience as dramatic irony because we are pretty confident that she’s actually the one who will see. And going back to our point about the potential inconsistency of the Luddendorf death and the Ares death, maybe that’s actually a nice feature of the movie – that Diana and Steve both actually end up being right, in a sense. Steve is right when the war continues after Luddendorf’s death, but Diana is right, at least temporarily, in the joy that returns after she kills Ares.

With respect to Steve’s quiet smile toward Diana here, we also want to mark it because it shows that he actually can come to appreciate her perspective on the world. He actually does admire her spirit, and moments like this will culminate in his parting words to her when he says that he can save today, but she can save the world. Another specific moment like this where we silently see him being thrilled with how pure and optimistic she can be is in Scene 26 when she tastes the ice cream cone, and there’s yet another one in Veld when she admires the snowfall.

Next, the conversation turns to the more immediate situation. We cut forward in time a bit and see Steve arranging an area near the front of the boat for Diana to sleep. This is a considerate thing for him to do, but one little nitpick I have about the scene is that Diana didn’t seem to be very helpful on the boat. Steve seemed to do all the sailing work and he also set up the bedding. The Amazons would not have any of the old-world ways of doing things in terms of men being expected to do the physical labor or the mechanical operations. And if the Amazons had this sailboat, then they must know some things about sailing, and the way Diana talked to Steve about his sailing skills in the last scene made it seem like she knew how to sail herself. So it seems like she could’ve helped out on the boat. But maybe, since the Amazons can’t leave the island, they don’t actually sail very much, and so perhaps Diana is basically a novice herself and thought it was better to let Steve do it. But in terms of the female empowerment angle, I thought it would’ve been better if she was proactive here, too, like she is in other parts of the movie, not waiting for Steve.

With a makeshift bed made, Diana starts to lay down and Steve moves over to the side of the boat. This leads to their banter about sleeping arrangements. It’s a funny exchange and it shows some of the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, and the topic is memorable and appropriate because it connects with the situation, as opposed to other banter that might seem out of nowhere, like about brunch or something like that. But here it’s kind of an endearing way to mark their first night together, where they’re trying to strike the right balance between respecting each other’s space, figuring out each other’s customs, and not being needlessly separated from one another.

This exchange also has a nice dynamic where Diana is kind of like, “What’s the big deal?” This isn’t the first time that she will be oblivious to social norms that were just accepted at the time, and by her being from a different culture, it’s an interesting way to shine a light on those norms, revealing how they are just social contrivances.

Diana also refers to the “average man” when she asks, “does the average man not sleep?” This connects back to the infirmary conversation, and will also connect forward when Steve says that he’s actually not average. As a spy he has to have a certain amount of “vigor.” These are not only moments of Diana getting to know Steve, but they are also indicating that Diana is getting to know Steve as a representative of mankind more broadly. And by the end of the film, her love for Steve will extend out to all of mankind, warts and all.

Diana saying, “you don’t sleep with women,” comes out in a way that alludes to sex because that is a phrasing people use to refer to sex. This foreshadows a later shift in the conversation, but when it’s first brought up Steve quickly becomes defensive as if to quash any notion he might prefer sleeping with men. This makes sense given the timeframe of the movie, when men were more likely to be offended by the suggestion that they were gay, and it also makes sense given their situation, because we already know that Steve has some level of attraction to Diana, right from his very first “wow” when he woke up on the beach, so Steve wants Diana to know that he’s straight because he probably wants to keep open the possibility that at some point in the future they might have a romantic interest in one another.

Steve explains in a fumbling way that he does sleep with women, but outside the confines of marriage, it’s not polite to assume. Now, technically speaking, he did assume – he assumed Diana would not want to sleep beside him. He could’ve asked her how she would prefer the sleeping arrangements.  Of course, in the world of man, given the nature of the two genders and the general bias (whether accurate or not) that Men always try to take advantage of women, it would be considered natural and noble for the Man to presume the woman would want to sleep alone. So this scenario is a nice commentary on gender as it applies not only to sleeping arrangements, but pretty much anything associated with traditional gender roles.

