Saturday, May 19, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 28

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 28 (campsite with Chief) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Chief, played by Eugene Brave Rock
  • Napi
  • Shaking hands with Diana
  • What we deserve
  • Male vulnerabilities
  • Evening hate

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Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
Episode artwork by Matthew Rushing (@mattrushing02)

<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.

In this episode, we cover Scene 28 of Wonder Woman, which is when the Oddfellows meet up at a campsite with their final member, Chief Napi, played by Eugene Brave Rock. Brave Rock is from the Kainai Nation in Canada and his tribe is part of the Blackfoot Confederacy. He is also a stunt performer and actually did stunts for The Revenant before playing this role in Wonder Woman. I think it was really great to see him in this role because I grew up in a town near Canada that had about 40% of the students with Native American heritage, so I have several native friends and we had a lot of tribal culture in the area and in the school. They are often very under-represented in film and television, and when they do show up, they are sometimes quite stereotypical, especially in the past. But as we talked about a couple episodes back, Wonder Woman does a nice job of eventually pushing past the stereotypes, and that’s definitely true with Chief. By the end of the movie, we’ve seen some depth to his character and we’ve seen how people around him respect and respond positively to him, even if we don’t know all the details of his past interactions.

It’s nice to see this depth and nuance for the character, because back in Suicide Squad, although it was great to have Slipknot on the squad, played by Adam Beach, I think it’s fair to say that he wasn’t exactly a fully fleshed-out character.

But Chief is great, and most importantly for the Wonder Woman film, Diana will get to know Chief and form a personal connection with him. This relationship starts here in Scene 28 and it’s a nice way to build upon Diana’s prior scene. In Scene 26, Diana saw many people wounded and traumatized coming from the front, but she was just reacting to them on an emotional level. She didn’t know those people personally. With the Oddfellows, on the other hand, and with the people in Veld later, she will go even further because she will get to know them and so their joys and pains will be that much more amplified, and we see it all through the perspective of Diana, so it’s a really nice development and build in terms of the movie structure.

Getting into the scene, we open on Chief’s campfire, the only light on the screen. Chief says that they’re late, and Steve right away feeds into the American Indian stereotype, which we talked about for Scene 25. Steve says, “Cowboy sneak attack, Chief,” so this fits in with the stereotype of Cowboys and Indians, but as we mentioned before, even though the filmmakers start this way, they won’t stay there. In fact, even right away in this scene, we already start to see some hints of additional depth and nuance with the Chief’s character.

Right away we get a clear sense of a long and eventful history amongst the Oddfellows. Charlie calls him “big man” and gives Chief a hug, and then Sameer embraces him as well as says very sincerely, “Good to see you, my friend.” This feeds into the overarching idea that wars, although evil and treacherous in many ways, can also forge strong friendships. And with these greetings, such as Steve calling him "Pal,” it shows that they are friends no matter what is happening in the world around them. Steve doesn’t hug him like the other guys do, so there might be some undertones of tension, as revealed later with the land-stealing comment, but there is also clearly respect and camaraderie.

Charlie has a funny bit where he fans out his kilt over the fire, and then Chief notices that Diana is new among his friends. He extends his hand and speaks a greeting in his native language, introducing himself as Napi. We have a couple things to say here. First of all, this meeting is a bit different than prior ones. Earlier, with Etta, Sameer, and Charlie, it was pretty blatant that Diana did not shake their hands. She either didn’t know the custom, as might have been the case with Etta, or she purposefully chose not to shake, as with Sameer and Charlie, probably because she wasn’t too impressed with them at first glance. Another difference with those ones is that Steve introduced Diana to them, but here Chief introduces himself directly. And then Diana gladly shakes his hand, grasping around the wrist.

