Friday, June 1, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scenes 29-30

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 29 (walking to the front) and Scene 30 (in the trenches) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Patty Jenkins' thoughts on the added scene
  • Diana seeing the horrors of war
  • Being told not to do anything
  • Trenches
  • Language and empathy
  • Antiope's tiara

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Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
Episode artwork by Matthew Rushing (@mattrushing02)

<Transcript below>

Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast provides analysis of the DC Films produced by Warner Brothers. This episode 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 this episode, we cover Scenes 29 and 30 of Wonder Woman, which are the transitional scenes when Diana and the Oddfellows are heading toward the front and then when they arrive at the trenches. We will go right up until the moment when Diana starts to climb up the ladder and reveal herself as Wonder Woman. That scene in No Man’s Land will be covered in our next episode, which is already recorded and will be released very soon.

But first let’s shift from the campsite in Scene 28 into the start of Scene 29. There’s a nice audio transition, with the sound of explosions -- the evening hate -- moving us from the campsite to the approach to the front. And the front will be the intense and memorable setting of the next couple scenes.

The filmmakers cut into Scene 29 with an emphasis on the gray, sticky mud. The color and the texture, plus all the pain surrounding us here, is a multimodal contrast to the land of Themyscira where Diana grew up. And Diana’s long robe dragging in the mud is a nice little touch of symbolism, showing that she is going another step further into the messiness and pain of Man’s World. With the purity of her upbringing now behind her, we naturally wonder how she will respond to this new and desperate situation.

As we get into this scene, we should say that this is the only scene that they had to add as a pick-up after principal photography was finished. Even though there were some internet rumors earlier in 2017 about the Wonder Woman production being a mess, director Patty Jenkins eventually spoke out and said those rumors were completely fabricated. Production was very smooth. There were no deleted scenes, which means things were very coherent from script to filming to editing. Then, in an interview with Hollywood Reporter, Jenkins said that this walk to the front lines was the only scene they did in reshoots. She said they wanted to add tension, so they emphasized the horses and the wounded, and they got close-ups of Diana’s reactions to them -- this continues the consistent technique of viewing things from Diana’s point of view.

Jenkins also explained that some of these things were in the script but they just didn’t film it during principal photography because they weren’t sure it was necessary. But later, as they were looking at the assembly cuts of the film, they decided to add in a couple beats here in Scene 29.

And we think this was a great addition for more reasons than just inserting tension. First of all, because we’re big fans of Batman v Superman, we appreciate seeing horses as markers of death. And in the context of this movie, the horses provide yet another specific contrast between Man’s World and Themyscira. We saw earlier a beautiful interaction between Amazons and horses, and it was not just idyllic. Horses were also used in battle, but instead of being abused servants they were more like respected partners to the Amazons.

The two biggest reasons that we like the inclusion of Scene 29 before No Man’s Land is, 1, that it provides a longer ramp up into the battle on the front lines and the emergence of Wonder Woman from the trenches. And 2, this scene reinforces Diana’s character arc and the idea that men are trying to hold Diana back, fitting her into their norms and expectations, but she is going to break free and do things her own way.

With regard to the on ramp, it’s really hard to overstate how important the set up is. We talk, and rightly so, about how great and emotionally powerful the No Man’s Land scene is. But scenes like that don’t just happen on their own. Those potent scenes feel that way because of how they were set up and how the filmmakers led us to that place. It’s because we see the destruction and the pain and the hopelessness of the war that we are exuberant in seeing a hero emerge to put a stop to it. And it’s because we see people telling Diana to look away and not do anything that it feels so empowering to see her shrug off their limitations and step up to the challenge. It makes me think of music. I’m a big fan of progressive rock like The Mars Volta, and they have sections in their songs that rock really hard and have an intense groove. But it’s not just that they wrote and performed those particular segments of music --- they set them up with some quiet sections beforehand, and they will sometimes go into an ambient, free-flowing section before they build back up into the rock, or they will have a section with a lot of dissonance and confusion before the guitar riff cuts back in to take center stage. Those quiet or dissonant sections are not just filler, they are setting up our ears and our minds to react very profoundly to the rock sections.

And that’s the same here. These build-up scenes are not just adjacent to the classic No Man’s Land scene, they help to create the effect of the No Man’s Land Scene.

As we mentioned before, this is not only physically in terms of the characters approaching the warfront, but it’s also with respect to the character arc for Diana. So let’s go through a couple specific things that are included in Scene 29. Right away, we see the horrors and the ugliness of war, and this ties into what we saw earlier with Young Diana. She has always been wanting to go forth and prove herself as a warrior, but now that she sees it for real, it’s painful and disgusting in a sense. She sees a woman and her baby scrambling by as well as a family with child. This reveals that even the innocent and the vulnerable get swept up in the war. And a mother and child connects back to the fact that Diana was a child once and she is now separated from her mother, also because of war.

