Monday, November 13, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 15

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 15 (Diana leaving Themyscira) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Diana's cloak and costume
  • Diana and Steve make a "deal"
  • The sailboat at the dock
  • Diana and Hippolyta say their farewells
  • "You may never return"
  • Reminder of the Ares mystery
  • Act 1 relationship building between Diana and Steve

Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
@JLUPodcast on Twitter

Man of Steel Answers:
Michael Schinke:

<Transcript Below>

Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast, we go scene-by-scene through the Warner Brothers films that are part of the Justice League Universe. In this episode we are going to talk about Scene 15 of Wonder Woman, which is Diana and Steve’s exit from Themyscira and Diana’s final conversation with her mother, Hippolyta. This analysis was written by myself with Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and Sydney. You can find us on Twitter @ottensam, @raveryn, @derbykid, and @wondersyd. You can also follow the show at @JLUPodcast.

In our last episode, we saw Diana grab her lasso, shield, sword, and at the end of the scene she saw the Wonder Woman costume. Now we cut back to the infirmary, the setting of Scene 13. We get to see a bit more of the magical water, this time in bottles to light up the cave. Steve Trevor seems to be trying to figure out where on Earth he is, but the magic on the island seems to be interfering with his compass. This gives a bit of credence to the idea that it was the island’s magic that caused his plane to go down, but we still don’t know for certain if that’s what happened or if the Germans shot him down.

The music, with Wonder Woman’s rhythm that started at the sight of the costume, builds and builds until it climaxes right when Diana’s feet step firmly onto the rocks in front of Steve. The way it was filmed and edited, I don’t feel this was especially startling for the audience, but Steve acts startled at the sudden appearance of Diana. She is physically standing over him on higher ground, which matches with the fact that she’s about to offer him a deal and she has more of the leverage so he is going to gladly take the deal.

First, Steve collects himself and then releases the tension from the startling appearance by commenting, “Nice outfit.” It’s a nice bit of humor and it continues the dynamics between them as she says “thank you,” ignoring any hint of sarcasm from Steve, if it was even there in the first place. And we still don’t get to see the iconic costume very clearly -- we will get some more glimpses in London but it is, of course, being saved for the big trench scene and No Man’s Land. For now, the costume is being covered by a heavy, dark cloak, which was a part of the original concept art for Wonder Woman and a version of which was even scene in a BvS blu-ray featurette. For Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins said that she wanted all the Amazonian outfits to be practical. She called the Amazons a practical people overall. And with the cloak, they designed it as practical because it provides warmth, which would make sense as they are about to head out on the ocean.

Speaking of the costume, although we don’t see it in full, we do want to make a couple comments while we’re still on Themyscira. In the comic books, the classic George Perez run involved Diana being given the Wonder Woman costume as a reward for passing the Flashing Thunder test, which is when she deflected bullets from a gun. In that story, the costume is referred to as “warrior garb.”

In the film, the costume designer, Lindy Hemming -- a great name for a costume designer, by the way -- Hemming -- it’s a good fit for the profession, like Tim Duncan the basketball player or Thomas Crapper, the man who popularized indoor plumbing in England. The word “crap,” by the way, had been used in England long before Thomas Crapper was born, but the word actually took off in America after World War 1, and it was partially spurred at that point by Thomas Crapper’s branding. So a nice connection to the World War 1 setting. Anyway, Hemming made a new version of Wonder Woman’s costume based largely on Wilkinson’s original design from BvS but Hemming’s is a bit more comfortable and lightweight for Gal Gadot because she had a lot more action to perform in this film than she had in BvS. For this reason, Hemming also designed a few different types of boots so that Gal could wear things that worked in different sorts of terrain. The costume is also slightly lighter and brighter in color, which kind of makes sense since it was just taken out of display, whereas in BvS the costume has been through World War 1 and who knows what else throughout the 20th Century, and it may have been in storage, too, all of which could lead to a slight dulling of the colors.

