Tuesday, May 18, 2021

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Zack Snyder's Justice League Part 1 Episode 2

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Part 1 of Zack Snyder's Justice League, with Martha leaving the farm in Smallville, Bruce and Alfred reuniting on the airstrip, and Lois visiting Heroes Park with coffees in hand.

  • Martha at the cemetery
  • Some other Kent graves
  • Bruce and Alfred between the helicopter and plane
  • Lois and her daily visit to Heroes Park

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<Transcript below>

Welcome fans of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. This is the Justice League Universe podcast where we analyze DC Films scene-by-scene. Our team currently consists of Sam Otten, Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and myself. I’m Carol Lomba and in this episode we are going to take a look at Martha, Bruce, and Lois as they deal with loss, in Part 1 of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, available on HBO Max and on various streaming sites around the world. 


We continue to see the impact of Superman’s death, now on those closest to him. The sounds of the Icelandic folksong echo into the new scene, which reveals a sad-looking Martha who has recently lost her son. As we mentioned in our previous episode, this folksong speaks of departure and heartache. Like the music itself, these themes reverberate into the subsequent scenes with Martha, Bruce, and Lois.


A singular headlight shines from behind Martha. It sort of looks like a faux sun in the background which makes us think about how, just as the Earth revolves around the sun, in a way Martha’s life revolved around Clark who was the center of her universe. Clark, her sun. But in this opening shot, there is still darkness around Martha, so the headlight is not truly an illuminating sun. It’s a weak approximation. And then the scene reveals that it's Clark’s grave that she’s looking at. So another interpretation is that the headlight symbolizes him watching over her from beyond the grave as she mourns him. Zack Snyder recently mentioned one possible title for BvS being “Son of Sun, Knight of Night”, and that would be a connection to Clark who, as we discussed, is symbolic of the Sun God which Lex references on the Helipad.


Martha closes her eyes and turns her head flinching as if feeling the physical pain of loss. She then struggles to pull herself away heading to the truck in the background. An overhead view of Martha walking away from the grave further evokes a sense of the dead looking down on her from the heavens, or perhaps God. This sort of symbolically parallels the world mourning the loss of Superman with the New Gods looking down from the stars.


Once Martha gets into the vehicle we see that it is pulling a U-Haul trailer, giving us our first indication that she is moving before we see the Foreclosure sign. She is clearly distraught as she tells the dog, Dusty, to move over. Dusty was adopted after their first dog, Hank, died. While Dusty is part of the family, the only one Martha has left, perhaps he is a reminder of loss for Martha. Martha exhales and pauses for a moment mustering the strength to move forward. The headlights shine on Clark’s modest grave where his body is buried. This shot not only confirms that Martha was visiting her son’s grave, but it is somewhat of an establishing shot foreshadowing the return to this site when the team will exhume Clark’s body to revive him. It also acts as a contrast to the extravagant memorial set up for Superman, which Lois will visit shortly.


This moment with Martha also serves as a contrast to the remote and exotic locations that we visited just before this. As Superman’s death rippled through the big city of Metropolis, and through Atlantis and Themyscira, and then finally we visited a remote village in Iceland as we saw how Superman’s death was pushing Bruce to recruit the league. That expansive world touring is counterbalanced here by a very down-to-Earth, middle-of-the-country moment with Martha Kent, in a location that we know well from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. We are also seeing a more personal reaction rather than the larger machinations and foreshadowing of an alien threat. Even the sound design reinforces this effect, with Martha’s very human sigh and the creaks of an old pick-up truck and the engine being a little bit rough when it turns over. This shows to us that the film is going to attempt to balance a grand scope with these personal moments.


Before we leave the cemetery, we also want to point out that you can see, underneath the Kent surname headstone, a couple’s joint grave displaying the names Harold and Eliza. The birth and death dates for Harold appear to be November 12, 1919 and November 17, 1972. And for Eliza they are January 19, 1921 and April 5, 1986. Although there does not appear to be any direct link with characters in the comic books, it seems that Zack chose the name Harold as an easter egg referring to Harold Lloyd. He was an actor whose first credited performance was in 1914. In 1917 Lloyd, with filmmaker Hal Roach, debuted a character known as the “Glass” character also known as “The Boy”. However, Roach eventually decided that Harold Lloyd was too good looking making the character unappealing to audiences and the two came up with a “disguise” having him wear plain clothing and horn-rimmed glasses. In 1988, the 50-year anniversary of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster cited the character as inspiration for Clark Kent.


As for Eliza, the name seems to appear in many places in association with Superman lore across different mediums. Eliza is the name of Supergirl’s adopted mother, and Superman and Supergirl are supposed to be cousins. So if Harold and Eliza are Clark’s human grandparents, it would be a nice nod to that connection. The name Eliza is also attributed to an ex-girlfriend of Jonathan Kent’s in the comics. It means “My God is an oath” or “joyful” and is a diminutive of the name Elizabeth. In the bible, Elizabeth is the mother of John the Baptist who the Gospels portray as the precursor or forerunner of Jesus. So it would make sense for Eliza to be Jonathan Kent’s mother since he sort of fills that role for Superman, foreseeing that he will do great things.