Throughout this whole scene, we also see Diana’s central character trait of empathy shining through. She empathizes with everyone, naturally and immediately. And her empathy extends beyond people to animals, as well. There’s a long history in the comics between Diana and animals, and we saw some hints of that on Themyscira, but now we see it a bit more as she sees some horses having trouble in the mud, pulling a heavy cart, and getting whipped. Diana says that there’s a better way to work with the horses. This is a quick line, but it’s a really good one, because what we are seeing is horses forced to perform through violence or fear. Diana is saying that there’s a better way to work with the horses, and we can infer that the better approach she’s alluding to is through more care and love and respect for the horses. I like to think that Diana is thinking about love as the better way, because this matches with what she says explicitly at the end of the film -- that she believes in love as the driving force for our interactions with one another.
From the Man’s point of view, although whipping the horses may seem cruel, Charlie explains that it’s necessary to hasten them for their own well-being. Unlike the people, the horses don’t know the broader threat that endangers them.  And really, neither does Diana as she has never seen the likes of man’s wars, only a single battle on Themyscira. She will even ask Steve “What is this” in the trenches because she is not familiar with modern warfare. Just as the men attempt to hasten the horses, Charlie hastens Diana to “come on” because there is no time.

Diana continues to look around to see the cruelty of war including a little boy who’s lost his mother and a wounded soldier on the brink of death. When Diana shows concern for the soldier, Sameer insists there is nothing they can do about it, that they must keep moving. With some creative thinking we can consider these as omens for Diana. While the boy may have simply been separated from his parents in the chaos, given what we see it is more likely they have died making him the first of several orphaned boys she will come in contact with in Man’s cruel world.  The others being Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Lex Luthor. The dying soldier foreshadows the death of Steve Trevor, something which there is nothing she can do about and must keep moving forward from. We see this struggle evident still in Justice League.

But right here in this film, the main beat here is that people are telling Diana that there’s nothing she can do about the pain and suffering around her. She is new to all of this, so she goes along with what they’re saying temporarily. But she does not like what she’s seeing, nor does she like being told that she can’t do anything about it. The idea of needing to do something to help is an underlying theme throughout the DC Extended Universe, with Clark Kent embodying that characteristic in Man of Steel and Superman and Diana each grappling with it in their own ways in Batman v Superman, as well. With Suicide Squad, they start out as villains in part because they have to be coerced to do something good for others, but eventually, as they form personal connections, they end up willingly continuing the mission, which marks their subtle shift into heroes of a sort.

And here in Wonder Woman, as we’ve talked about before several times, especially in the infirmary with Steve Trevor when they talked about doing something rather than doing nothing, this urge to do something is a motivator for many of Diana’s decisions as Wonder Woman.

Alright, the filmmakers go to a wide shot from above, a bird’s eye or a God’s eye view of the battlefront. And this shows the shift into the trenches and what we are calling Scene 30.

Scene 30: In the Trenches

Speaking of the trenches, as soon as it was announced that this film was going to be set during World War 1, everyone knew there was going to be at least one scene in the trenches. They are an iconic aspect of the war. My favorite World War 1 movie, by the way, is a very early Stanley Kubrick film called Paths of Glory. It stars Kirk Douglas and it has some really classic tracking shots in the trenches.

Here in Wonder Woman, there are several things that are historically accurate. First, as Steve Trevor says a bit later, it was true that the trenches and the front lines barely moved for long stretches of the war. Second, the front lines did go up through Western Belgium, just North of France, and third, there is a small town called Veld right near where the trenches were. But I’m not sure if the design of the town is historically accurate.  

Anyway, we see a shot of the Oddfellows and Diana entering the trench. Diana is not familiar with Man’s weapons and war tactics so she doesn’t know what these trenches are and she asks Steve about it. Steve states that this is what war is, although we can see that this is fallacious for him to assume that this is the only way things could be. One of the nuances of bringing Diana and Steve together is that they can eventually help each other learn about other things that are possible. And so, just as Diana expressed to the generals back in London and to Charlie back at the bar, we might infer here that she views this as a cowardly way of fighting, hundreds of yards away from each other and not directly facing your enemy. This ideology about war is what prompts her to ask where the Germans are.

A nice moment here in the trenches is when the soldiers recognize Chief. Given his role in the war, it is likely he has brought them or sold to them supplies in the past. One man says that it is good to see him. Given the circumstances, this is not just a casual greeting like you or I might have, but in war, seeing someone again is a reassurance that he is alive. Chief’s return acts as an inspiration and bit of good news they seem to so desperately need.

The next beat in the scene is a civilian woman with a small child who begs for help in Flemish.  With no voices urging her on to keep moving, Diana is finally able to stop and try to help someone. The woman describes a new aspect of the horrors of the war, informing Diana about people being taken as slaves in the nearby village. This not only identifies the Germans as bad people in this war, not simply an opposing army, but it also springs Diana to action and she asks the woman where this is happening. This is how Diana learns about Veld, setting up the short-term directional momentum of the next few scenes. Although stopping Ares has been Diana’s biggest priority, even she feels this is worth going off-mission for.