One thing about the costume that we forgot to mention in Scene 14 is that the costume was being held in the tower by a stylized eagle. They don’t give us a great look at the eagle contraption in the film, but you can see it in behind-the-scene photos or in the featurette.s. The two wings are outstretched and joining together above the eagle’s back. The eagle is a traditional symbol of Zeus, and so the filmmakers were probably alluding to Diana’s divine origin. But long-time Wonder Woman fans may be disappointed that it’s still the male god being connected to Diana and her costume, rather than more of the female goddesses, as was the case in the original comic books.

But moving on, the key thing we get from Diana and Steve is a bargain which will propel them into the next scene and into the rest of the plot of the movie. Diana says, “I will show you the way off the island, and you will take me to Ares.” From her higher position of power, she doesn’t actually phrase it as an offer for bargaining -- she just says matter of factly that this is what will happen. Steve though, looking up at her, says, “Deal.” He doesn’t actually believe her and the idea of Ares, he may not even know what she’s talking about at all -- but that doesn’t matter to him at this point -- he just needs to find a way off the island so he’s going to take it.

There’s an immediate cut from Steve’s agreement to them riding horseback in the night. So the momentum of the story is propelled forward right away. As we’ve said before, it is probably flow like this, and very explicit connections where one scene leads to the next, that people are responding to when they say the flow and pace was really good for this movie. And speaking of moving the action of the story forward, Wayne Buck from YouTube pointed out a nice little parallel here between the characters: Wayne said, “Both [character] move the action of the story forward by stealing something: Steve Dr. Poison's notebook and Diana ... her battle gear from the guarded tower.”

So Diana has led steve down toward the docks. We don’t know exactly how far this is from the city center, but it’s probably a bit of a distance because they had to ride on horseback. Diana is on a black horse while Steve has a white one that really stands out in the nighttime lighting. The horseback riding is also a set-up for the scene late in the movie when Diana rides to face Ludendorff. But here, they head down to the dock where there’s a small sailboat tied down. We don’t get a great look at the boat, but Steve seems disappointed, either at the condition of the boat or maybe at its means of conveyance. He says, “I’m leaving it that.” Diana corrects him, “We are.” This is the continuation of a thread that will occur many other times in the movie -- Steve and men in general often overlooking Diana or assuming that she must remain behind rather than being part of the action. During the battle on the beach, Steve told Diana to stay back behind the rock, but Diana eventually came out and joined the fight. Here, Steve is thinking about himself leaving, but Diana reminds him that she is going with him. Later in the movie, there will be several other times where men try to keep Diana back, but she always asserts herself, even in so-called “Man’s World.”

Diana asks if Steve knows how to sail, and Steve says, “Of course I know how to sail. It’s just--, it’s been awhile.” We read this moment as a man not wanting to look incompetent in front of a woman, where their ego will lead them to say, “Sure, I can do that,” although later we do see that Steve does decently well with sailing. So the other dynamic in this moment is that Steve is kind of looking down on the older technologies of the Amazons. He is from the modern world with planes and automobiles and steamboats. They don’t regularly need to use wind power to sail anymore. But as we’ll see when we get to smoky, dirty, loud London, there are definitely some trade-offs in joining the “modern” world, so Steve shouldn’t so quickly look down upon the Amazons’ way of doing things.

As Diana and Steve get to the boat, the sound of offscreen hooves draws their attention and they see Hippolyta and a group of Amazons approach on horseback. Of course it’s Hippolyta because she is always conveniently there, like an all-knowing mother. She caught young Diana out of the air, she rode up on the secret training with Antiope, she rode up on the beach just moments after Steve and Diana got there, and now she comes up here in the night -- probably clued in by the tower guards who eventually must have realized there was a break-in.

We get close-ups of Diana and Hippolyta, letting us know that we’re going to get an emotional scene as the culmination of the protectiveness story arc. Earlier Diana told Steve that her mother would not allow her to go, so Steve already knows enough to put his head down and step onto the boat, leaving the mother and daughter to their conversation. Similar to what happened with Antiope’s death on the beach, it is a positive characteristic that Steve sense when it is appropriate to step aside and not be the center of attention.

