This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on the end of the prologue and the first sequence in Part 1: Don't Count On It, Batman (Bruce's trip to Iceland, meeting Arthur Curry).
- Superman's impact continues to spread
- Bruce in the mountains
- Icelandic village and symbols
- Bruce and the mayor
- Bruce and Arthur
- "Strongest alone"
- Poem by Rósa Guðmundsdóttir
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Welcome fans of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. This is the Justice League Universe podcast where we analyze DC Films scene-by-scene. Our team currently consists of Sam, Rebecca, Carol and myself. I’m Alessandro and in this episode we are going to take a look at the scenes concluding the prologue and beginning Part 1 of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, available on HBO Max and on various streaming sites around the world.
In the last episode we talked about the impact of Superman’s death spreading out throughout the world, and the sweeping camera shots pull the audience along in that motion. That same motion continues in this scene, but now instead of the ripples of Superman’s death cry it is actually the person of Bruce Wayne who is setting out across the world, inspired by Superman’s example. And it’s a good thing that he has inspired Bruce in this way because Bruce will set out to form the league as the answer to the threat that comes from the awakened mother boxes.
So in the last episode and in this episode, what we are seeing is the effect of Superman making its way across the world. And in terms of the scope and scenery of the prologue, we saw land, and a cityscape, and water, and air, and a green island. Now we are seeing snowcapped mountains.
Our first shot of the scene focuses on a tea kettle. Without Alfred with him, Bruce resorts to making his own tea. Given the frigid climate, it is no doubt important for Bruce to keep himself warm. You can only cover yourself with so many layers for warmth, so warming oneself from the inside is the natural next measure. We see a beautiful far away shot of Bruce, who we don’t know is Bruce yet, camped out at a fire trying to keep warm. There is also a horse there. It kind of resembles a scene from a western, except instead of a desert of sand this is a desert of snow. But similar to a cowboy, Bruce is trying to do some “rounding up” of some warriors. His isolation amidst this sea of ice also symbolizes this typical lone ranger personality Batman has been known for which is a contrast to what we see him evolve into through this film as a team player and part of a family of heroes working together.
The noise of snow on the screen is done really well and really helps to emphasize the harsh environment and cold temperature that Bruce is putting himself through to reach his goal. The icy environment also correlates to the apparent seasonal theme of each film in the saga. As you may recall, the opening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice focused on the fall season. Here, in our darkest hour with Superman deceased and the world at the precipice of a bleak future. It is the Winter of our discontent so to speak as evil ambitions seek to conquer Earth and the world is blanketed by sorrow as it mourns the death of their guardian. But like King Richard in Shakespeare’s Richard III, by the end of the film the winter is made glorious with the upturn of fortune with god’s return, out of the ground and back up into the sky as Superman’s reign shines like the sun.
The first time we see Batman he’s not wearing his suit, but he’s wearing all black and you can’t really see his face living up to his “dark knight” persona. So even though he’s not in his Bat suit, he is still garbed in a fashion reminiscent of his costume down to the mask and goggles. He also rides a horse like a knight does. The identity of this masked stranger is still unknown as he extinguishes the flame and mounts the horse. The image of horses continues to be used. Horses were seen and referenced throughout BvS from the riderless horse during the Black Zero event, to Lex’s finger tapping referring to the red capes, to Jonathan Kent’s story on the mountain top. As we discussed during our Batman v Superman analysis, horses symbolize death and are often connected with the horsemen of the apocalypse in this regard. This relates directly to Superman’s death and the impending threat from Apokalips. Horses are also a universal symbol of freedom which with respect to Bruce represents the shackles that have been shed of his previously toiling burden to rid the world of Superman which consumed him.
We see beautiful sprawling views of icy mountains indicating a long distance and showing the desolate landscape which helps us to grasp the large feat of Bruce traversing this terrain which even the Icelandic villagers find incredulous. During these shots we see Bruce guiding the horse on foot which can be viewed as having respect for the animal where another might push the creature beyond its limits simply to avoid having to walk themselves.
