Wednesday, June 27, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scenes 39-40

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 39 (leaving the Gala) and Scene 40 (the gassing of Veld) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Blue dusk
  • Blue dress gets left behind
  • Orange gas
  • Diana's reactions to the loss of Veld
  • Diana and Steve confrontation (continued)
  • Learning another lesson about mankind
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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 Alessandro. This podcast provides analysis of the DC Films from Warner Brothers Pictures. This episode was written by Sam Otten, Rebecca Johnson, Sydney, and myself. You can find us on twitter and you can follow the show @JLUPodcast.

In this episode, we cover Scenes 39 and 40 of Wonder Woman, which are the scenes where Diana and Steve leave the Gala and race off to Veld which they find engulfed in gas.

The first thing that strikes us from the change in scene, going from inside the gala to outside, is the different color pallete. We are immediately hit with a sea of bluish hue compared to the previous scene’s vibrant golds and browns and dark reds. This change helps set the tone in a couple of ways.  It helps us identify that this is at dusk, which is symbolic given that the gassing of Veld leads to the light going out in the life of Veld and its inhabitants, so to speak -- Veld’s day has come and gone. In that respect, dusk symbolizes death. The blue also provides a good backdrop to the orangey glow of the gas at Veld once Diana arrives.

As Steve chases after Diana leaving the castle, the roars of soldiers from atop the fortress draws their attention just as a mortar is fired.  This immediately diffuses their prior disagreement as Steve points out that this could be the delivery of the gas, and the implication is that this launch might hit Veld.  It was natural for Steve to have pointed this out given Diana’s limited exposure to modern weaponry. Diana might not have been immediately aware of the implications of the launch.  And the nice camera shot of the sword on Diana’s back in a nice reminder of her antiquated battle tactics and experience relative to the modern firepower just used. Her understanding comes with her saying “the village” as she sprints toward Veld exposing her boots under the dress.

The soldiers on the castle cheer, prompting the nearby Sameer to ask rhetorically “What are they cheering for?”  Charlie, still able to use the scope of his weapon as we mentioned in Scene 32 and Scene 37, looks through it in response. And we get a nice first-person perspective as he eyes Ludendorff and Dr. Maru in the indents of the battlement. Diana races by on horseback, prompting the guys to call out to her. They don’t know what’s going on and Steve arrives with answers.  Chief asks where they fired, not realizing it was no ordinary shell. Steve explains it was gas fired by Ludendorff who Charlie says he saw on the tower. Steve instructs the guys to follow Ludendorff wherever he goes. This way they can keep track of him, which would certainly be of vital importance whether he turns out to be Ares or not. Charlie quickly returns his sights to the tower.  In this respect, even unable to shoot due to his PTSD, Charlie ends up playing an important role in keeping track of their target. Sameer shouts out to Steve as he rides off questioning how he will find them even if they manage to keep on Ludendorff’s tail. After all, they didn’t exactly have radios to communicate with. Chief responds with reassurance that there is a way, saying he knows how. This of course sets up the smoke signals that Chief will use later, bringing Diana and Steve into the site of the final showdowns.

We get a great shot of Diana on horseback rounding a curve followed by the blue dress she was wearing gliding to the ground as she rides away further into the forest.  What’s great about this is two-fold. First, it represents Diana shedding her delicate looking “lady-like” shell for a warrior’s exterior. While this disguise allowed her to seem harmless which she used to infiltrate the gala and inadvertently entice Ludendorff, the act of discarding the dress to reveal her armor symbolizes the strength women have inside that merely needs to be revealed.  This moment is especially potent because she is also shedding mankind’s limitations placed on her -- as personified by Steve stopping her in the gala. She has decided to allow her true Amazonian self to come forth, perhaps regretting the less direct steps that she had taken before.

The second thing that’s great about this shot is it also represents the superhero paradigm of changing from normal people clothes into their costume.  It’s like when Clark pulls his shirt open to change to his Superman suit. And Diana similarly seems to rip off her dress in a flash.