Diana walks forward toward camera, and the waves are gently rolling in the background, and she knows this is going to be a tough conversation but she musters some conviction and say, “I’m going, mother. I cannot stand by while innocent lives are lost. If no one else will defend the world from Ares, then I must.” I think this was a really good bit of acting from Gadot because it really comes across that she’s not fully confident, she’s trying to put on a confident face. And she’s expressing herself clearly but even as she’s talking she’s also worried about how her mother will react.

Diana finishes her line with, “I have to go.” But instead of confrontation, Hippolyta actually responds with, “I know.” Hippolyta has known for years that her daughter was destined for this moment, but she had nevertheless been trying to avoid it. Hippolyta continues, “Or at least I know I cannot stop you.” So this shows that Hippolyta is still not fully supportive of Diana leaving and seeking Ares, but she does realize that they’ve reached a point where Diana can make her own choices and where the daughter can step out from the protectiveness of the mother.

Diana is trying to process this, because she expected Hippolyta to try to stop them from leaving. Her whole life, Diana’s mother has been overprotective and has limited Diana’s freedom in various ways, so this is a clear change. But it will give Diana the opportunity to go out and make her own mark on the world. The tradeoff, of course, is that making that mark comes with great risk.

Hippolyta gets down off her horse and approaches Diana. Even though Hippolyta has already revealed that Diana is going to win the argument -- she is going to be able to leave the island, Hippolyta still wants to make some final points as they part. Hippolyta says there is so much that Diana still doesn’t understand. So even though Diana has some new freedom, she does not yet have the wisdom of her elders.

But Diana says, “I understand enough.” Of course, people who don’t fully understand something are actually not in a good position to say whether they understand enough or not enough. I often have this thought when I see people criticizing Batman v Superman online, and they say, “Oh yeah, I understood it, I just didn’t like it.” And I’m like, “Hmmmm.” But here, Diana is trying to assert herself, and she shifts from a framing about understanding to a framing about willingness to fight and sacrifice. She says she is willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. So this is some classic Wonder Woman phrasing, and we will see it in action later when she saves the people of Veld. It’s also a continuation of that idea of “do something” that we’ve talked about in the last couple episodes.

And Diana takes this idea of willingness to fight and spins it right back into her mother, saying “like you once did.” So this shows that Diana is, in some ways, following in her mother’s footsteps, but it is also a rebuke of how sheltered Hippolyta had become, in contrast to the great stories that Diana had heard of before Themyscira. Those stories, which resonate with Diana in her naivete, have been called out by Hippolyta as mere children’s stories. By the end of the film, Diana will have gained a lot more experience in the ugliness of the world and of war, but the challenge for her will be to still keep her idealism and sense of righteousness through it all.

Although Diana has sort of called out her mother, Hippolyta ignores that personal barb and continues focusing on Diana’s departure. She says that “if you choose to leave, you may never return.” You “may” never return is an interesting way to phrase it. I think they may have just been going for that kind of old-world formal pattern of speech, but the actual meaning of the line is ambiguous. “You may never return” can mean that you might return, or you might not. There’s a chance it could go either way, like you “may” make this free throw, or if you drive too fast, you “may” get a speeding ticket. You may never return because you decide to stay out there, or maybe you’ll get killed out there, away from the protectiveness of Themyscira. It’s basically like saying there is uncertainty and risk in what you’re doing.

But it can also mean “you may not return” in the sense that you will not be allowed to return. This is like, “Mother may I?” “No, you may not.” Even if you CAN physically return, you MAY not because I am not allowing it. If the line is meant in this sense, then this is basically Hippolyta making a declaration as a queen, which seems harsh, unless she’s just following some code or policy with regard to the island -- no one can come back because they might bring outsiders with them, or they might pollute the purity of the island with their outside experiences.