The dialogue also provides a nice segue to the next topic, which is marriage. Diana asks about marriage, like she has no idea what it means. This brings up a minor issue that comes up a few times in the movie -- if Diana is fluent in English, then how can she have no idea about the concept or definition of very important words like marriage? It’s an issue that I don’t mind overlooking, because I know the filmmakers had to do it to have moments like this where Diana can have some cute and funny moments learning about Man’s World. And in this particular instance, it also might be that Diana is just asking Steve about marriage because she wants to hear from him -- not because she is totally ignorant on the subject.

Steve says that marriage involves two people loving and cherishing each other til death. And Diana asks if this really happens, with her smile and optimism visible, and then Steve responds, “Not very often, no.” It’s another funny moment, in this case because of the juxtaposition between the pure idea of marriage and the messiness that is often the reality. This is not only a funny line of dialogue, but it’s also an encapsulation of the overall story where Diana leaves the idealistic setting of Themyscira and sees the ugliness of the real world. But in the end, she still sees the value and potential in them, and she chooses to love anyway. Just like people still commit themselves to marriage, even having seen some of the pain and turmoil of failed marriages in the past.

Now, to clarify, Steve’s reference to failed marriages does not just refer to divorce. The divorce rate, after all, was fairly low in the 19-teens -- less than 20% -- because religious beliefs and social pressure often compelled people to stay in marriages, even ones that were loveless or abusive. So when Steve said “not very often,” he was really just saying that the loving, honoring, or cherishing often burned out, or maybe was never there in the first place.

This idea of love lasting long term, or not, ends up relating directly to Diana and Steve’s own story. First of all, it’s a foreshadowing of Steve’s death because the two of them will fall in love and that love actually will continue on until his death parts them. Even a hundred years after his death, Diana still holds onto that love, so in that sense it’s even stronger than some marriages. Second, one could argue that Diana’s and Steve’s relationship was so strong and loving because it was fleeting, and perhaps the passing of time may have jaded it, especially because Steve would’ve been aging while Diana was not. So maybe the short but deep love affair made it an especially pure relationship. But one could also argue that people, especially in time of war, rush into relationships with people who aren’t right for them. Of course all of this is speculation. And it’s also completely possible that, if he had lived, Steve and Diana could have been right for each other, and their relationship could have been magical for years to come. And there are many stories in the comic books about their relationship developing and sustaining over time.

Within the context of Scene 16, this is Steve commenting from his jaded view of life and his view of marriage from the perspective of a single person who lives a largely lonely lifestyle and who has seen the horrors of the world. Diana follows up by asking why people get married. And Steve answers, “I have no idea.” He says this lightly, but it betrays that loneliness beneath the surface. It’s very similar to a line that he’ll have later when they’re dancing in Veld, where again the idea of marriage comes up. Diana is asking what people will do when there’s no more fighting. And after some evasive joking, Steve eventually says that people might get married, have babies, and grow old together. Then Diana asks, “What’s it like?” And Steve says the same line, “I have no idea.” So these are subtle but very revealing moments for Steve’s character and his past isolation, and the parallel writing sets up these two scenes -- the sailboat and the dancing in Veld as echoes of one another.

“I have no idea” also shows that there are things that Steve needs to learn in life, too -- new experiences that he hasn’t had yet -- so it’s not just Diana who will be learning and growing as a character throughout this movie.

Next, Diana begins to summarize what Steve has said -- that he can’t sleep with her unless they’re married, but Steve cuts her off and says he can come over there if that’s what she wants. Steve may be jumping at the opportunity to sleep next to her both in his wish to be close to her, and his desire to escape the awkward conversation. It’s yet another funny beat and it marks the shift into the final sequence of the scene.

