Sunday, July 15, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 43

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 43 (Diana and Steve's dialogue after Ludendorff was killed) from Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Looking back - "What are you?" and Ludendorff's straight badness
  • Diana is surprised the war is still going
  • Steve talks about mankind
  • Deserve and Believe
  • Steve asks for help
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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 from Warner Brothers Pictures. This episode was written by myself with Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and Sydney. You can find us on twitter individually and you can follow the show @JLUPodcast.

In this episode, we cover Scene 43 of Wonder Woman, which is the scene immediately following her defeat of Ludendorff where she and Steve talk about warfare and mankind.

But before we get into Scene 43, we have a couple loose ends that we want to tie up from before. In the last scene, when Wonder Woman was fighting Ludendorff, we forgot to mention something that’s pretty obvious but at least worth acknowledging as some connective across the cinematic universe. In that last scene, Wonder Woman blocks a bullet right back into Ludendorff’s pistol, and in response, Ludendorff is shocked and says, “What are you?” This line is echoed in Justice League, in Wonder Woman’s introduction scene. In that scene, she has also just impressively deflected some bullets and another villain is completely surprised by her abilities. And that terrorist also says, “What are you?” So in both scenes, the men recognize that she’s not human -- but they kind of say it in a derogatory way, like she’s a freak. When in reality, yes, she’s not human, but it’s because she’s part human, part god. She’s actually well above them.

It’s also worth noting her retorts. In Wonder Woman, Diana said, “You will soon find out.” This made sense because the fight was about to start, so that’s a good lead-in line. In Justice League, Diana responds, “A believer.” I take this to mean that she’s a believer in love, rather than the holy fear that the terrorist was talking about, because the Justice League scene takes place after she chooses love in the final battle with Ares and after she rededicates herself to that mission at the very end of the Wonder Woman film, which is the last time we saw her before Scene 4 in the Justice League film. It’s also possible, however, that her line, “A believer,” means that she still believes in the heroes and in a positive future despite the loss of Superman. That would also make sense as a direct response to Scene 3 in Justice League, which shows the despair at Superman’s absence.

So we just wanted to mention that “What are you” line with respect to Diana. The other thing we wanted to touch on before we move past General Ludendorff is that, yes, he was killed in a case of mistaken identity. But he was also basically killed and finished his role in the movie as a bad guy -- he started right away in his first scene as a clear villain, stayed a villain throughout the movie, he even had a couple moments where he was like an over-the-top villain, and then he died a villain. There were never any clear moral complications or shades of gray with his character. Now in a superhero movie, it is certainly acceptable to have an uncomplicated villain, but one could critique Wonder Woman specifically for this choice because there’s an explicit theme in this film about men having both the good and the bad inside themselves. We see that even the people who Diana thought were the good guys are also contributors to why the war started in the first place and why it continues. Wouldn’t it have been an even better development of the theme if they would’ve also shown the war-happy General Ludendorff having somewhat of a light side, or some hint of redeemability? That would’ve really driven home the point that it’s never just black and white, good and evil, it’s about choices and the complexity of humanity.

So that was just something we wanted to bring up now that Ludendorff’s part in the movie is complete. But moving on from Ludendorff, we go into Scene 43 with Diana looking up toward the sky, like she did in BvS, like she did on the cliff on Themyscira, and like she does at the very end of the film.  Each time she does this, it’s as if she is praying to the gods of old. Perhaps she’s looking for answers. On Themyscira she was searching for meaning for herself, her powers, and her purpose. Why was she different? What was outside of the island?  At the end of the film she is similarly looking for meaning, for Steve’s death, and for what her new place would and should be in this new world she was now a part of. Additionally, these looks up are also filled with reverence and contemplation -- after the death of Superman, after Steve’s death, and after completing her mission in killing who she thought to be Ares. They are nice cinematic moments because it’s a memorable physical move and they are always at important points in Diana’s journey and they are filled with lots of unspoken meaning.

Here after Ludendorff’s death, she is relieved and she is maybe expecting some sort of closure now that she was successful in her mission. But as she’s looking up she hears the soldiers shouting and continuing to load the plane with the poison gas, as if nothing had changed and their minds were in the same state as before. Diana had assumed, naively, that like a flick of a switch everyone would suddenly snap out of their war-pursuant trance. She still has some lessons to learn before the film concludes.

The violins swell to identify a rising tension, followed by the low horns indicating the dramatic realization that nothing has changed. She looks at Ludendorff’s impaled body and back at the soldiers with a confused look on her face, unable to understand why killing Ares did not stop the war. She still thinks that he was the root cause of all the destruction and death that she was witnessing in Man’s World.

Steve is once again rushing to Diana’s side. He brandishes his weapon, ready to defend himself, but more importantly ready to protect Diana. When he sees Diana is no longer in danger, he lowers the gun. And upon seeing Steve, Diana confesses to him that she killed Ludendorff. Because she did what she set out to do, and because her attention is now shifting toward the remaining state of the war, she has seemingly moved beyond their conflict at the Gala, which makes sense. The issue that was at the root of their disagreement is past.

She conveys to Steve her confusion by saying “I killed him but nothing stopped. You kill the God of War you stop the war”. This line also functions to make sure the audience is very clear on what was going through her mind. And by the way, this clarity through dialogue will be a hallmark of the scene. For example, she goes on to say about three more times that the soldiers should stop because Ares is dead now.

