Monday, August 1, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scenes 49 and 50

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Batman v Superman, scene 49 with Jonathan Kent and scene 50 in Wayne Manor.

  • Clark's solitude
  • The cairn on the mountain
  • Jonathan Kent and his story
  • Are humans inherently good or evil?
  • Bruce in Wayne Manor 
@FrasesBR shared
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco and also Trent Osborne and Casper Richter.

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

<Transcript of the episode>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam, and my co-writer, Alessandro, and I use this podcast to share our scene-by-scene analysis of the DC Films. So far, we’ve focused on Batman v Superman, but starting this weekend, we’ll also start covering Suicide Squad, and throughout the fall and winter, we also want to circle back and include a few episodes about Man of Steel, as well.

But right now, we’ve got two more scenes that involve Clark and Bruce preparing for the Batman-Superman fight. In scenes 49 and 50, each of these two main characters takes a quiet moment to convene with their parents -- Clark has a vision of his adoptive father, Jonathan, on a mountaintop, and Bruce visits the memory of his parents and ancestors in the burnt out Wayne Manor.

For a movie that is often criticized for poor transitions between scenes, we get yet another good transition from Scene 48 into Scene 49. We go right from Lois wondering where Clark is, to an establishing shot of a mountain where we see Clark on a solitary hike. Superman’s need for solitude to collect his thoughts and reflect on events is a common part of the character in the comics, animation, and prior movies.

My wife asked why he needs such a heavy jacket when he’s Superman. I think one answer to this is that he wants to blend in during his hike so as not to draw too much attention to himself. For example, in the Extended Cut, we see that he does pass some others on the mountain and it would be pretty shocking if they saw a man going up with inappropriate clothing. But another answer to this question could be that, even though Superman is very durable and nearly impervious to injury, he still has an internal body temperature that has to be maintained and he feels the cold. In other words, even though maybe he won’t get frostbite, it might be more comfortable for him to have a jacket on when it’s cold. As far as we know in the movie universe, super-internal-heat-emanation is not one of his powers.

Another thing to notice in the set-up to Scene 49 is that Clark is hiking on foot, not flying. This emphasizes that he is trying to reground himself and his purpose, and the point of the trip is for him to think and reflect, not to travel. It also shows that he is Clark no matter what, but he is not automatically Superman -- it’s a choice for him to be Superman, as we covered in a previous episode, and the people in the movie universe and us here in the audience can’t take Superman for granted.

We come up to Jonathan Kent at the top of the mountain. For me, this was one of several really big surprises for me when I saw the movie for the first time. I had no idea that Kevin Costner was going to make an appearance in BvS. And even though I followed as much of the promotional material and insights as I could in advance, I did not know that Superman would die. I of course knew that Doomsday was created for the Death of Superman story, and I heard a rumor that extras filmed a funeral procession scene and were told to act like it was the president or someone beloved who had died, but that was just a rumor and it was possible that it was someone else like Secretary Swanwick who had died instead of Superman. So although I knew it was a possibility that Superman would die, I definitely did not know that it was going to happen until it was happening. I also didn’t know who was going to win the Batman-Superman fight, and I didn’t know what Lex’s overall goal was or how it would resolve, though of course I knew Lex would be anti-Superman.

I only say this because BvS got some flack for not keeping enough secrets. I think there really was quite a bit of the big stuff that wasn’t revealed ahead of time, and for the stuff that was shown ahead of time, I really didn’t mind at all because I believe the scientific studies that have shown spoilers don’t spoil -- knowing what to expect actually enhances the entertainment value, even for people who claim that spoilers ruin it for them.

But moving on into Scene 49, we see Jonathan Kent building a cairn, which is a manmade pile of rocks. Cairns go back thousands of years and they have several purposes. They often mark gravesites, which is fitting in this case because Jonathan is dead, but they are also used to mark the summits of mountains.

It’s not explicitly shown whether this is a dream, hallucination, or just an imaginary interaction based on Clark’s own memories of his father. With regard to the themes and character arc that we’ll talk about in a second, it doesn’t really matter. But some people are very curious about facts and explanations in cases like this. So for me, I took it to be just Clark clearing his mind and, perhaps helped by the thin atmosphere, he is thinking about his father and what he might say in this situation after the Capitol bombing and all the trials that we’ve seen Clark face thus far in the movie. It’s possible that Jonathan told Clark the story about the flood in the past, and because of his time of thoughtfulness, Clark is able to remember it and think about it now.

