Thursday, June 21, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scenes 36-37

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 36 (Oddfellows on horseback) and Scene 37 (entering the gala) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • The morning after
  • Shifts in the team (motivations, Diana's leadership)
  • Charlie singing
  • Steve telling Diana what to do
  • Sameer gets to do some acting
  • Diana sizes up a blue dress
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Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
Episode artwork by Matthew Rushing (@mattrushing02)

Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast provides analysis of the DC Films from Warner Brothers Pictures. This episode was written by myself, Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and Sydney. You can find us on twitter and you can follow the show @JLUPodcast.

In this episode, we cover Scenes 36 and 37 of Wonder Woman, which are the scenes where the Oddfellows make their way toward the German high command gala.  

Before we get into those scenes, we have two quick notes about prior scenes. First of all, in our discussion of the Veld rescue action scene, we did compare the fight there to Batman’s Martha rescue scene from Batman v Superman, but we forgot to give credit to stunt coordinator and second unit director, Damon Caro. He was lead on both of those action scenes, and so if you’re like us and thought they were both really solidly choreographed and filmed, then a lot of the credit goes to Caro. He worked with Patty Jenkins on Wonder Woman, but he’s also worked quite often with Zack Snyder, doing not only BvS but also basically all of Snyder’s previous movies… even Legend of the Guardians, where Caro helped design the animated action sequences.

The other thing we wanted to mention was a brief connection that we made recently between a Scottish author and a character in Wonder Woman -- but that character is not actually Charlie. Back in Scene 33, after the Veld rescue, Sameer said to Diana that everyone is fighting their own battles. We talked about this sentiment as an important thing to keep in mind whenever you are interacting with other people, be they coworkers, family, friends, or strangers. Well, we can also tie this directly to the Scottish writer, Ian MacLaren, aka John Watson, who said something similar. He wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Of course it’s good advice to be kind. This is what my wife and I tell our kids when we take them to school. The most important thing is to be kind to everyone. It’s like Henry James said, “Three things are important: the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind.” But what I really like about the MacLaren quote is that it not only directs us to be kind but it also gives us motivation to be kind. It tells us to consider the other person and to realize that we don’t know what they’re going through, but it’s definitely something, so that’s why we should be kind.

And this might seem very basic, but I think it’s important, too. Especially given the fact that new reports have found that the suicide rate in the U.S. has gone up sharply over the past 15 years. We really could use more kindness -- it can literally save lives. And we also wanted to mention that if you or someone you know are at risk for suicide, there are people who can help, such as Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Alright, so let’s go into the new scenes. Diana and Steve just had their magical night together, so Scene 36 starts with some morning lighting and a new color palette of yellows and reds. It’s like the sun is shining down as a blessing upon Veld, now freed from the grim grays of the war.  The streets are once more populated by the residents and not a occupying army.

The first shot and sounds are focused on horses, which is also a nice contrast to the horses stuck in the mud and getting whipped before the trench scene. The guys are tending to some horses and Sameer tells Diana were given to them by the villagers. Chief calls them a “gracious gift” which suggests a mutual appreciation. Sameer also says that the villagers called them heroes. We discussed how they all acted heroically, so when Diana responds “You are”, she is not merely feeding his ego but acknowledging the risks they took and bravery they showed.  Sameer stands taller than usual with a newfound pride, and seems to be genuinely touched by the acknowledgements.

Steve talks to the guys about the deal that they had made, that the job would only be two days.  And while he and Diana would certainly benefit by their continued assistance, as a man of honor he holds true to his word and says a “deal’s a deal.” Chief in a half-joking, half-serious manner states that Steve would get lost without them. On one level, he clearly means that they would get lost geographically. But on another level, as an audience, we can think about how Steve and Diana might end up losing their mission without them, or they might lose themselves in the cruelties of war that await them. For example, imagine if Diana gave in to her anger and disappointment in mankind instead of choosing the side of love. It is partially her companionship with the Oddfellows that makes sure she doesn’t get lost in this way.

Sameer adds that while they all know Diana is capable of taking care of herself, something which they saw first hand in No Man’s Land and the battle for Veld, he is worried that Steve won’t make it. Once again, deeper meaning can be garnered from these words. Steve might not survive the struggles ahead of them, and ultimately he will in fact lose his life in pursuit of their cause, but if he were to survive, would he come out in one piece or be a changed man? Anyway, this comment by Sameer is yet another foreshadowing of Steve’s death at the end of the film, and yet another one that is couched in humor, so it’s a pretty sneaky and easy to miss the first time you watch the film.

