Monday, July 17, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 7

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 7 of Wonder Woman, which is Diana's diving rescue of Steve Trevor.

  • Remarks about last WW episode
  • Diana's training outfit
  • The first time she turns her face toward the sky
  • Diana's dive
  • Steve Trevor (Chris Pine)
  • Diana rescuing Steve, Angel imagery
  • Musical cue with the new Diana theme
  • The Germans finding the island
  • Garden of Eden
Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd

Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast focuses on the Warner Brothers films that are part of the DCEU. We love the depth of these movies and so we take the time to go through them scene by scene. This episode focuses on Scene 7 of Wonder Woman, which is one of the most iconic scenes in a movie full of iconic scenes, and it’s also an essential part of the Wonder Woman story since the beginning. It’s Diana’s rescue of a drowning Steve Trevor. This analysis was written by myself, Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and Sydney. You can find us each on Twitter. We are, respectively, @ottensam, @raveryn, @derbykid, and @wondersyd.

But before we get into scene 7 we have a quick bit of clean up from our last Wonder Woman episode. In that episode we talked about Antiope pushing Diana to stop doubting herself and become more and more powerful. We pointed out that Diana, throughout the movie, did have the characteristic of confidence and not doubting herself. We forgot to mention that this wasn’t just our impression but it was confirmed by director Patty Jenkins. In the book about the Art and Making of the Film, Jenkins said, referring to Adult Diana, “She has absolute confidence in herself.” This was most clear, we think, in the War Council scenes, in the trenches, and in the Gala. So Antiope’s lessons were definitely hitting home, and in fact Young Diana already seemed to have quite a bit of confidence to begin with. As Man of Steel Answers pointed out, she basically represents the full potential of an individual who has had lots of encouragement and the full support of her community.

We also wanted to add that, when Antiope said that Hippolyta can feel that Ares is alive “in your bones” it is possible that this alluded to a vague feeling because of a connection between the Amazons and the gods, but it’s also very possible that it was just a metaphorical phrase, meaning that you can’t expect Ares to be gone until we have a confirmed kill. Feeling it in your bones could just be the idea that you really feel something is true even though you don’t have concrete evidence.

Alright, so where we left off was Diana having just discovered her bracelet powers. They absorbed a couple hits from Antiope and then blasted her back, to the shock and awe of all the Amazon warriors and Queen Hippolyta. Diana then ran away from the training amphitheater and we follow her into Scene 7 here where she comes out to the edge of cliff overlooking the sea. As with all these Themyscira scenes, it’s a beautiful setting with rich greens and blues, and there’s a lot of depth to the establishing shot here so we can really take it all in. And it reminds us that this is how Diana has grown up her entire life -- with this kind of beauty just all around her.

Because of the blues and greens, her beige and gold training outfit actually stands out nicely here. We didn’t talk about it last time, but it’s a well-designed costume that has a skirt that’s similar in length to what she’ll wear later, but overall it seems a bit softer and more comfortable to wear, which makes a lot of sense for training purposes where you don’t need the full armor of real battle. It’s also a nice idea to have this costume, not just to sell more toys and statues, but also to save the full costume for the No Man’s Land reveal. In these scenes, we can tell it’s her, but she has her hair up and this training outfit, so it means we get to have another reveal of the character later. Furthermore, the gold and the spiral contours that go across her torso and then up over one shoulder also match really well with the spirals of the apparatus that is holding the godkiller sword. It’s kind of like the matching spirals are a subtle hint that she’s the godkiller, the sword isn’t.

So up on the cliff, Diana stops and looks down at her hands. We get a point-of-view shot so that we are identifying right with Diana, wondering what just happened and getting a closer look at her gauntlets. During this moment, we can think back to the fact that the filmmakers have already teased her mystery two different times --- we are wondering what her true origins are, what it is that Hippolyta doesn’t want her to find out. And Antiope’s words must be ringing in her head just like they’re ringing in ours, “You have greater powers than you know.” The music hints at these powers, this destiny, when it has the cello ring out with the slow theme, E-G-B-B-flat.

After looking down at her hands, which is a common symbol in movies of people contemplating their actions. It’s kind of like, what have my hands just done? As if their hands and thus their actions in this moment feel separate from themselves. But after looking down, she then takes a deep breath and closes her eyes and turns her head up toward the sky. This is the first of three clear times where she stops in contemplation like this, facing upward. The other two times are after she kills Ludendorff and after she sees Steve’s picture on the board of fallen soldiers at the very end. People might also remember a subtle moment like this in Batman v Superman while Lois is cradling Superman’s dead body.