I think the best version of this “never return” thing would be if the island’s magic made it so that a person, after they’ve left, just isn’t able to find their way back to Themyscira. But if this is the case, a warning that she’ll be unable to find her way back, then I think it was an unfortunate way to phrase it. Instead of “You may never return,” she should’ve said something more like, “You won’t be able to return.”

It’s also possible that Hippolyta herself isn’t sure about the exact situation of someone leaving the island and coming back, because maybe no one has left before. And this issue overall was taken up by Doc in the Man of Steel Answers podcast. He posited that Diana, because she was the cause of the breach in Themyscira’s protective enchantment, may actually have to leave to protect the island, and when she leaves, she won’t be able to return (as explicated in the novelization). He also talks about the distinct possibility that the Amazons expect her to fail. I’ll put a link to his episode in the show notes.

Tensions like this of Diana leaving Themyscira and not being able to find her way back, or not being allowed to come back, are often explored in comic book stories, including in the current Rebirth era of the comics. But in the film, I would say that they don’t actually explore this aspect of the character. Hippolyta tells her that she may never return, but Diana never actually tries to return. She doesn’t explicitly talk about going back to Themyscira, and we never get a scene looking back in on the Amazons. But perhaps the issue of Diana and her subsequent relationship with Themyscira can be explored in the sequel.

Anyway, going forward in the scene, Diana asks, “Who will I be if I stay?” This idea that she needs to leave to at least try to help connects with the theme of doing something rather than nothing. And her rhetorical question also has a nice metatextual payoff -- she has just acquired her weapons and her costume, and by leaving the island, we know she is on her path to fully becoming Wonder Woman. We know this because we have lots of cultural knowledge about the character, and we know that that is where the movie is headed overall. And so when Diana says, “Who will I be if I stay?” We, the audience, know that the unspoken answer is that if she stays, she won’t actually become Wonder Woman. So of course it’s her destiny to leave and set forth on her journey. The implicit message to us is that this is a big step in her becoming Wonder Woman.

And then we get close ups on Diana and Hippolyta in turn, and they have a lot of emotion on their faces, so this is the moment when they realize it is really happening. Hippolyta comes forward to her daughter with Antiope’s tiara. She says that it belonged to the greatest warrior in the history of their people, and she asks Diana to make sure that she acts in a way that is worthy of it. And Diana responds in earnest that she will. They both know how much this tiara means, and it means a lot for the audience too because we spent a good part of Act 1 getting to know Antiope and we have a lot of respect for her. There were also the indications of an even greater history before the time period of the film, so this tiara encapsulates a lot.

This is also a symbolic marker that will carry forward from the first act of the film into the later of acts of the film, and it will have a huge payoff later when Diana finally decides to put it on and climb out of the trenches. It also gives a nice bit of history and character to the Wonder Woman costume. Every time we see it, whether it be later in this film or in Justice League, we know the personal and emotional importance of that tiara. From this perspective, it was a very smart decision by the architects of the DCEU to imbue meaning into these superhero costumes that could otherwise just be cheesy. And they did a really good job of this sort of thing in Man of Steel, as well, where Superman’s costume wasn’t just a silly pair of spandex that he puts on to fly, it is actually a meaningful gift from his Kryptonian father and when Superman wears it, he is embodying the ideals that Jor-El had for a better future and an ideal for mankind.

For the tiara in particular, it also connects with a theme in Wonder Woman of legacy. We mentioned this before with Steve’s watch being handed down from his father, and now we have Antiope’s tiara being handed down to Diana. There is also the legacy of Hippolyta as the Amazonian warrior and savior of the past now going to Diana as the Amazonian warrior who will save the world in the future. Diana is also a legacy of the gods in the sense that she was created as a way for Zeus to pass along a means for defeating Ares. And the movie also starts and ends with the legacy of the Oddfellows group and the photograph that Bruce recovers for Diana.