Steve continues by saying that there’s no more money. And the group did initially take the job primarily for the money, and we suppose a photo of Diana for Sameer, but it shows growth for their characters and a shift in priorities when Sameer tells Steve that they’ve been paid enough.  So while we start out with the impression that they were a bunch of unruly mercenaries, we now see them in a new light, just like the village is in a new light this morning. There is a selfless and compassionate side to them who want to do good and want to protect their friend who they care about.

Now thus far, Charlie has been silent. Although he shares this sentiment of friendship, he has doubts about joining them, thinking they would actually be better without him. He looks away after he says this, suggesting that it’s kind of hard for him to bring up his failure the day before with the sharpshooter, and he’s graciously trying to give the team an out if they happen to be looking to get rid of him. But Diana, empathetic toward Charlie and having learned a bit about him already at the campfire and in talking to Sameer the day before, she chimes in to reject this notion. She eases his mind with a sense of belonging by suggesting they need him to sing for them. Obviously, singing is not an essential skill needed in their subsequent mission, but the real intentions are understood -- she is saying that of course they still want him with them. This shows a new kind of leadership from Diana. The day before, she showed leadership in going out into No Man’s Land and doing the heavy lifting in the rescue of Veld, and now she’s showing that she understands another important part of leadership, which is to have meaningful relationships with your team and to make them each feel valued and respected.

Steve agrees with Diana and, to help in making Charlie feel included in the way that guys often do, Sameer breaks his chops by criticizing his singing. Charlie’s spirits are quickly lifted and he begins to sing to Diana who smiles joyously. This dynamic shows the connection they each have to one another, and how much they care for each other. We can also get a sense from this scene and the scenes leading up to it that they are stronger together, a theme that will persist through to Justice League. And it is Diana, both here and in Justice League, who serves as a leader in her compassion and making others feel valued, such as with Cyborg.


There’s a humorous cut when we shift from the town, where they’re standing with the horses, to the forest, where they’re riding the horses. Charlie had just started singing the folk song “Green Grow the Rashes”, and then right after the cut we hear him singing in the distance another line from that song, “The sweetest hours that e’er I spend.” So it’s funny to think that he’s been belting it for that whole time in between the cut. And by the way, that song, by the Scottish Poet Robert Burns, talks about not pursuing Earthly treasures but instead cherishing your time spent with women. So that actually connects directly with what we were just saying about the Oddfellows moving beyond the incentive of money and also going forward with Diana as a fully embraced member of their team.

Well, not just a member, but a leader, which is shown by her riding at the front of the group now. This is a shift from how they were trying to pull her along in the trenches and trying to direct her where to go.

Speaking again about the scene’s colors, the forest here gives us a new color palette of greens and browns thanks to the foliage. It is a nice focus on life in contrast to the morbidity of war in the previous scenes. The temporary escape from the war allows for the Oddfellows to have some light-hearted dialogue, but dialogue that connects to the main plot, as well. We come in to the middle of the conversation and it’s clear that Steve has been telling them about Diana’s background and her actual intentions. Like a little angel and devil on Steve’s shoulders, Charlie and Sameer ride beside him as he tells them about Themyscira, an island of only women just like Diana. Charlie the naysayer is skeptical about such an island while Sameer the libidinous sentimentalist, is intrigued and wants to going there. The two continue their roles as angel and devil offering skepticism and openness to the notion that Ludendorff is Ares and must be killed to end the war. Sameer brings up Diana’s amazing feats back at Veld. And Chief says that he believes it, which Sameer immediately clings to. Although Steve stays silent for the moment, we are drawn in to wondering what he actually does think -- has he moved beyond his skepticism expressed back on the boat? This is effective writing that pulls the audience in, having us lean forward toward answers about the characters, while also moving forward toward the next location in the plot. And of course, we eventually find out what Steve thinks about all this at the Gala. But right now he looks pensive as if undecided, somewhere in between Sammer and Chief’s decidedly accepting opinion and Charlie’s total rubbish opinion.  

Scoping out the Gala Location (1:31:00)

Moving into Scene 37, we get some nice establishing shots of a Belgian castle. Though in reality, the exterior shots were filmed at Arundel Castle in West Sussex, England. And the interiors are actually from Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.