It’s very reasonable to view this act as faith-driven. Even though there are no more gods other than Ares, you can think of Diana as still having some form of faith (as does Hippolyta when she talks about thanking the gods for Themyscira). It could be like honoring the memory of the gods, like you might honor ancestors -- even though they have passed, they can still be a source of reflection and contemplation. At the very least, this is a way that Diana kind of centers herself and collects her thoughts, and she often does it in her most profound moments, at turning points in her life, and there is also the sorrow and remembrance when she does it both for Steve at the end and for Superman in BvS.

Also, her looks upward in prayer or contemplation form a complete beginning-middle-and-end for her character arc. This first look upward marks her beginning, when she has just gotten the first clear indication of her powers and what will come to be her destiny as a godkiller, bringing peace and love to mankind. It’s also literally the moment when she starts on her joint quest with Steve Trevor. So it’s the beginning, and she starts still in her protected, sheltered state, with a good heart but little understanding of the world and human nature.

The second look up to the sky is after she’s killed General Ludendorff. This is the middle -- she thinks she has completed her mission, but of course what actually happens is that is the moment when she must confront the true face of man. The war does not end; she needs to realize that there is light and dark inside of every person, and that the fight is about inspiring the light, not simply killing bad guys. Leading up to that second moment, she has learned a lot and seen a lot of pain and suffering caused by people, but she hasn’t yet put it all together into the lesson that she needs to learn. It wasn’t Ares causing that pain and suffering, it was people doing it themselves. So that is the second moment, her low point where even she had been overcome with violence in killing Ludendorff, and it leads immediately to her important conversation with Steve.

And then finally the third look up to the sky is at the conclusion of her journey. She has realized that it’s love, not violence, that is the answer. She has seen the good in man along with the bad; she saw Steve make his sacrifice, and she fulfilled her destiny. The final look upward is in memory of Steve and it is also the true ending to her arc, in contrast to the second look up which was the mistaken ending.

Alright, so she’s facing up with her eyes closed and then an engine sound comes in the distance. Well, we recognize it as an engine sound but she probably wouldn’t know exactly what it was. She opens her eyes and looks off into the distance and then we see Steve’s damaged airplane come through the protective barrier of the island. As we said last episode, maybe her bracelet blast weakened the protective seal in some way, but that’s just speculation. It could also be that it’s simply never happened that anyone traveled this close to the island before.

We get this great shot that kind of tracks around Diana but we can also see her in the foreground and the plane in the background as it arcs from right to left and then hits the water. This is an example of how Patty Jenkins was very consistent in having this movie be from Diana’s point of view. Rather than have a separate scene where we meet Steve Trevor and then we follow him as he finds the island and wonders what’s going on, we are seeing her see this plane. It’s from her perspective, and we only hear Steve’s story later when Diana hears it.

In this moment, Diana doesn’t know what or who it is, but she immediately determines that she must act. It’s part of her character to naturally want to help basically anyone she sees in need. This is a similarity she has with Clark Kent in Man of Steel. In that movie, as a child, a wandering adult, and as Superman, Clark always has an instinct to save people in danger. Interestingly, this scene also gives us a parallel between Diana and Bruce Wayne. In BvS, Alfred tells Bruce, “Everything's changed. Men fall from the sky. The Gods hurl thunderbolts, innocents die.”  Here in Wonder Woman, Steve, a man, falls from the sky, which begins an adventure that leads to Ares, a God, who pretty much hurls thunderbolts, all while innocent people die throughout the duration of the war. So Alfred’s whole line applies to Diana, starting with this scene, and everything certainly changed for Diana once Steve fell from the sky.

But back to her instinct to help, this instinct is constant for her and we’ll see it throughout the movie, but in some of those future instances, there are circumstances or people who hold her back. In this instance, nothing holds her back and she runs and dives forward. Her jump from the cliff is reminiscent of the earlier scene of Young Diana. As a child she was jumping to get away from the person she was supposed to be learning from, her teacher. As an adult she is jumping toward the source of new knowledge to learn more about it.   

The entire dive is beautifully rendered. In the art and making of the film book, they explain that the dive to save Steve was done as computer-generated images. Bill Westenhofer was the visual effects supervisor and he said they just had Gal Gadot standing on a flat patch of land, and the camera moved around her, and then she just jumped down onto a mat laid out right in front of her on the ground. They matched that up with a digital body double and that’s what they used going down in the shot from above and then it was the digital body double all the way through the awesome shot from the side. The camera tracks her arc down and then it follows her all the way into the water, with the camera seemingly going into the water to stay with her. Then later, the swimming part with her and Steve they did film practically with a large water tank.

But speaking of the camera tracking her all the way through as she breaks the surface of the water, there is also another shot later, at the end of her first fight sequence in the Battle for Veld when she knees a German through a window and the camera tracks her all the way from the inside to the outside of the building. I think these tracking shots that go continuously through thresholds like that are very fitting for a movie that was not only a coming-of-age story for Diana who had to break free from Themyscira and learn about Man’s World but also for a movie that broke all kinds of barriers and records with respect to a female lead and a female director.