And by the way, this scene ends up running for about 4 and a half minutes, which is pretty lengthy for a superhero movie and a scene that is all dialogue with no actual action or events that push the plot forward. But it does push the characters forward, and it builds some nice chemistry that pays off later, so it is nice that Patty Jenkins allowed this scene to really settle in and flow without being rushed. Kudos to Allan Heinberg on the script, too.

After Steve settles in next to her and following a brief pause, Steve breaks the silence by talking a bit about himself. He says he’s not average, and that in his line of work, he’s expected to have a certain amount of vigor. So now he has not only revealed a bit of loneliness, guarded by humor, but he’s also giving a hint that he feels this pressure and an expectation that he perform. But then he shifts the focus away from himself and asks if Diana has ever met a man before. What about her father?

Diana summarizes her clay origin story, which we already heard earlier from Hippolyta. As we covered before, this version of her origin matches with the original origin in the comic books, and the origin that was canon for decades until the New 52 in 2011 introduced a demigod angle, with Zeus being Diana’s father.

Steve isn’t sure if he should believe it given Diana’s strange ways and people, and she had already talked about Ares as the cause of the Great War, and now she’s bringing in Zeus, too, which would sound to him just like the Greek mythology sounds to us today. So he pauses and thinks about it, and then merely says “well that’s neat” in a polite way.  And we the audience get a chuckle from it -- it was a nice handling of some of the far-fetched comic book origin stories, bringing them into modern cinema and honoring them while also kind of recognizing that they are a bit fantastical.
From the clay origin story, it transitions to Steve saying that where he comes from, “babies are made differently.” This is yet another good transition in the dialogue, all of which help this scene have a nice natural flow to the conversation, while still hitting all the beats that they wanted to hit. This topic of procreation is one that might be reasonable for Steve to assume Diana doesn’t know about, because she didn’t know about marriage and she comes from an island that is all women and has no children. But Diana firmly states that she does “know all about that.” So she’s making clear that she is a well-read and intelligent woman, and remember she speaks hundreds of languages, so one should not assume that she is ignorant just because she has some naive views about Ares and the nature of mankind. And this is something that Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins talked about a lot. Although Diana had to exude a sort of simple innocence, and she obviously had to be unaware and perplexed by some of the things in Man’s World, they had to make sure that Diana didn’t come across as stupid. I think they pulled off that balance in this scene, and Diana’s position was helped out by her getting the final word in the conversation.
Steve coyly brings up sex for pleasure, not just for procreation. And Diana cites the 12 volumes of Clio’s treatise on bodily pleasure. In case you’re curious, we couldn’t find any actual record of a Clio or these volumes on pleasure. They were probably made up for the purposes of this scene. But there was a character from DC Comics named Clio. She’s an Amazon who first appeared in 1989, according to the DC Database.  

Steve says, “All 12, huh,” trying to go with the flow and pretend like he was also aware of them -- trying to stay with her in this personal mini-showdown. He continues flirting, “Did you bring any of those with you?” She says he wouldn’t enjoy them, and this leads to Diana’s great closing line, “They came to the conclusion that men are essential for procreation, but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.” This consistently got strong laughs in theaters, a testament to the good writing and the solid delivery by Gadot, punctuated by her rolling over away from Steve. It’s a great moment of female empowerment that is very fitting for a Wonder Woman film. And Steve feels a little rejected as Diana turns to go to sleep, but he’ll get over it -- and the audience obviously knows that this will not be the end of their sexual tension. We are left anticipating the next time that they will get to continue this flirtation.

And we should mention that the music is subtle but really effective here, especially in the latter part of the scene. The strings are pretty warm and smooth underneath the surface. And at the very end, the Diana and Steve love theme glides in over top. It’s the descending notes, C-B-A---G. It’s simple yet very pretty, and it’s recognizable which works really well for when it comes back at key moments later in the film, like the night in Veld, and at the very end when Diana is remembering her lost love.
The smooth, pretty music and Diana and Steve saying good night to one another also contrasts well with the very next scene, which is General Luddendorf and his tired men.

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