Continuing in the scene, as Martha is pulling away in the truck with the U-haul trailer, we see the Foreclosure sign in front of the familiar Kent farmhouse which is very significant because not only has she lost her husband, and now her son, but she has lost her home as well. There is also the implication that Clark has essentially been supporting Martha by either sending her money or helping to run the farm. And without Clark, she didn’t have the means to afford the bills. So yes, for those that still doubt Zack’s portrayal, even his version of Clark Kent does the equivalent of sending “a check each week to his sweet, silver-haired old mother.” The Foreclosure sign says “Bank Owned” and has the letters R-E-P-O in the phone number to help make it clear that the property has been repossessed by the bank. The realtor is listed as “Comanche Realty”. Comanche are a Native-American nation whose territory includes southwestern Kansas. The name Comanche is derived from a Ute word meaning “anyone who wants to fight me all the time.” And it does seem that someone is looking to fight Superman all the time, whether it's General Zod, Bruce, Doomsday, the US government, or Darkseid.


The scene transitions with the contrasting forms of transportation -- Martha in the old pickup truck and now Bruce Wayne in a helicopter. This juxtaposition of their material situations will come full circle at the end of the movie when Bruce visits Smallville and helps Martha move back into her house. As for the helicopter, it lands on a tarmac and Bruce hops off. We can’t help but be reminded of the bat-copter, such as the one that Adam West flew as Batman in the 1960s, but a more direct parallel is Bruce also jumping off a helicopter near the start of Batman v Superman. He is clearly an impatient man and a hermit with not so great social skills after hiding out in a cave for so long. And by the way, given that the mayor of the Icelandic village specifically mentioned that helicopters have been grounded for six days, it suggests that they travel in and out of the village regularly so Bruce likely waited out the storm and caught a helicopter out of the inlet.


The Helicopter reads “Kvikasilfur Leiguflug Island”. Kvikasilfur in Icelandic means Mercury, and Leiguflug means Charter Flights. Mercury is the Roman god of financial gain, commerce, messages, communication, travelers, and luck, all which relate to Bruce Wayne who is a wealthy businessman communicating to others the warnings of coming enemies and lucky to survive against all sorts of odds. The reference to a Roman God also differentiates him, a human, from the other members of the team who are metahumans and are mostly associated with Greek Gods like Zeus, Poseidon, Hermes, Hephaestus and Apollo.


So in the last episode we saw Bruce following through on his promise, and in this scene we see him dealing with his failure to fulfill that promise thus far. He acts dejected, dragging his feet like Martha in the last scene. As Alfred approaches Bruce he immediately remarks about the cold while Bruce comes out of the helicopter with his jacket casually open. Alfred has acted as sort of a balancing weight for Bruce whether it's to hold up a mirror to his wrongdoings or injecting some lightheartedness to his brooding nature. But Bruce can’t be bothered with Alfred’s complaints about the cold after failing in his mission following a long trek of bearing far worse climate while Alfred was likely comfortable aboard the cozy Wayne jet. Alfred cracks jokes about going to find metas in warmer locations known to be vacation spots, adding a bit of humor to an otherwise gloomy start to the film. Bruce ignores the snark, and proceeds to tell Alfred that he found who he was looking for. He tells Alfred that Arthur refused to join the team, and then Alfred responds that the draft stands “naught for two,” indicating that both Arthur and Diana have declined Bruce’s invitation as we saw at the end of Batman v Superman when Diana walked away from him at Clark’s funeral after saying Man made a world where standing together was impossible. Alfred then comments about Bruce’s hermit nature by saying maybe a man who broods in a cave for a living isn’t cut out to be a recruiter. This sort of comes off as another snarky comment and again Bruce ignores it and boards the plane. Alfred pauses for a moment pensively and then follows as the helicopter flies off.


In the next scene, the first shot is of a cup of coffee, a hot beverage warming us up following the frigid setting of Iceland. We see some latte art forming a Rosetta which is a fern that to the Japanese symbolizes family and the hope for future generations. This is the first of several hints about Lois’s pregnancy. The fern also means new beginnings, which relates directly to the themes in the film of second chances, especially with regard to Superman who’s memorial Lois is visiting in this scene. We will see Superman's new beginning later in the film when he is reborn as well as hear him mention a second chance which he doesn't want to waste.