Moving forward in the scene, we come to a moment of great synergy between the writing and the directing. By giving the tiara to Diana and actually placing it physically on her head, this brings Hippolyta right up close to Diana and it brings her hands right up to either side of her face. This is a loving and intimate gesture, and this physical blocking is paired with an intimate line. “You have been my greatest love.” This of course has been very clear from the beginning that Hippolyta has great love for her daughter, and it’s understandable that that love sometimes takes the form of overprotectiveness. And then, Hippolyta’s hands are sort of briskly pulled away and paired with this motion we have the shift in tone, “Today you are my greatest sorrow.” It’s a great pairing of action with dialogue, and it really brings the complexity of this moment home for the viewer. Of course love between a mother and daughter, and between anyone really, is a complex phenomenon. When you love someone deeply, you are opening yourself up to the risk of losing them. And even if people swear to each other, “I’ll never leave you” or “You’ll never lose me,” part of us knows that there is always that risk of profound love turning into profound sorrow.

And this lesson about the complexities of love is yet another thing that Diana will learn as she gains all these experiences throughout the movie. Her mother has already learned this lesson, but by the end, Diana will also find out in a very personal way what it is like to love someone and then lose them, turning the love into sorrow. So in that sense, this moment is one of many foreshadowings of Steve’s death.

The final exchange here between Hippolyta and Diana is another important thread that is strung throughout the movie. Hippolyta tells Diana to be careful in the world of men, and then she says, “They do not deserve you.” This idea of deservedness will come up many times. We covered it a bit in our initial themes and character arc episode, and we’ll cover it the most closely when it culminates in Ares’ final monologue about what Doctor Poison and all of mankind deserve, but right now we just need to point out the language of “deserves” and to note that in this case it’s from the perspective of a mother. She thinks the world of her daughter, and she is sad to have to give her up to the world. It’s similar to the common joke about parents saying that “no one is good enough to date my daughter.” Parents can actually feel that way, especially when Hippolyta knows the innocence and pure heart of her daughter and knows that the world of men is a corrupt and ugly place. She is rightly worried about what it will do to her daughter.

But Hippolyta knows she can’t stop Diana and she also knows there is a bit of a higher moral obligation here. Just as Hippolyta eventually admitted that Diana needed to train to be able to protect herself, so too must she eventually allow Diana to go into the world because she was ultimately created to be a protector of the world.

But we repeat that the sorrow of giving her over to the world is very understandable, especially for a mother. It’s like in Man of Steel when Lara was reluctant to send her child away, even though the planet was about to be destroyed. There’s a strong bond there that takes great courage and conviction to relinquish. And in Batman v Superman, we can see a similar thing with Martha Kent who does not like the way that the world is treating her son and she admits that she never really wanted the world to have him, anyway. I think Martha and Hippolyta would have a lot in common in that regard.

Diana exits the scene toward camera and we can see some powerful emotions on her face, not only leaving her mother but also the only home she has ever known. Patty Jenkins, in the Art and Making of the Film book, said that she wanted to capture the emotion of a daughter leaving the nest, “what each of us goes through in our own separation from childhood.” It’s scary, and it’s sad, but it’s also relatable because at some point we all feel the need or the calling to go out and find our own purpose and make our mark. The tower scene and this scene together really bring home the idea of Diana as a fledgling leaving the nest, and that is definitely one of the important layers of this film, as we go forward and see her learning to spread her wings and fly… or at least hover. We’ll get to that debate later.

But in this scene, it really continues the emotionally-grounded vision that Jenkins had for the movie and that resonated so well with audiences. A lot of the emotion, especially from this first Act on Themyscira, comes from parent-child relationships. There was the rambunctious little girl at the beginning, the bedtime routine, the overprotectiveness, the frustrations when a child doesn’t listen, the daughter wanting approval from mother, and then the daughter stepping up and becoming her own person and the mother realizing that she’s not going to be able to stop her. And as we talked about for Scene 12, Patty Jenkins, in the art and making of the film book, described the story of this film overall as the story of a naive daughter who has to gain experience and learn what her mother already knows.