Bruce’s trek over the mountains is like a spiritual pilgrimage akin to the Inca Trail at Macchu Picchu or the Camino de Santiago. He is attempting to open an exchange with the Icelandic village while following a path to enlightenment that will lead him to a literal precipice and a metaphorical one of faith in contrast to his previous methodical path. He looks down at the beautiful sight where a small village resides. This view is somewhat of a prize for Bruce after his long journey which, based on the village leader’s “impossible” remark, is one that no one else in the world has seen. But the view of the village is the actual prize he has sought in hopes to encounter the Aquaman.
Once Bruce sees the village, he takes off his mask and hood identifying himself to us as if shedding his cloaked “superhero” persona and preparing to use Bruce Wayne to get the information he needs. This is a bit of a throwback to BvS in which Bruce insisted on relying on his Batman persona using extraordinary measures to try and gather information, whereas Alfred points out to him that Bruce Wayne was able to get the information that Batman couldn’t. This is a sign that Bruce has also shed his darker tendencies and has regained his faculties of reason.
We see a Vegvisir, which is Icelandic for sign post or wayfinder, hanging from an archway. It is an Icelandic magical stave intended to help the bearer find their way through rough weather, even when the way is not known. This relates directly to Bruce’s long journey through inclimate weather to arrive at that very spot. Interestingly the Vegvisir appears to contain shapes that resemble tridents which relates directly to Aquaman who happens to be protecting that village.
The villagers appear to be standing in awe seeing a man who is clearly an outsider and no doubt wondering how he got there and where he came from. As Bruce walks he parts the crowd like the red sea as if he were a prophet carrying a warning message in an attempt to deliver the world from Apokalyptian slavery. So while Superman is the Christ figure, Bruce is sort of the Moses figure in this story made more evident by his new found faith and his role in organizing a community of heroes. He also spreads the word of Superman so to speak. We also see him wandering the desert wasteland in the nightmare future just as Moses did. Physically the beard he wears during this first scene also helps to sort of convey the image of a Moses character. A beard can represent a distinction of a believer from non-believers. In this respect both Bruce and Arthur know about the world of metahumans whereas the shaven leader of the village laughs and scoffs at Bruce’s warnings about coming enemies. Zack Snyder has stated that this film takes place six weeks after BvS. This means the events of Suicide Squad must have taken place over the two or three weeks following, and Bruce must have spent the next several weeks traversing the Icelandic mountains after receiving the metahuman files from Amanda Waller. This would suggest his beard has grown for about a month’s time. In a way it represents Bruce’s growth from his anti-Superman sentiment to somewhat of a missionary in his newfound faith.
The prologue officially ends once Bruce arrives at the archway with the Vegvisir. His arrival at the archway is equivalent to the arrival at the sun gate at the end of the Incan Trail. Similar to how the Sun Gate of Macchu Picchu once served as a control gate to keep undesirables out, we see the villagers weary of Bruce as an outsider and reluctant for him to enter their own remote village.
PART 1: DON’T COUNT ON IT, BATMAN appears as a title card which is a line spoken by Arthur Curry to Bruce Wayne.
The sounds of wind blowing can be heard throughout this scene likely as a result of the air bottlenecking through the valley between the mountains. It adds an atmosphere of harshness to the village and the people struggling. This scene appears to take place in a building that appears to be something of a town hall.
We see a black business card in someone’s hand with a large W on it. The man says “Bruce Wayne” in a heavy accent as if struggling to read the card. The background is blurred, but we can make out people and a silhouette, not dissimilar to Batman’s, just beside the card.
We soon will see that man is Bruce Wayne.
The man holding the card is sitting before a standing crowd which immediately conveys the sense that he is in a position of leadership, perhaps the mayor of this town. He is appropriately wearing warm clothing for that environment and appears to be older suggesting he possesses knowledge and experience. We see a slightly less blurred background as he addresses someone who we presume to be an interpreter or right-hand man. So things are starting to become clearer. But we still only see a portion of the interpreter's face hiding his identity for the moment. The mayor questions where this Bruce Wayne character came from pointing out that there hasn’t been aerial access to the village for at least six days. And in a moment we’ll get confirmation that access by water has also been blocked as a result of the icebergs in the harbor. When he is told the man climbed over the mountain he says that is an impossible feat. This establishes early on that Batman is capable of performing the impossible. And we will see him accomplish things against all odds throughout the film. This also emphasizes the lengths to which Bruce has gone in order to meet Arthur Curry.