The other thing we wanted to say here was that Napi is an interesting name. As brought to our attention by @TheDCEUScene on Twitter, Napi means “old man” and is the name of a cultural hero of the Blackfoot tribe. According to Blackfoot legends, Napi is a demigod who was responsible for shaping much of the world and who would often help or teach the Blackfoot people important lessons. There is some speculation that Napi in the film may actually be this same legendary character, but that hasn’t been confirmed. Eugene Brave Rock also mentioned that the character is a blend of a couple characters from past comic books -- namely, Johnny Cloud and Apache Chief, the former appearing in many old war comics and the latter being most famous from the Super Friends cartoon.

Having met Diana, Napi asks Steve where he found her, and Steve says that she found him. This reverses the cultural expectation and the movie trope that the man is usually the one with agency, but here Steve admits that Diana has just as much agency, if not more, than Steve. But even though Steve is willing to admit this much in a vague sense, he cuts off Diana when she starts to explain more details about how she found him. Steve still has some masculine pride and doesn’t want all of his friends to know that he was completely helpless and had to be rescued on Themyscira. As in previous scenes, Steve is trying to maintain his masculinity, especially in front of Diana.

Steve unpacks some items which he tells Diana are British tea for the Germans, German beer for the British, and Edgar Rice Burroughs novels for both. Of course, the British are known for their tea, the Germans are known for their beer, and Edgar Rice Burroughs is an American fiction writer, so these three nationalities mentioned cover the three main countries in the movie. And Burroughs is most famous for the Tarzan series, published in 1914. So this is not only a historically accurate reference, but there are even some thematic connections between Tarzan and Jane and Steve and Diana, though in this case, it’s the woman who has been secluded away from Man’s World and the man who has found her and escorted her into society.

Charlie of course points out there are also guns, which is supposed to be his specialty. He’s excited to see Chief’s stock of guns, but as we’ll see in just a moment, he has a traumatic dream by the fire, and then later he never really uses the guns. So his reaction here when he sees the guns may not be entirely genuine, but may just be him playing along with how he is expected to react.

Diana gives a look of distaste at the sight and mention of guns, which makes sense as she has already seen their terrible power. Steve, Charlie, and Sameer then make a toast saying “May we get what we want, may we get what we need, but may we never get what we deserve.”  While they are inherently good men, they are self aware of their flaws and sometimes questionable ethics, and they acknowledge that they may deserve punishment for some of their deeds, perhaps not legally, but karmic retribution.

And this toast, although it reads in the moment like a simple funny line and a signal that these men share a bond of friendship, also ties directly into one of our main themes for the movie. We’ve previously phrased the theme this way: Mankind does not deserve to be saved, but we should save it anyway. And in this theme, deserve is a key word that comes up several times in the dialogue of the film. Here with the toast, the Oddfellows are becoming a personal instantiation of the theme. They are admitting that they have done some questionable things and probably deserve some punishment, but they are asking that their punishment be waived. And the movie’s message aligns with this, because the movie helps us see that they are much more than their flaws and any morally gray acts that they may have committed. They might technically deserve punishment, but like Diana, we should see their good qualities as well and we should try to love them despite their flaws. And so too should we do this for all of mankind.

Next, Diana hears some distant explosions and comments on the “strange thunder.” Napi points out that these are actually German 77’s. “Guns. Big Ones.” Napi goes on to call it “The evening hate”. This refers to the firing of artillery in the first few hours of darkness when enemy soldiers would patrol or move from the front lines. While Diana may not know this, for audiences it only adds to the hateful nature of Man as we continue to observe violent tactics being used, interrupting every would-be peaceful moment. The reference to the “hate” of the war also sets up a nice contrast to the “love” that Diana will use at the end to bring the war to a close.

As with Charlie and Sameer in their earlier introduction scene, we learn now that Napi too is in it for the money. Diana finds it unfortunate that Napi is an opportunist who scavenges on the suffering of others without taking a stand one way or another. Napi goes on to explain himself by talking about how he has nothing left because the last war took everything from his people.  That here, at least, in the haziness of war as a nomad for profit he has his freedom, which had been taken away by Steve Trevor’s people, the Americans. This is important because it provides a cultural connection for the Napi character as a Native American, it indicates that Mankind’s wars and violence extends beyond just the current war in Europe, and it helps to mold Diana’s understanding of the multifaceted nature of Man’s questionable morality, especially because as we mentioned in Scene 26 Diana has already sort of identified Steve as a good person. And now to learn his people encroached on the freedom and land of Napi’s people, it prompts the question of who of Man, if anyone, is truly moral.