And as we’ve said many times before, this interaction with the woman is exhibiting Diana’s super power in action. She has the multilingual ability, yes, which is a nice pay-off to the earlier scene when she said she speaks hundreds of languages and then the reminder scene when she spars with Sameer. But more important, her power is her compassion for others and the strength that spawns from it. And the moment with the woman is a nice crescendo from the prior exposures Diana had to victims of the war. At first, Diana just heard the war described second-hand, then she saw in silence some wounded returning from the front. Then she saw and heard people yelling out in pain and strife right at that moment, and now she gets to actually stop and talk to one first-hand. So this is a great design in terms of the sequencing and the ramping up of Diana’s experiences with the war. And it helps propel her into stepping forward herself into the action.

Now, Steve, on the other hand, is accustomed to these horrors, and he sees them as a part of war, and accepts that certain things can’t be helped. He explains to Diana the impasse they find themselves in and together with Chief he explains that they are a day away from their safe crossing, so their primary mission is pressing and they don’t have time for a detour to Veld. Steve also explains that it’s not just a matter of time but it’s an impossible task to cross the frontlines. His choice of words is very appropriate when he tells Diana that no man can cross No Man’s Land. And as soon as he says it, the audience knows in their mind that, ah ha!, a woman can cross it. And by the way, we were very happy with the writers’ choice here to let that man/woman thought go unspoken. They could’ve had a Return of the King type of moment where Diana responds, “Well, thankfully I am not a man.” But that would’ve been too on the nose and I think it’s better that they had Steve’s line but left the response implicit. He also says it’s not what they came here to do, and she says that it is what she’s going to do. She will do the impossible. She doesn’t accept the terms Steve presented to her, which is a great aspect of having this character from a different society who is free from the self-imposed limitations of Man’s World, and Diana also chooses in this moment to finally ignore everyone else and do something, so it’s that character arc, too, that we’ve been talking about. And by the way, it’s kind of funny that there’s literally a sign next to the ladder that says, “Do not stand about here.” And doggone it, Diana is done standing around, she’s going to go out there to do something.

The filmmakers go to slow motion for Diana as she makes her decision, so again, they use this technique strategically to emphasize important emotional reactions or decision points for Diana. The slo-mo also allows the music to start to gear up for the dramatic No Man’s Land theme. Here in the trench, Diana turns away from camera, a British soldier looks on in amazement, and then we see that she has let her hair down and put on Antiope’s tiara. This taps into our emotional investment from the first part of the movie -- another great aspect of how this sets up the next scene -- and this also serves as a sort of coat of arms for Diana as an Amazon who has a divine responsibility to aid Man. As Diana said to her mother, she would live up to the example that Antiope set and make her proud in wearing the tiara. This is also the first element of her costume, which is fully revealed in just a moment, as we’ll discuss in our next episode.

But in closing here, we just want to say that the filmmakers did a great job of not only having a well-designed tiara for the costume, but they built it into the story so that it had a lot of meaning and resonance for the character and for the audience. This is similar to how Zack Snyder and David Goyer didn’t just give Superman a suit in Man of Steel, they integrated it into the Kryptonian aspects of the story and they connected it to Jor-El’s hopes for his son and for a brighter future than Krypton had. We really appreciate things like this where there are not only skilled costume designers but also thoughtful storytellers who try to infuse all aspects of film production into the characters and themes.

End of Episode

That is our analysis of Scenes 29 and 30 of Wonder Woman, some very effective transitional scenes that lead to No Man’s Land. To try to capitalize on that momentum, we will release our No Man’s Land scene right away. And it will be really nice to release that No Man’s Land episode on the one-year anniversary of the film’s release, because that is definitely one of the most memorable scenes of the movie.

And one final thought here -- we mentioned that Diana uses her language skills with the Belgian woman. The role of language here is pretty important. Imagine someone who sees the woman but is not able to talk to her. Yes, you’ll still have some level of empathy, presuming you’re not completely heartless or a my-nation-first type of person. But if you can go that extra step of actually hearing and understanding the person, and then talking to them about their situation in their own native language, then the connection and the empathy is that much stronger. Many people who learn foreign languages attest to the eye-opening experience and how it allows you to engage deeply with another culture, and that in turn helps you to better see your own culture for what it is. This makes me think about the United States exceptionalism that has been around for a long time but seems to be becoming especially strong among certain segments of the population. Some people really only see things from a U.S. perspective and have a disconnect from the suffering of other cultures of people. This is very likely related to the fact that U.S. citizens are predominantly monolingual, which is unlike almost every other country in the world. To learn multiple languages is to make meaningful connections with other cultures, because language and culture are deeply intertwined.

Back to the film specifically, the fact that Diana speaks multiples languages is yet another way that she is an inspiring character. There was a story on Twitter where a man’s daughter, after seeing the movie, said she wanted to start learning more languages, like Wonder Woman. So that’s pretty cool to hear.

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