The mayor is willing to hear what Bruce Wayne has to say, perhaps curious of this stranger who claims to have done the impossible. He says “talk” in Icelandic and his interpreter turns to reveal himself as none other than the underwater being caught on camera in BvS whom Bruce is no doubt seeking. Of course from a meta perspective, we know this is Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. He looks at Bruce Wayne with his strange looking eyes and relays the message to talk.
Bruce conveys his belief about a generous stranger who brings food to the villagers on the King Tide when they are hungry. We can gather that he is referring to the man standing before him, and Bruce knows this, but he goes along with the facade for Arthur’s benefit in hopes of gaining his favor. Bruce’s words also convey to us how he knew when and where to find Arthur which he elaborates later, outside, when he refers to having read the stories of his good deeds. King Tides only happen once or twice a year in coastal areas. They are the highest tides of the year that occur when the moon is at its closest distance from the Earth and the Earth is at its closest distance from the sun during a full or new moon.
The villagers are attentive to his words, seemingly concerned about the implications of what Bruce is saying. They know very well this stranger is real, which we will learn when Aquaman later makes his departure into the sea. They may be worried not only about Arthur being discovered, but also how it may affect their village. This seems to be even more evident in the mayor’s reaction when he refers to the stranger as a “magical man from the sea” scoffing at the notion, no doubt in an attempt to dismiss it and protect Arthur’s identity if not for Arthur, then for the sake of his village which benefits from his good deeds.
Arthur relays what Bruce said to the mayor in Icelandic. In our attempt to translate what Arthur says using Google Translate, we were only able to translate the first word of this part which is the word “newcomer”. It's worth noting that according to someone by the name Jon Sandys on moviemistakes.com, Jason Momoa’s pronunciation of the Icelandic “was so atrocious that when shown in Iceland, which normally subtitles English-language movies, the Icelandic also had to be subtitled...into Icelandic, just so people could understand what he said.” This may be why Google had such trouble understanding. But it’s evident in the film that he is merely interpreting what Bruce is saying for the head of the village. The shot when Arthur is translating and speaking Icelandic is taken from outside a window looking in which helps to convey the essence of Bruce being an outsider and how outsiders are not welcomed in their village and town affairs. This also strikes at the heart of Arthur not liking anyone digging into his business and getting into his life.
Arthur addresses Bruce’s suggestion that a stranger came from the sea by commenting that icebergs have blocked ships from coming to the town for the past four months. He says “You have eyes, so see” which seems to imply Bruce is being blind to this fact. This is especially true for someone who was clearly forced to come to this village from the outside through means other than by ship. Although Arthur doesn’t know Bruce is Batman, Terrio’s choice of words here relate to bats having eyes but being unable to “see”. It also relates back to BvS in which Batman was willfully blind throughout his narrow-minded goal to kill Superman. But in fact, Bruce is seeing more clearly than ever now. And as he clarifies that this stranger doesn’t come by ship, he looks right at Arthur with glaring eyes as if to convey “I’m using my eyes, and I see you.”
Arthur’s face expresses agitation as he says “He does not come by ship” in Icelandic without breaking eye contact. Bruce continues, this time talking directly to Arthur. As he does, a perilous sounding score begins quietly. It is “A Hunter Gathers” by Tom Holkenborg aka JunkieXL. This title relates both to the threat of Steppenwolf coming to gather the motherboxes, but also to Bruce who tells Alfred in BvS that his family started off as hunters, something Bruce was obsessed with throughout that movie as he set off to hunt down Superman. Now he is carrying on directly from his promise at the end of BvS which is an important shift for the character. And he is attempting to gather warriors to form a team.
Bruce says there are enemies coming from far away. This refers to the warning Lex gave to him at the end of BvS. And for us, this also relates to the glimpse of Steppenwolf we had during the prologue and the concerns the Amazons had. If this is Bruce’s only chance to talk to Arthur, he uses it to indirectly try to recruit him by telling him he needs warriors like this stranger, and others like him, for an alliance to defend themselves. The “others like him” refers to metas, and specifically the ones Bruce saw in Luthor’s video archives and Waller’s files on them which he received at the end of Suicide Squad.