But I’m not saying this is the only interpretation. Readers of the comic books in the 1990s might connect this interaction with Jonathan to issue 500 of the Adventures of Superman. In that issue, a dead Clark also interacts with Jonathan Kent, but in that case, Clark was not actually fully dead and Jonathan had had a heart attack, so they were able to convene sort of through their proximity to an afterlife. So it’s a bit different, but there is a nice kind of connection there.

By the way, I have an extra copy of Adventures of Superman 500 that I’d be happy to give away to one of our great listeners. So whoever sends a tweet to @ottensam or an email to first and mentions issue 500, it’s yours as a thank-you for your continued support of the podcast.

So Jonathan Kent is there, and as is Clark’s nature, he spends most of this scene listening rather than talking. As with many other scenes, the whole scene is about Clark and what he’s going through, but he is not the one doing the talking.

Jonathan starts by connecting their current setting to their home back in Kansas. He says that it’s all downhill from here, up at the top of the mountain, and he talks about how this goes down and eventually into the relatively flat plains of Kansas. The main part of the scene, then, is the story about the flood. When Jonathan was young, the flood waters were rising and so he helped to barricade off his family farm to protect it from the flood and they celebrated their heroic efforts. But the next day they found out that they had just diverted the flood water to the Lang farm. This is a reference to the Lana Lang family, and she was Clark’s friend in the comics and in past television series and she also appeared in Man of Steel.

But the point is not the reference, the point of this story is to serve as an analogy for exactly what Clark has been dealing with throughout the film. Jonathan and his father were trying to help out in a dangerous situation, but they didn’t realize that their good intentions would have negative consequences for others. This is similar to how Superman fought to stop Zod in Man of Steel but inadvertently caused death and destruction in Metropolis. And how in Africa Superman was just trying to save Lois, but he didn’t realize that it would seem like the U.S. was intervening in a civil war and lead to deadly retribution. And just recently, at the Capitol where Superman was trying to do the right thing by appearing to testify and answer questions about his behavior -- he didn’t realize it would be a target for Lex’s terrorist attack. And even with the smaller actions that are alluded to rather than fully developed in the movie, we can infer that Superman comes in to save whomever he can and then is second-guessed and critiqued for how it was that he chose who to save. Or maybe he should have been somewhere else instead of where he actually was. In all these ways, he’s feeling the same things that Jonathan felt when Jonathan was working hard to do the right thing, only in hindsight to realize that his actions had inadvertently caused harm to another.

And it’s even more complex than that, because even with hindsight, maybe the Kents would still build their flood wall because it would be impossible to sit there and do nothing. The overarching idea, which is consistent with the Justice League Universe approach thus far, is that the world is complex and things that have been presented as clear-cut in past comic books and comic book movies really aren’t all that clear-cut. It goes back to that main theme that we mentioned several times in our early episodes -- that there are no diamond absolutes when it comes to right and wrong. Sometimes doing a good deed can lead to bad consequences. But is the good deed still worth it? How do we weigh the good against the bad?

As Clark is trying to negotiate these gray areas and find a way to exist in this complex world, it is helpful to have a father who has been there in those same complexities. And these are not just ethical quandaries, they have a real emotional toll. For Jonathan, he talks about the horses screaming as they drowned. This ties into the horse motif that has accompanied the destructive moments in this movie. As Jonathan describes the horse’s screams, we can think back to the bucking horse that we just saw a few minutes ago during the Capitol bombing, and we can also recall the riderless horse that walks past Bruce during the Black Zero Event in Scene 2.

So Jonathan has felt the same emotions that Clark is feeling now, even if Jonathan’s were on a more local scale. Clark asks Jonathan if the nightmares ever stopped. It’s clear from this question and from all the reactions we’ve seen of Clark throughout the movie as he’s watching the coverage of Superman’s activities, that Clark takes everything to heart and he himself has had nightmares because of the repercussions of his actions.