Diana speeds through the trees with haste and desperation.  The moving camera emphasizes the urgency in this scene. And the music, “Fausta” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams, is heroic but melancholy, building up with each lengthening interval, foreshadowing the disaster that awaits her. Then an overhead shot from behind shows Diana approaching the very noticeable cloud of orange gas ahead.  A close-up shot of her face gives us an idea of how this sight makes her feel, which is relevant given how we’ve mentioned compassion is sort of like one of her powers. And the devastation to Veld will certainly play a role in her eventually tapping into her divine power.

When she finally stops and dismounts the horse, there is no longer a need to rush in because she already knows she is too late.  The devastation is palpable. The gas is still rolling throuhg the village, and as we said before, the orange color of the gas really stands out because it contrasts with the blues and greens that were established earlier in the scene -- with orange and blue being opposite one another on the color wheel.

Here, in the village of Veld where just the night before there had been much joy that surrounded her, thanks to her actions, now she was enveloped by the gaseous death brought on by the actions of men.  When at the culmination of the fight for Veld Diana was surrounded by dust, it signaled success and life. And now at the end of Ludendorff’s strike on Veld the dust and gas surrounding her signals failure and death. The contrast here between Veld yesterday and Veld right now is emphasized by the similar camera movements, rotating around Diana and focusing on her emotional reaction in each instance.

There’s also a contrast going farther back in the film. This fog of death is a contrast to the protective fog around Themyscira.  It’s a profound difference between a god’s creation, beautiful and safe, and a man’s creation, horrible and destruction, and this stark difference could only help to lure Diana to Ares’ cause as proposed by him later on.  She stands, a demi-god, at the center of the gas, unaffected by it, while mortal bodies lay around her, dead from inhaling it. And kudos to Patty Jenkins, by the way, for allowing the horror of this scene to play through Diana’s reactions, not by showing gruesome dead bodies directly. It’s not only a more tasteful way to film the scene, just like she was very tasteful in filming a very different sort of scene with Diana and Steve’s night together in the inn, but filming the destruction of Veld this way coheres with what Jenkins has been doing all along -- showing us the story from Diana’s perspective all the way along.
And for her, she’s bearing witness to all the deceased, something she is not accustomed to living on an island of immortals.  Steve arrives but cannot penetrate the boundaries of the gas as he starts coughing. This gives us a distinct contrast of Diana’s divinity and Steve’s humanity.  His reaction also provides context for what the villagers suffered. Steve calls out to Diana as he is unable to go to her side. Diana walks out from the fog and tells Steve they are all dead.  She bemoans that she could have saved them. This sentiment is one that also plagues other superheroes, such as Superman in Batman v Superman when, how Lex Luthor puts it, as a god he takes sides choosing who to save and what wrongs to right.  Knowing there are people he can save but doesn’t because he is busy saving other people or having a life as Clark is the inner struggle that eats away at Superman.  However, this isn’t quite the situation here where Diana is blaming Steve for all their deaths, since he stopped her from killing Ludendorff who she believes is Ares.  But the reality that Diana can’t save everyone is one she will need to come to grips with in the end. And just as killing Ludendorff doesn’t end the war, nor is it necessarily true that killing Ludendorff at the Gala would have prevented Veld from being gassed.

This turn of events is the big complication within the act structure.  Where Diana thought she was on the verge of succeeding, it turns out Diana seems to be far away from achieving her goal -- to defeat Ares and stop the war.  Diana claims to understand everything now, but she is far from it. She believes Steve has also been corrupted by Ares. She is blinded and shortsighted by her obsession with fulfilling her goal of killing Ares.  She begins to rationalize things that don’t make sense to her, facing a bit of denial and stubbornly refusing to see Man’s World as it is as opposed to what she believes it should be. Like Batman, in a state of helplessness Diana is forcing the world to make sense.  And like Batman she is obsessed with killing a god who she believes is responsible for countless deaths even though he is tangentially to blame.