The considerate person that he is, Arthur uses this as an opportunity to help the villagers by asking for money to pass along this message. As Bruce later tells Barry, being rich is his superpower, so to incentivize Arthur to speak with him in private right now he offers five times the amount Arthur asks for. It appears this may have been the total amount he had brought with him as he pulls out a single wad of cash when thrown against the wall.
Arthur says “25,000 afterward” in Icelandic which prompts the mayor to laugh. This prompts the rest of the villagers to join in laughter. Bruce of course is dead serious and doesn’t see the humor in his offer as he looks around at the people laughing. The mayor then shows his cards and drops his own facade by speaking in English. He calls Bruce a dog speaking to them like children suggesting he doesn’t believe the offer of 25,000 dollars is a real one and that Bruce is merely trying to bait them into revealing the stranger. He appears to try to throw Bruce off by implying this “magical man from the sea” is just some ridiculous flight of fancy and adds that they aren’t stupid enough to fall for his attempt at exploiting their impoverishment. He then forcefully tells Bruce to get out.
Bruce realizes the stakes and insists that he can’t leave. He looks directly at Arthur and says he’ll leave once they’ve spoken. Arthur is clearly trying to hide his identity, but Bruce knows full well that he is the Aquaman. Having lost his patience with this intruder, Arthur comes directly face to face with Bruce in a threatening way reiterating the mayor’s words to get out. Bruce now one-ups the mayor by showing his own cards and dropping his own facade by saying “I don’t think so” in Icelandic. He gives a smile as indication that he too was underestimated.
Arthur becomes aggressive, perhaps seeing Bruce as a potential threat to the village, but also because, as he will say outside, he doesn’t like people digging in his business. Nevertheless he resorts to violence because Bruce refuses to obey willfully. He easily lifts Bruce and presses him up against the wall showcasing his super power of strength. Bruce responds by taking out a wad of cash showcasing his super power of money. He gives another smile as he not only proves his offer was genuine, but also as a signal to Arthur as if asking “are you really gonna deny these people all this money?” Arthur gives an annoyed look of concession and lowers Bruce begrudgingly. Bruce appears to extend the money out to his side and a child grabs it and gives it to the mayor before he has a chance to change his mind. Bruce then calls Arthur by his name indicating to him he knows exactly who he is and even adds his nom de plume.
The sounds of seagulls transitions us to the outdoor setting, one featuring a nearby body of water. There are chunks of iceberg floating in the water to emphasize how cold it is and to highlight Arthur’s point about icebergs being in the harbor. We also see a fishing boat to help characterize the village and its means of business and food.
Once outside, Bruce feels comfortable speaking openly with Arthur about who he actually is. But right from the start Arthur is dismissive of Bruce, criticizing his methods by mocking his bat suit. Arthur asking for clarification to this unbelievable concept also informs us that he was not familiar with the Batman. When Bruce defends his methods by stating they’ve been successful in Gotham, Arthur is once again quick to dismiss him calling Gotham a “shithole”. So he is familiar with Gotham, and its reputation appears to be a bad one. And so in this respect it doesn’t help Bruce’s argument for why Arthur should trust or join him.
Bruce proposes that they will need Arthur, perhaps hoping that the need will compel Arthur given his willingness to help others in need. But Arthur does not fall for this manipulative effort telling him not to count on it. Admittedly he doesn’t exactly say no, which suggests perhaps he may be open to helping should the need truly be serious enough. But it seems that if he were to offer help, he wants it to be on his own terms. Because when asked why not, his reasons have to do with Bruce seeking him out and intruding on his life. And wanting to be left alone shows his desire for independence, disassociated from any bonds or ties. This comes up again later when he talks to Vulko and Mera.