Jonathan says that the nightmares did stop when he met Martha. He says that Martha gave him faith that there’s good in this world, and that she was his world. This line is the most important of the scene because it makes it explicit that Clark is not only feeling guilt about the collateral damage he sometimes causes, but he is also having a crisis of faith with regard to the inherent goodness of humanity. Clark is wondering if maybe things always have a negative side to them because humanity naturally puts a negative spin on it. And thus far, with regard to Lex and Bruce, Clark is kind of right. But before now, Clark had put his faith in humanity, as he did in Man of Steel, and Clark intuitively believed in the goodness of mankind.

Like the problem of evil that is stated later by Lex, the question of whether humans are naturally good or evil or neither -- tabula rosa -- has been debated by philosophers and theologians for centuries. Batman, as a character, tends to prepare for the worst and has lots of evidence in Gotham that people have a natural inclination toward evil, whereas Superman, as a character but also here in the Justice League Universe, tends to believe in the inherent goodness of humanity and he assumes that if he attempts to act heroically, then the people will respond in kind. What BvS does is put Superman through a set of circumstances that challenge his belief. Contrary to some critics’ opinions, Superman does not actually abandon his beliefs, but he does question them before ultimately standing by them -- it helps that he sees the good that still exists in Batman and Wonder Woman, and this, together with the love of Lois and his mother, give him the courage of his convictions to sacrifice himself at the end of the movie.

On the flip side, Batman is driven by his pessimism toward a psychological abyss and pulls back from the edge when he learns of Superman’s human connections and selflessness. So, just as Jonathan says here, it is our human connections that can bolster our faith in humanity and give us the strength to go on in a complex and sometimes cruel world. For Jonathan, it was the connection to Martha. It was also his connection to Clark, because Jonathan’s next line is to say, “I miss you, son.”

And Clark responds, “I miss you too, dad.” The line delivery from Cavill got me choked up again --- first the Capitol scene in the fireball, and now here where he misses his father during a time of trial. Two scenes in a row for Superman that hit me really hard emotionally, and they won’t be the last.

Now, of course, as Jonathan is talking about Martha, Clark is thinking about Lois. They developed a strong and full bond in Man of Steel, with Lois fully embracing both Clark and Superman and Clark exhilarated to have someone to finally share and settle down with. And now in BvS they have shown deep concern for one another. Through that love, a deep and personal connection to another human being, Jonathan is telling Clark that he can make it through the pain. I like it that Jonathan does not tell Clark what course of action to take -- but he does indicate to Clark the importance of those deep connections, and he also lets Clark know that he loved him, too. Just as with Martha, the Kents are parents who don’t try to simplify complex situations but instead acknowledge the complexity and remind their son of the unconditional love that they have for him.

So overall, this is a great scene that makes explicit Superman’s entire character dilemma and gives him the strength to go forward… though little does Clark know that Lex is capable of making things even worse. Now, as we said, some people didn't like this scene or Superman’s arc in general because he had to grapple with whether to continue being Superman, but to me that just made it more meaningful when he did make his decisions to keep going and doing what he could do. (And by the way, what he did was eventually save everyone... again.) As Mark Hughes at Forbes explained in "Zack Snyder Loves Superman", many people in the movie do doubt and discredit Superman's role in the world, but they are WRONG. We need Superman's idealism precisely because our society is full of hate and judgment and media-induced flame wars. 

Scene 49 ends with a wide shot where we see Clark by himself, so we know this was not actually the flesh-and-blood reincarnation of Jonathan. The cairn is actually there, though.

Now, a few thoughts to share from listeners -- twitter user @FrasesBR pointed out that this scene with Jonathan Kent hits some similar beats as a scene between Clark and Jonathan in the Smallville TV Show. Another twitter user, @dcvsmarvelcomic, put together a few parallel images and we’ll link to those in the show notes.

Also, +Trent Osborne on YouTube wrote that Jonathan has heroic tendencies just like Clark does. Despite his misinterpreted “maybe” line from Man of Steel, everything we’ve seen Jonathan do is heroic, from taking in Clark as a baby to his sacrifice to save people and pets in the tornado scene to his protectiveness over Clark, and now this story about saving the farm. Because of the resultant flooding of the Lang farm, Jonathan feels the same survivor’s guilt as Clark. This explains so much about him, and the fact that he’s faced this dilemma before makes his connection here with Clark that much more powerful.