Now, although we have just talked about Diana showing some leadership abilities, she is not the sole leader of the group. Steve has a much longer history with the group, and he was technically the one who brought them together for this mission. So now that they’ve arrived at the location of the gala, he exerts himself again as leader. He tells Diana to hide, and in the next couple scenes as well, he will tell Diana what to do a few times, and this tension of who calls the shots will all come to a head when she shoves him aside in the gala. As we’ve said in other other episodes, like with No Man’s Land, a moment is not just effective because of how it’s executed but also because of how it’s set up. And that will also be true for the forthcoming moment -- “what I do is not up to you” -- which is set up by all these little times that Steve tells Diana what to do or not do.

Charlie checks out the location through his sniper scope, so he’s at least good for that, even if he can’t shoot with it. He notices some guards and Steve is trying to think about how to get in. Diana says that she could get in but he tells her she’s going to have to stay here, hidden outside. He tells her it’s too dangerous, which she thinks is ridiculous, probably because of everything that she’s already proven herself capable of. And Steve also says that she’s too distracting and that what she’s wearing isn’t exactly “undercover.” This is a great set-up to the blue dress scene later, when it’s Steve who will be distracted by her.

Sameer sticks up for Diana, but I don’t think the line here was very great. He says, “I don’t know, I’d say she was pretty undercover on that battlefield.” I know the intention behind this line, but it just doesn’t quite work for me, and when Charlie snickers at it, it seems forced to me. But that’s a very minor complaint.

Steve reminds us about the danger of the new poison gas and says that they should go in and gather some information before their next move. Diana wants to make the move now. She is probably looking at the castle and thinking that she can climb in like she did with the stone tower on Themyscira. But Steve says she can’t go into German high command and kill anyone. So his subtle directives toward Diana -- to hide, that she’s not going in, that he’s decided it’s too dangerous for her -- have all crescendoed into this ultimatum that she is not allowed to pursue her primary directive here, which is to kill Ares.

Now, thus far in these scenes, Sameer and Charlie have gotten most of the character beats, but this is Chief’s moment to shine because while they’ve been debating, he just went ahead and found a way in. He pulls up in a car, and he has a genuinely funny line. Where’d the car come from? “A field over there. It’s full of them.”

And so Steve and Sameer head into the car, with Sameer excited to act as a chauffeur. And as soon as Steve has stepped away, Diana sets out on her own, because she’s going to do what she thinks she needs to do. There’s a funny, almost Batman-like moment when Charlie and Chief realize she’s gone. And then we get some more humor with Sameer and Steve approaching the entrance. I really like the nervous energy that Sameer has when he’s driving the vehicle, and in addition to the humor of the dialogue and Chris Pine’s tenor German accent, there’s also the site gag of Steve adjusting his pipe before anyone notices. The pipe, by the way, might be an homage to the history of the character but we couldn’t confirm it, so if you’re well versed in Steve Trevor lore, please let us know.

The interaction with the guard showcases Steve and Sameer’s natural chemistry and ability to adjust to the situation. And for Sameer, especially, it is a payoff of the scene where we met him as a conman and to the earlier conversation with Diana about him actually wanting to be an actor. Sameer’s performance, Steve’s feigned anger with him, and then the impatient cars waiting in line all help to get them waved in to the gala. Before they pull in, Steve notices the lines of chairs being set up outside, which foreshadow the horrific display that is planned for later, as Ludendorff will gas Veld, just beyond there in the distance. So the horseback ride may not have been as long as it seemed, although if they are up on a hill, which the castle seems to be, you can see for quite a long distance. So it’s plausible.

The last beat in the scene is nicely connected. That line of vehicles that we just heard honking impatiently, well now we see Diana looking out at them from the edge of the forest. There’s still more humor to be had here, this time from the pretentious and self-entitled rich lady, Fausta. And we feel all this humor in scenes 36 and 37 is well placed, because these are transitional scenes between the action and the danger of the battle for Veld and then the destruction of Veld. There is a break in the tension after they save Veld, so in these scenes it is very appropriate to fit in as much humor as is natural with the characters. Where we tend to get annoyed with humor in these superhero movies is when the humor is unnaturally injected right into a fight or a tense scene.

But here, the lady and her unwillingness to wait in line with everyone else and her posh appearance, seemingly separated from the actual damage and heartbreak of war, and the fact that the dress is pretty ill-fitting on her, it all strikes us as pretty funny. In a huff, she gets out of her vehicle and starts walking, where she encounters Diana. She laughs at her and says, “What are you supposed to be?” Which is sort of a preview of Ludendorff’s line in Scene 42, “What are you?”

Diana silently sizes up the lady and we can infer what’s going through Diana’s mind. But smartly, the filmmakers don’t actually show us what exactly happens here between Diana and Fausta. They just give us this brief tease, and then they wait for the big reveal, which happens in the gala itself.

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