Scene 15 here ends with Diana and Steve departing on the boat, and we see Themsycira disappear back behind the mist of the protective barrier. There’s a nice swell in the music and during the final part of the scene the Diana Amazon theme comes in, with the A to E, and A to G intervals.

The final beat is a quick moment back on shore. Menalippe asks Hippolyta if she should have told her. It’s intentionally vague in terms of WHAT she should have told her, but Hippolyta explains why she still kept Diana in the dark about her true nature. She explains, “The more she knows, the sooner he’ll find her.” So this little tag on the scene keeps the mystery alive for the audience. We know that it’s some sort of mystery about Diana’s true nature and it also involves Ares, who is trying to find Diana or who would at least like to find her if he could. So in this sense, Hippolyta is still trying to protect her daughter by keeping her in the dark. Before, Hippolyta thought the less powerful Diana was, the harder it would be for him to find her. Now she thinks the less Diana knows, the harder it will be for him to find her. So Hippolyta at times as restricted both Diana’s strength and her knowledge. And it was all for naught, basically, because as it turns out, it wasn’t hard at all for Ares to find her because Steve and Diana unwittingly went right to him. (And actually Diana wanted to find Ares.) But to give Hippolyta some credit, she was right earlier on, because it did seem like Diana’s bracelet blast played a part in the island being found, and that bracelet blast wouldn’t have happened if Diana wasn’t training.

Anyway, our final thought here is that we noticed Hippolyta says “the sooner he’ll find her,” so she’s suggesting that it’s basically inevitable that Ares will find her eventually. And this also means that Hippolyta really does believe, like Antiope did, that Ares is still alive. So as Diana leaves the island, she can be expected to face some challenges from men but also from a god.

End of Episode

This is the end of Act 1. Next episode we’ll pick up with Act 2 as Diana has now left Themsycira and won’t return.

Speaking of act structure in film, our listener, Michael Schinke (Shhinkee), has a great blog post about the structure of Man of Steel. He explains that it isn’t a typical three-act film and instead has 9 distinct acts that form two halves of the movie -- the first half is about discovery, and the second half is about invasion. It’s available on his blog, which we’ll link in the show notes:

But as for Wonder Woman, we’re actually going to take some time off for the next few weeks so that we can focus on Justice League, but then we’ll be back to continue with Scene 16 as Diana and Steve get to know each other a bit more on the boat. And many people have pointed out that the sailboat scene is great character development because the scene is given space to breath and the interactions let us see how the two characters are getting to know each other. And all of that is true, but we also wanted to point out that, although it’s more subtle, Diana and Steve have actually already established quite a bit in Act 1. Diana saved Steve and they had a very memorable and impactful moment in meeting each other. They fought side by side in a life-or-death situation. Diana heard and empathized with the heartfelt and genuine testimony of Steve. They had the infirmary conversation where they learned a little bit about each other’s background and they showed mutual respect and thankfulness to one another. Diana connected with Steve’s words that inspired her as she was seeking to “do something” to help the world and to expand her horizons. And then, at the end of Act 1, they entered into a mutually beneficial arrangement for Diana to take Steve off the island and Steve taking Diana to the war.

So there’s already a rich foundation there for their relationship, and in the next scene they will keep building upon that, and really it keeps building all the way to the final moments of the film.

But that’s it for now. Check out the Suicide Squadcast and the Man of Steel Answers podcast for more DC-related content, and we’ll pull our whole JLU podcast team together to dig into Justice League. We have a preparatory episode coming this week and then we’ll start our analysis Sunday or Monday. We hope you all enjoy the movie, and several of us are actually going to see the early fan screening in a few hours. We won’t be giving away any spoilers, but if you pester me or Sydney or Rebecca over the next few days on twitter, you might be able to get a general reaction out of us. And as always, thanks so much for listening.

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