It is also interesting to think about how each of the key moments in her journey are marked by a leap. Here she leaps forward into meeting a man and then having her first fight with the Germans. Later she leaps to the tower, which is her decisive moment to set out as Wonder Woman. In Act 2, she leaps up and out of the trenches to assert herself and save the people of Veld. And near the end, she leaps off her horse to take out Ludendorff, setting off the final sequence of events in the movie.

But back to Scene 7 here, we see Steve Trevor in trouble as his airplane begins to sink and he
can’t unfasten the seatbelt, or possibly there’s some wreckage trapped across his lap so he can’t get out. This sets up Diana’s first heroic deed, which will be saving Steve Trevor, and it’s fitting for this to be a reversal of the common trope of a male hero saving the damsel in distress.

Now, because this is our first scene with Steve Trevor, we wanted to just take a few moments to talk about Chris Pine and about the character. In terms of the history of the character, Steve Trevor was created right at the beginning by William Moulton Marston, drawn by H. G. Peter. He is usually portrayed as the first man to come to Themyscira, and usually it’s by some sort of wartime accident. In the original comic, he was flying and trying to keep up with a World War 2 Nazi bomber but he crash-landed. Trevor has also often been the main love interest for Diana, but there have been some eras where they kind of avoided a love interest of any kind and in the New 52 comic books after 2011, Trevor was sidelined in favor of a romance between Wonder Woman and Superman. But there was always still kind of an attraction and connection between them in the New 52, as Trevor worked as a government liaison to the Justice League, and now in the DC Rebirth era, Diana and Steve have gotten back together.

In the 1970s TV show, Steve Trevor was played by Lyle Waggoner and they actually had Steve Trevor Senior during the World War 2 era and then Steve Trevor Junior during the 1970s era.

For the new movie, Zack and Deborah Snyder and other producers like Chuck Roven and probably Geoff Johns had early talks about whether to include Steve Trevor in the movie. Zack Snyder explained in the Art and Making of the Film book, saying: (quote) “We need Steve. We need to be able to look at Wonder Woman through the eyes of the audience… He also has to be changed by Wonder Woman. He has to see the world through her eyes and then he has to become a hero in his own way, inspired by her.” (end quote) So this gives a clear purpose for Steve Trevor in the movie, yet it all still fits around it being Diana’s story. Steve gives us a perspective on Diana -- recognizing her good heart and her amazing courage, and the potential of someone who is not yet corrupted by the world and its evils. As he falls in love with her, we the audience are also falling in love with the character. And he gives us a way to learn about Themyscira as he learns about it, and he models for us how someone can learn from the Amazons and can be inspired and changed by Diana’s example. He does help out along the way and he gets to do his own heroic deeds, but it’s clearly in the service of Diana as the lead hero, and in the end, he sacrifices himself because he recognizes that Diana is the one that the world needs for the future.

Director Patty Jenkins pointed out that Steve also helped Diana. She said, “Through [Steve], Diana is able to learn about the beauty and the great complexity of mankind.” So it is truly a two-way relationship.

In terms of Chris Pine as the actor to play Steve Trevor, Deborah Snyder put it this way: (quote) “Chris Pine embodies the multidimensionality of Steve Trevor perfectly. He is this roguish, witty, rule breaker who also happens to be charming, romantic, idealist driven to do good in the world. He challenges Diana on their journey, but is also wise enough to know when it is best to let her lead.” (end quote) We’ll get to talk more about Chris Pine’s performance in all the later scenes, but for right now, we get a great shot of him sinking down into the water and looking back up toward the surface as a figure appears silhouetted against the sunshine. Diana has arrived and she’s standing on the floating portion of the plane before she dives in to save him. The imagery here is very angelic, and this motif continues later as well when they’re on the beach and there’s basically a halo around her head as she’s looking down at Steve. The music cue for this scene is also called “Angel on the Wing,” a reference to this moment when Steve first sees her. She is his guardian angel in this instance. Speaking of the music, this cue makes very clear the new Diana theme by Gregson-Williams --- it’s the A to E, then A up to G intervals that we mentioned in Scene 3. We’ll play them for you here because this theme comes back several times later in the score, and there’s a great moment after the Battle for Veld when it merges with the Oddfellows theme from the photograph.

<music clip “Angel on the wing”>

Another thing we want to point out about this angelic imagery is just that the rescue here overall is very beautiful visually. From the colors to the dive to the water interacting with light to the smooth flow of Diana’s movements, it’s all just gorgeous and it contrasts sharply with another DCEU origin film, Man of Steel. In Man of Steel, we also got a first rescue scene with Clark -- it’s the oil rig scene. In that movie, it also involved water but it was a very testosterone-fueled, muscley rescue with fire and crashing steel. The feel of that scene is very different from the almost serene beauty of the rescue here in Wonder Woman. Both characters are very heroic in their own ways but they have different styles, and those differences are both fitting for the respective characters and they both serve as great introductions to these heroes.

