Sunday, August 16, 2020

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Man of Steel Scene 9

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 9 (Lara's goodbye) of Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder.

  • Symbol of hope
  • Krypton's destruction and columns of fire
  • Lara's poise and call for a better world
  • Music and destruction juxtaposition
  • Armor

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<Transcript below>

Welcome, fans of Man of Steel, to the Justice League Universe Podcast where we analyze the DC Films produced by Warner Brothers studios. You can follow the show on twitter @JLUPodcast. My name is Sam. In this episode, we are focusing on the destruction of Krypton and Lara’s goodbye, which is the final scene in the Kryptonian prologue of Man of Steel.

The scene begins with a closeup of the House of El emblem on Jor-El’s battle armor: a symbol of hope to contrast with the hopeless abyss of the Phantom Zone and the hopeless fate of Krypton. It’s a reminder that hope is most important and most meaningful in times of struggle and destruction, and hope can extend beyond one person’s fate. Although Lara’s situation is doomed, she still has the hope that travels onward with her son. Lara reaches out to the symbol, both in mourning for her husband and in hoping that the last son of the House of El, her son, will be safe. As the wardrobe closes and she walks away, we see the camera shake and debris fall from above, indicating to us the planet has already begun collapsing. And so this was also Lara spending her last moments being with the ones she loves in spirit, a vestige that Kryptonian society no longer seems to embrace.

And by the way, although this is edited very closely together with Kal-El’s pod launching and the sentencing of Zod to the phantom zone, we don’t necessarily know exactly how much time passed between each of those events. But what was important for us was to see Kal-El and Zod’s crew all making it off the planet before its destruction, setting up two very different paths forward for how Krypton might survive.

Continuing in the scene, Lara walks toward the window with full view of Krypton’s destruction as pillars of fire shoot up from the ground. This visual may have been meant to have a parallel in a future film in the timeline when Darkseid takes over Earth and reshapes it into Apokolips whose most prominent feature are fiery pillars shooting out from the ground. As Lara walks toward the fire, Kelor asks Lara if she should seek refuge, acknowledging the local destruction but not knowledgeable about the scope of the destruction. Lara tells Kelor there is no refuge, that Jor-El was right--this is the end. The camera zooms in on the destruction from over Lara’s shoulder providing a great personalization of Krypton’s destruction through Lara’s perspective. Lesser fantasy or action films will often have big destructive moments but will lack that emotional punch that comes from having an emotive person in the scene. Here Lara amplifies that emotion and the impact on the audience; later it will be Perry and Jenny Jurwich in Metropolis; and in BvS it will be Jack and Bruce Wayne in Metropolis.

As for Lara, rather than cowering or weeping over Jor-El’s death or her own, Lara remains stoic in the face of annihilation. She is shown to be a strong-willed woman as she bears witness to the end of her world without flinching. In this we see that Superman’s strength isn’t his father’s alone: he clearly inherited much from his mother as well. It’s a solemn moment, but she does not mourn. Her last thought is one of hope as she looks to the stars and speaks to her son about making a better world than theirs, which connects to the continuing debate that is represented through Zod and Jor-El about saving Krypton. For Zod, he wants to save Krypton by recreating it and continuing their same culture as Zod sees it. For Jor-El, he wants Krypton to evolve and bridge into new possibilities, which is an idea shared by Lara as she hopes not just for Kal-El to save Krypton but to make something new, something better.

This all comes to a head in the third act of the film, where Lara’s last words are seen to be especially relevant. Kal-El ends up having to choose between Krypton’s and Earth’s fates. For Krypton to live on, Earth would have to die. But for Earth to survive, the legacy of Krypton must come to an end. In some ways, Superman is the hero of Earth while Zod is the hero of Krypton, which makes this film’s plot not a black-and-white battle of good versus evil, but a profound moral dilemma that actually lays the framework for Lex's attitude toward Superman in Batman v Superman which we will discuss toward the end of the film.

But right now we can think a bit further about Lara’s call to make a better world than ours. That’s a message that we can also try to translate into our own times. According to the film, what does it mean to make a better world? Well, at least a few answers are given. A better world would come from not depleting your planet’s natural resources; from embracing the natural over the artificial; allowing people to choose their own paths rather than being subservient to society’s forced expectations; and of course helping others when you have the opportunity. By starting with the destruction of Krypton, this film, like a lot of the Superman mythology and canon, is inviting us to think about our own world and how we can try to avoid those mistakes.

We also want to comment on the music in this scene. It has already become clear that we are in for a real treat of a score in this film. Here, like Lara’s quiet dignity, Hans Zimmer brings in a beautiful theme rather than bombastic and destructive music. It’s an interesting juxtaposition in terms of the visuals and the sounds and it invites us to bring a more philosophical or literary perspective on what’s happening rather than a straight-action-movie mentality.

From the close and personal explosion, we cut out to the wide shot in space to see the full destruction of Krypton and then, now that we’re out in space, we can transition to the interplanetary travels of the escape pod carrying Kal-El. This brings us to Earth and we see a silhouette of a farm that of course we know is in Kansas. The crashing escape pod leads to a match cut with the ship crashing into a wave, now moving us about 33 years forward in time and into the main events of the movie.

End of Episode:

That’s our analysis of Scene 9. And it marks the end of the prologue, which happens to be exactly 20 minutes. That’s 14% of the total runtime, so Snyder and the creative team wanted to make a substantial investment in the Kryptonian backstory and the mythology. The nice thing is that this prologue isn’t just for style or for historical purposes --- nearly every single moment and every line is directly relevant to the plot, the character development and motivations, and the broader themes that the film explores.

As we’ll see throughout the rest of the movie and its sequels, armor is a recurring theme, with Jor-El, Zod, Faora, Colonel Hardy and General Swanwick all donning some form of plate armor at some point in this film. Later, we will see Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Wonder Woman and Flash all wearing heavy armor. Concept art of Cyborg wearing his own version of heavy armor has been made available to the public, as well. Perhaps Snyder wants us thinking about knights and especially King Arthur. Makes you wonder if Superman wasn’t supposed to appear in Kryptonian plate mail at some point in the future.

Nick really appreciates Lara’s role in this story, not just as a mother but as a scientist and partner to Jor-El. Ultimately, it is Lara who sends Kal to Earth, making her a key part of the character’s destiny and a guiding hand in humanity’s eventual salvation. In this scene, her expertise just might save humanity, and her competence under fire will save her son’s life. She’s as much of a hero as her boy.

Oh, and one final point about Krypton’s destruction -- the Krypton documents on the blu-ray release talks about Krypton collapsing into a neutron star, which is kind of poetic as it would leave a star as a sort of gravestone for the dead world that gave Superman to the universe.

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