As Lois leaves the coffee shop we see she is carrying two cups of coffee. At first we don’t know who the second cup is for, but at that moment it's as if she has a second coffee for Clark which is symbolic of her not letting go of him. Through the shop window we see Zack Snyder’s cameo. It’s a perfect type of cameo in that you could potentially miss it if you’re not paying attention, and it's not overt like placing himself as a character in the film like some directors have done. However for those who have followed the history of this film, his presence in this scene, though filmed prior to his family tragedy, provides an even deeper and more solemn air as Lois’ grief from her loss is also Zack’s grief for his loss. On a meta level, the scene now additionally plays out as sort of an in memoriam for Autumn. The song that is playing is called “Distant Sky” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Notably, Nick Cave also suffered the loss of a child as Zack did. The lyrics of this song likewise have a double entendre. But let’s focus on how they relate to the film.


“Let us go now, my darling companion, set out for the distant skies” are the first two lines. We can think of this as Clark being Lois’ darling companion who has now passed on to the distant skies of the heavens above. The next two lines are “See the sun, see it rising, See it rising, rising in your eyes.” Once again we can see Superman as the embodiment of the sun and the sun god. When Lois looked in her companion’s eyes, she saw a new and better day. The next few lines are, “They told us our gods would outlive us, They told us our dreams would outlive us, They told us our gods would outlive us, But they lied.” Clearly Superman has been referred to as a god several times, especially by Lex Luthor. But Superman and the dream of a farmer from Kansas have not outlived us and therein rests the lies referenced in the lyric. And as we hear the line about dreams outliving us we see a shot of Lois’ engagement ring. But clearly that dream died with Clark. And likewise we see the shattered remains of the Superman statue when the lyric plays about gods outliving us. 


Lois holds a black umbrella which, as we mentioned in our Themes episode, is like a metaphorical shadow cast over her. And the rain represents grief, acting as a cinematic metaphor for crying even though we don’t see Lois physically cry in this scene. And in a way the rain also projects the feeling she must have of dark rain clouds following overhead and the grief associated with that.


We see a few references to the Daily Planet where Lois works, helping to set the atmosphere of Metropolis and also connect Lois to her job which we will later learn she hasn’t been showing up for. There’s a poster in the background, the delivery truck that passes by, and the actual stack of newspapers that get delivered. The truck has the slogan “Reporting on the Planet Daily” which kind of strikes at the point of Lois not going to work later, but we find out she has been visiting Heroes Park daily. The headline on the newspaper reads “Security Bank of Manhattan Seeks New Architect”. It’s an interesting choice here to use Manhattan rather than Metropolis, but it helps to relate more with this world as being our own by offering a real-world location. Furthermore, by referencing Manhattan, this headline is a clear reference to The Fountainhead by Ayn (ine like “line”) Rand, a book which Zack has talked about adapting into a film. And it’s also a story which Zack relates with as he himself has faced similar adversity to the protagonist, Howard Roark. Roark is a strong, visionary, and uncompromising architect hired to design a new Security Bank in Manhattan. When he presents his design, his employers ask him to make certain compromises and changes to the design, essentially changing his work into something else that is much more mundane and typical. But Roark refused to compromise his creative work. In the same way Warner Brothers was looking to change Justice League, which reportedly was a battle Zack was not willing to fight in the wake of his daughter’s death. In the end he was able to release the Snyder Cut without the compromises that were being imposed on him back in 2017, and the end product and its acclaim speaks for itself.


Cortlandt later with Aquaman is also a reference to The Fountainhead. But we should note that Zack Snyder has explained himself that his connection to certain story elements should not be misconstrued as him endorsing all of Ayn Rand’s political or philosophical beliefs.


But moving on to another quick nod, the Daily Planet delivery truck passes by a Leica shop which is Zack Snyder’s favorite brand of camera. Jason Momoa gifted him a Leica Q2, so this could also be a subtle nod to that and further thanks for Jason’s support.


The shot pans up from the word “POLICE” on the side of a patrol car. This is perhaps a nod to the real-life heroes in our lives. Lois approaches and, from inside the vehicle, we see her appear through the opening window. The officer and Lois clearly know each other as they address each other by name. Lois calls the officer Jerry which is of course the first name of one of the Superman creators. The officer is played by Marc McClure who was Jimmy Olsen in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. We see that the second coffee was in fact for Officer Jerry. He comments “You don’t miss a day, do you?” informing us that this is a daily routine for Lois. She responds with “I like it here.” This is perhaps because she sees the flowers and pictures others have left at the memorial and it makes her feel less alone knowing there are others sharing in her love and grief. As we mentioned in our Themes episode, visiting the memorial gives Lois a chance to grieve about Clark’s death publicly without compromising his secret identity. The close up of Lois’ ring further indicates that she is not yet moving on with her life and that she is symbolically accepting his proposal that he was never able to make.

End of Episode

That’s our analysis of this solemn sequence of scenes of mourning before our first action scene in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the potential significance of the dates on the Kent tombstone. Feel free to leave comments on the episode or email JLUPodcast@gmail.com. Next we will delve into our first bit of heroics with Diana in London.

You can enjoy early access to some Man of Steel analysis at Patreon.com/JLUPodcast. Thanks for listening.

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