Now, as Diana pulls Steve out of the cockpit and swims him up to the surface and then toward the beach, we get a camera move over toward the other part of Scene 7, which is the reveal of the German boats that were following Steve. The transition between these two parts of the scene was not only achieved with the camera move but also with the music. During the angelic rescue, there were female, upper register voices in the choir. And then we get a shift to deeper, male voices in the choir to represent the Germans from Man’s World.

German Ships (0:17:00)

These are the interlopers from Man’s World and they build our anticipation for the next scene because we know there’s going to be a clash between them and the Amazons. It’s a great way to show us the enemy, before we see them in action on the beach.

These shots with the German boats also featured some more great visual effects. It was very cool to see them in the fog and then the one man leaning forward and seeing the island and Diana swimming with Steve. This also gives us, yet again, the contrast between the two worlds -- a sunny, paradise island in contrast to Man’s World of fog and darkness. The Germans don’t initially see Themyscira because it is veiled, hidden from Man’s world. But upon crossing the threshold of the barrier, the island is illuminated. Interestingly the German soldier is still able to see a piece of the German plane, even though it is on the other side of the barrier. Perhaps it is because it came from Man’s world and has not been imbued by the forces that keep Themyscira from view.  It’s also possible that it is visible because it is much closer to him than the island.  Perhaps the barrier is more of a light disruptor than an invisibility shield.

The one thing that throws me off a bit with this scene is just the questions of “where are they?” and how did the boats manage to stay right on Steve’s tail? We know from interviews that Patty Jenkins cares much more about the emotional story and character beats than she does specific details like this in a movie that is, after all, entirely fictional. But to spend just a moment thinking about it, we find out later that Steve had taken off in the plane from the Ottoman Empire, that is, possibly modern day Saudi Arabia but most likely Turkey. And later we see that Steve and Diana are able to sail from Themyscira to London, with a little bit of help from another boat. So where are they? The big body of water near Turkey would be the Mediterranean, and it’s very possible that Steve, fleeing the weapons factory, would head out over the water rather than flying directly over the enemy territory of Austria and Germany on his way to England. If he did head out to the Mediterranean, then that would place Themyscira in the Mediterranean as well, which is kind of fitting given that it could be hidden off the coast of Italy or Greece. In this case, it means that Steve and Diana’s boat ride later in Scenes 16 and 18 is actually longer than just one night.

The other question was how the German boats managed to keep up with Steve, who was getting away in the much faster airplane. I think the answer is that they didn’t actually keep up with him from start to finish. I think he flew a ways but then happened to pass over the ship that was already there and they shot him down. This mean they were close enough to send out rowboats to recover him. This interpretation also fits with the fact that his plane seemed fine when he left the weapons factory.

But overall, this scene contains a great moment for Diana as she dives in and rescues Steve -- a truly iconic image and well executed. It also sets up the next scenes where we see Diana and Steve have their first interactions and then the Germans arrive, violating the sanctity of Themyscira’s shores.

End of Episode

That’s our analysis of Scene 7 of Wonder Woman. The last little thought that we want to share about it is that there is a kind of parallelism to the story of Eden, but with some role reversal. In the biblical story of the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are in paradise and then Eve feeds Adam fruit from the tree of knowledge. Having learned things that god did not want them to know, they were then expelled from Paradise. Here in Wonder Woman, Diana is in Paradise on Paradise Island and Steve is introduced to Diana. Steve feeds Diana knowledge, specifically about the world of Man outside of the island. Both Steve and Diana then leave Paradise Island just as Adam and Eve both left Eden. These parallels are not just from the movie but from the Wonder Woman mythology overall. And for a female-empowerment story, it is kind of appropriate that the entire fall of man is no longer the woman’s fault, and instead of having the pain of childbirth as a punishment on all women, in Wonder Woman we will instead learn that women can have the pleasures of the flesh.

Alright, so that about does it for us this episode. We do have an announcement about our August 5th Suicide Squad anniversary episode. Back in March we did an anniversary episode for BvS with listener participation, so to get some more listener participation what we’re going to do for August 5th is have a Question-and-Answer episode. You can ask us anything you want -- it can be about the DCEU movies, past, present, or future, but you can also broaden it out to ask about other movies, TV shows, books, questions about the podcast, really anything at all that is appropriate for public consumption. If you have twitter, the best place to reach us is through our twitter account @JLUPodcast. But you can also email your question, with the subject line JLU Question, to my personal email address, ottensam AT att DOT net. We will be collecting questions until late July and then we’ll be aiming for August 5th to release the special episode.

Also be sure to check out the Suicide Squadcast and the MOSAIC podcast for some more great DCEU content.

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