By the way, the initial suggestion here is that Napi is a war profiteer but later we’ll see that he doesn’t seem to be a profit-monger at all. The soldiers are all genuinely happy to see him on the front, as if he is a warm and good friend, and after helping to save Veld, he won’t accept gifts from the townspeople. So with Chief, too, we have a case where things start out kind of stereotypical but then by the end will be a bit more complex than expected.

Next, another form of violence interrupts the night -- Charlie begins to react to nightmares he is having. He says “Don’t go.  Don’t go in. Boys, no!” We can infer that Charlie is not in fear for his own safety, but for others. These “boys" could be children he lost or young soldiers he was responsible for or tried to warn unsuccessfully during a mission. Diana, in her capacity for compassion, attempts to reassure Charlie. This can be viewed as female maternal instinct as we are prone and accustomed to associate with women’s traditional role, but as we have been observing in our analysis, compassion seems to be somewhat of a superpower of hers. She is able to care and empathize greater than anyone else. Perhaps it is because she is not yet calloused to humanity’s cruelty (like she may be leading up to her appearance in Batman v Superman), or she has not been forced yet into the imposition that Superman suffers on a daily basis of having to choose how and when to act, and to deal with the loss and consequences that result as we will see in Justice League.

Charlie does not yet know Diana very well, and he too has his masculine pride to maintain -- or some might call it the fragile male ego -- so he pushes Diana away and tries to pretend nothing is wrong and there is nothing to make a fuss about. He says so aggressively and angrily, which projects shame about the content of his nightmare, about his response to the nightmare which reflects a sign of weakness that alpha males are loath to demonstrate, and about Diana as a woman emasculating him, as Steve too was averse to earlier when hedging the story of their meeting. There is an irony to the focus on individual pride throughout the movie versus the dishonorable actions of men.

Charlie exclaims “God!” before storming off in a literary reminder that Diana is more than just a woman. It is also a reminder of the idea that God helps those who help themselves. If you do not accept God’s help, God can't help you. Napi explains to Diana that Charlie sees ghosts.  This confirms that Charlie is reliving some traumatic witnessing of death. These dead are haunting him, which makes them ghosts.

Although Charlie was unwilling to accept concern from Diana who is a woman and a God in her own right, Diana, by contrast, is accepting of Steve’s concern as a human Man when he consoles her and offers a blanket to keep her warm. Steve also dismisses Charlie’s aggression and apprehension saying he doesn't mean anything by it. We can consider not only that Charlie means no ill-will to Diana, but also that on the inside he does want to be vulnerable and be consoled. Perhaps he even is hoping for redemption. We can gather that his PTSD is likely a result of failing to protect, as it affects his ability to act in such circumstances later, which interestingly mirrors Diana’s own unwillingness to act for a century after failing to protect Steve Trevor in the final act of the film as if she will be suffering from her own PTSD just like Charlie.

The scene rounds out with the final sound of explosions ominously reminding us of the present danger of war and the cruelty of men. And Diana’s behavior suggests she is in over her head as she is still trying to understand Man, war, and everything in between in this foreign land.

End of Episode

So that’s our analysis for Scene 28 of Wonder Woman. And the sequel will be starting to film very soon, and I personally think it’s exciting to hear that the sequel will take place in the 1980s, helping to fill in some of that time gap between Wonder Woman and Man of Steel.

Our next episode should be out very soon and it will be a quick stop over in Justice League. But then we’ll be right back to Wonder Woman. Thanks for listening and if you’re looking for more DCEU content, we recommend the Suicide Squadcast, Man of Steel Answers, and DC Cinematic Minute.

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