But Steve, heroically focused on saving lives and with his mission not yet complete, immediately tells Diana they have to stop the gas. Diana is still struggling to understand what went wrong with her own logic. She looks to Steve for answers, but she as a demigod doesn’t know the answers and expects too much from Steve as a human to have them.  However, he at least tries to broaden Diana’s understanding of Man’s world.

So in response to the underlying question about why the war hasn’t stopped -- which is really a broader question that we can extrapolate from, about why are there wars at all in our world -- Steve tells Diana that maybe it’s them.  “Maybe people aren’t always good. Ares or no Ares, maybe it’s just who they are.” And at first Diana is stubborn and refuses to believe that to be true, that Man could be party to such horrendous acts and cruel treatment as she’s seen. This would seem to be a terrible and definitive indictment of mankind, which is in fact what the entire world kind of felt after seeing World War 1 and then even more so with World War 2. It was a big wake-up call for civilization to see that collectively we are actually capable of some horrendous things, and we had to face that maybe this was a part of ourselves.

The other thing for Diana that makes this hard to swallow is that if it’s men in general who are responsible for the war, then that’s a much more difficult problem to solve. Killing one god or one general, though difficult, is a much more tangible solution than trying to reshape the thoughts and behaviors of people in general. So Diana initially refuses Steve’s explanation, remembering the death of children and the dishonorable fighting tactics she had witnessed. She says “it cannot be them”, but then she remembers even further back to her mother, and Diana brings back the parting words -- that the world of men do not deserve her.

So Diana is no longer the naive daughter leaving the island -- she has now seen much of the world and realized the wisdom and perspective of her mother. But she has not reached full maturity yet because once again she tries to make sense of things by implementing a binary rationalization clinging to her mother’s words by insisting Man does not deserve her or her help.  But this is a shallow way of looking at a problem or situation. As Steve tries to explain to her, it’s not about deserve but about what you believe. As people of free will on this world we are all responsible for our own actions, and therefore we are all to blame for the problems of the world.  Even those who are not participating in the evil deeds can be complicit to it through their inaction. That the world of Man has allowed themselves to be governed and ruled by those who would bring them harm is in some ways their own doing. But if you believe that the war should stop, that some injustice should be corrected, then it is up to you to do something about it, not to wait for someone else to speak out and act. And that is what Steve asks Diana to do -- to help him save thousands more by standing up and being the change to end the war. Because as Bruce Wayne tells Diana at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, men are still good.  Steve Trevor and Superman both acted because they believed in the good in people, not because they thought they deserved to be saved. The idea of the power in believing in something extends to Diana’s battle with Ares in which her belief in love allows her to tap into her inner godly strength.

And by the way, these words -- deserve and believe -- are two of the most important words in the movie, and they’ve been set up before this and will pay off at the end. Not only did Hippolyta talk about when men do and do not deserve, but the Oddfellows also toasted to not getting what they deserve, and Ares will use the notion of deserve to try to corrupt Diana, too. In our prior analysis, we’ve distilled this down to the theme that Mankind does not deserve saving, but we should save it anyway. And Steve explicitly voices this theme here -- he agrees with Diana that maybe men don’t deserve to be saved, but then he asks her to still come with him to try to stop the war and save them anyway. And although she isn’t ready to accept this position yet, she will by the end of the movie enact this theme.

With regard to believe, Steve sets it up very clearly here. He says it’s not about what they deserve but what you believe. And he says “if you believe the war should stop” -- he even says, “if you believe in me.” And he asks her to come with him, and then he says he has to go. This is not only another foreshadowing of his death, but he’s explicitly setting up Diana’s final choice at the end when she does choose belief over deservedness. She takes it one step further, though, and expresses her belief in love in general, not just in stopping this war specifically, and although Steve is part of that love, she talks about love in an overarching sense, not just for one person.

So we really like how these words - deserve and believe - were played out as key words in the film, though a minor criticism is that some of the dialogue here is a bit too explicit for our tastes, kind of hitting us over the head with the messages. It’s not only Diana repeating her perspective several times, but it’s also Steve literally saying that he wishes it were as easy as having one bad guy to blame, but it’s not. For us, we really enjoy drawing those implications ourselves from the situations and from subtle suggestions, although yes we understand that it really is more inclusive and crowd-pleasing to lay it out explicitly in dialogue.

Anyway, Steve is here, having helped Diana work toward her goal throughout the film, with just a few instances there were he expressed doubt about what she was doing, but mostly he was a solid supporter to her. And now it’s turned around where he is asking Diana for help, but she refuses. So for a moment here, she is exhibiting the behavior that allows evil to thrive, by not acting to stop it. In that sense, although she is a god, here she is being no better than Man.  Steve parts ways with her to pursue his own mission.  He calls the guys over and Sameer promptly asks where Diana is.  And although his question may have been out of concern for her, he quickly becomes concerned for them when he freaks out a bit after learning from Steve that Diana would not be joining them.

Charlie continues to use his scope to help the group, and he identifies the gas bombs.  Sameer says he has a plan on how to get in so that they can try to stop the attack. This sets up the next part of their action in the finale. And the gang are now acting selflessly to help people after learning from Diana’s example.  And yet now it is Diana who is abandoning those in need of help.
End of Episode
That’s our analysis of Scene 43 of Wonder Woman. Next up we’ll have another scripted episode in which Sir Patrick reveals himself to Diana and the guys sees the plane being loaded.

To close, we thank the Suicide Squadcast for covering the latest DC news and Man of Steel Answers for in-depth DCEU analysis. And of course thanks to all of you for listening, and we invite you to check out the reward packages we have available at our Patreon page at where we have giveaways and bonus content.

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