So thank you to Trent and FrasesBR for your ideas. We love all the great perspectives that listeners share on this movie, especially on the YouTube comment boards, which seems like the best place for interaction about these scenes.

Scene 50: Wayne Manor (1:23:40 -- )

Moving on to Scene 50, this time we have Bruce in a moment of contemplation with his parents and to start the scene, this time it’s Alfred walking up to the burnt out manor, an echo of Bruce walking out to the mausoleum in Scene 17. Both the manor and the mausoleum are representative of Bruce’s fallen parents, his crumbling life, and his foreshadowed end in ruin as Bruce is going down a dark path.

In yet another great scene transition -- I swear, this movie did not get enough credit for its transitions and sequencing of scenes -- we cut right from Clark saying, “I miss you too, Dad,” to Wayne Manor where Bruce is, as usual, lamenting the loss of his parents. This invites us to see the common ground between Clark and Bruce -- even though they are on this path into conflict that will culminate in the Batman-Superman fight, they both miss their parents. Clark clearly misses Jonathan, but he is also an orphan from his Kryptonian parents. And Bruce is an orphan who defines himself by the moment of powerlessness and loss. Right now, Bruce is singular and self-centered in his pain, but these two scenes foreshadow that the two characters do have a connection and if they can only come to recognize that connection and similarity in one another, it can be the basis for a more positive relationship and trying to see one another’s perspective.

So in Scene 50, Alfred carries us into the Manor where we see Bruce at the fireplace -- a brick construction that parallels the rocks of the cairn. Alfred makes a final appeal to Bruce -- “You know you can’t win this. It’s suicide.” As Man of Steel Answers pointed out, this shifts blame off of Superman and onto Batman. If Batman goes into this battle and dies, it will have been a self-destructive act and not the fault of Superman. But knowing Superman, he will still feel guilty about it even if it is Batman’s fault.

Bruce responds: “I’m older now than my father ever was. This might be the only thing I do that matters.” So Bruce is implying that his father had accomplished more by this point in his life, and Bruce, like we’ve talked about many times before, feels ineffectual and powerless. He has convinced himself that taking out Superman is necessary, but more importantly, it will prove that he has power.

Alfred asks whether the 20 years of fighting criminals has amounted to nothing, and Bruce gives his cynical answer -- that “criminals are like weeds.” Pull one out and another grows in its place. This also reminds us of earlier, in Scene 8, when Bruce had said that they were criminals, too. So here, when Bruce is sort of saying that criminals are a dime a dozen, he is by extension pointing out his own un-specialness.

Bruce then talks about his family’s legacy and how defeating Superman would be his personal contribution to that legacy. Again, he is convincing himself that this is something he has to do, but the real reason he has to do it is to try to get rid of this feeling of powerlessness that is beleaguring him. He is also trying to connect himself to his family lineage because he has grown up and taken over the family business, but without an actual connection or adult relationship with his parents.

In talking about his ancestors, Bruce harkens back to the original Waynes who were hunters. This is a clear signal to Alfred that Bruce’s mind is made up -- he’s going to be hunting Superman, we’ve already seen the preparation. As Casper Richter on YouTube explained, Alfred basically realizes here that it’s out of his hands and he can’t stop Bruce. Alfred will be out of the picture, shut out but Bruce’s tunnel-vision until after the BvS fight when Batman steps away from the edge of his abyss and therefore allows Alfred back in to help him with the warehouse rescue.


  1. I enjoyed the Ultimate Edition a lot however, why did Clark now think of this memory? Was it because he needed a place of solitary isolation to think for a moment hence he remembered this conversation?

    1. That's a good question that hadn't occurred to me. The out-of-story answer, of course, is that the filmmakers wanted this as the setting and so they made it the spot where he has the memory. But I know you're thinking through an in-story answer, and the best thing I can come up with is very similar to what you alluded to --- the quiet, the solitude, and maybe even the thinner atmosphere, may have allowed his mind to settle enough for this memory to come back to him as something relevant to what he's going through.