Although Diana does not have things figured out as well as she thinks she does, this is an important step in her learning process throughout the movie. At first, she only knows about mankind based on children’s stories told to her by her mother, and some slightly different accounts shared by her aunt. Then she enters Man’s World first hand, completely naive, believing that certain men -- for instance, the Germans -- are evil because they are corrupted by Ares. Now she has seen several different aspects of the war and has seen some of the complexities even of men on the opposite side from the Germans. She takes a step forward in her learning right here in this scene, as she realizes that it’s not just the Germans who are evil. There might be evil or at least corruption in many people, maybe even Steve, who she had grown quite close to already. And in a sense, she’s kind of right, because certainly there were bad people on the Allied side, just as there must’ve been some Germans who were good people on the Central Powers side. It’s not just as simple as purely good guys and purely bad guys, as was suggested by dialogue in earlier scenes. Diana is complexifying her view of the situation in Man’s World, but she doesn’t quite have it yet. She still needs to take another step in her learning, which will happen by the end of the film, where she realizes that the good and evil is inside each person, not just within each side of the war.

And of course the other thing that she still needs to realize is that Ares is not  the key to it all. Sure, he’s a negative influence on mankind, but a big part of the issue is human nature itself, as she will talk about in her next emotional scene with Steve.

And they don’t have time to really talk here, because Steve sees smoke rising in the distance.  With no radios to communicate with, the means of signaling Steve which Chief knew was appropriately smoke signals, the oldest form of long-distance communication used by the North American indigenous peoples, which Chief is among.  Previously we had stated that there hasn’t been confirmation Chief is the legendary character Napi. But the actor who plays him, Eugene Brave Rock, has actually stated that they specifically wrote Napi in the script and that yes, he is a demi-god.  He also explicitly answered the question on Twitter when asked if Chief was a demi-god writing “Blackfoot culture hero and Demi-god”. Given that Patty Jenkins had given Eugene Brave Rock creative liberty with the character, we can accept his words as fact.  This sheds new light on the character of Chief, especially in the context of his scenes. His quiet nature and wise words have new significance. His ability to provide, both materials and emotional support, especially to the men in the trenches, have further relevance given this new context.  And now, signaling Steve and Diana via smoke signal, he is proving once again his ingenuity and resourcefulness which may or may not be a product of his divinity.

Steve draws Diana’s attention to the smoke and explains it is the Chief, signalling where Ludendorff is.  Even with Diana resenting him, Steve sets his feelings aside and continues to support Diana by guiding her to her goal.  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And this smoke will lead her to a fiery battle with Ares, just not the Ares she thinks.  Steve sees a nearby motorcycle which will allow him to rejoin Diana without falling behind. And yet again there is a divisive contrast between Diana and Steve, and the two worlds they come from.  Diana rides off on horseback, natural and god made, in tune with nature and old-fashioned ways. Steve will be riding on motorcycle, mechanical and man made from a modern world.

End of Episode

That’s our analysis of Scenes 39 and 40 of Wonder Woman. Next we’ll see Diana race off and achieve the feat which she believes would have prevented the destruction in these scenes as she comes face to face with Ludendorff.

Now a quick note about the previous scene -- Scene 38 at the gala. Our listener, Omesh Signh on twitter pointed out a nice moment where Ludendorff was framed perfectly where the background objects make it look like horns are coming out of his head. This adds to the illusion that he is in fact Ares, who famously has horns coming out of his helmet.

Another listener, Hunter Price, made a couple more connections to Diana’s blue dress. In addition to the homage to Lynda Carter, Hunter also noted that the blue garment parallels the blue robe worn by Zeus in the history lesson, and Diana sneaking into the gala in a blue dress matches up with the classic fairy tale of Cinderella sneaking into the ball in her blue dress.

To close, we thank the Suicide Squadcast for covering the latest DC news and Man of Steel Answers for in-depth DCEU analysis. And of course thanks to all of you for listening. We invite you to check out the reward packages we have available at our Patreon page at where we will continue to release bonus episodes and offer giveaways.

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