Bruce perhaps fails to see his own characteristics in Arthur and, rather than relate with him, becomes confrontational after facing dejection. This strikes to what Alfred says later about a man brooding in a cave for a living not being cut out to be a recruiter. So it is with the wisdom of Athena that Diana charges herself with recruiting the troubled Victor Stone instead of Bruce. With Arthur, Bruce throws his good deeds at him for reasons why he should join him. He tells Arthur “Your good deeds, you think no one sees” suggesting that Arthur can’t stay hidden from the world forever. Bruce then solidifies his failure by insisting he’ll join them going to the very point of why Arthur doesn’t want to join them. Arthur values his independence, and someone telling him what he will do only pushes him away more. It is the same approach Vulko takes with Arthur trying to compel him to take his rightful place as king.
Arthur once again emphasizes his desire to be a loner by quoting German philosopher Freidrich Schiller. As if presenting himself as the strong man that stands alone, Arthur unceremoniously begins to disrobe showcasing his muscular physique and resistance to the cold temperatures. In a way this is Arthur’s costume change, shedding his human persona and transforming into The Aquaman. He isn’t ashamed of what he is, but rather he holds resentment about how he has been treated which strikes to the core of his detachment from others.
He reveals his body filled with tattoos which, at first glance, give the impression of scales of a fish which fits with the aquatic theme of Aquaman. But the tattoos themselves actually hold significance. Zack Snyder embraced the diversity of the Justice League and chose to cast Jason Momoa partially due to his Polynesian roots as he considered aspects of their culture a perfect match for the character. Many of the Hawaiian gods are water gods, and tattoos are important in Polynesian culture. Historically there was no writing in Polynesian culture so they used tattoos to express their identity and personality as well as status in their hierarchical society. Tattoos on the upper arms and shoulders were associated with strength and bravery and were used to relate a warrior or chief status. On Arthur these parts of his body are covered with spearheads patterns which is a classic symbol that represents the warrior nature and can also represent the sting of some animals. The other notable element are the triangles on his upper torso. These appear to be a sharktooth pattern which represent protection, guidance and strength as well as ferocity. But they can also be a symbol of adaptability in many cultures which is especially significant given Arthur’s ability to exist on both land and in the sea, as well as his ability to adapt from being a loner to being part of a team. Tattoos on the upper torso relate to generosity, sincerity, honour and reconciliation. In the context of the sharktooth meaning, this fits well with Arthur’s story as presented in the Aquaman film adapted from the comics. However those patterns can also be found on the forearms which relate to creativity, creation and making things. In this respect it symbolizes Arthur creating his own path and finding his own strength rather than relying on others or conforming to what’s expected of him.
Bruce attempts to counter Arthur’s idiom by mentioning Superman who is viewed as a beacon the world over. His reasoning for mentioning that Superman died fighting next to him is to show that even Superman, the strongest being on the planet, joined with others over fighting alone. And it was also intended to show that Superman put his trust in him and therefore so should Arthur. But this backfires as Arthur points out that when the strong man wasn’t alone was when he died.
Bruce then attempts to clarify by emphasizing Superman’s belief in the film’s theme of stronger together. He attempts to project his own feelings of obligation onto Arthur by suggesting they owed it to Superman to unite and face the coming threat. Of course Superman did sacrifice himself for everyone on the planet, which includes Arthur. So in that respect Bruce probably feels that everyone in the world owes a debt to Superman. But we know from Man of Steel and BvS that Superman did not act with any expectation. He did so out of his own moral sense of obligation to use his powers to help others.
But Arthur refutes the notion that he owes anyone anything as he has spent his life not relying on anyone but himself. It's not as if Arthur asked Superman to sacrifice himself. And with the knowledge that we have as outside viewers, one could even make a counterargument to Bruce’s, reasoning that Superman sacrificed himself to save Lois and Martha more than for the people of Earth. And probably from Arthur’s point of view Doomsday did not pose a threat to the world beneath the ocean where he could easily live.
Arthur nonchalantly walks into the water like the “magical man from the sea” he was described to be by the mayor since the cat is already out of the bag. This is reminiscent of the scene from Man of Steel in which Clark comes out of the water shirtless, his pants nearly torn to shreds, and steals some clothes to put on from a couple of the townsfolk. This scene sort of plays out in the opposite way with Arthur taking clothes off and going into the water, and his sweater is taken by one of the villagers.
He once again mocks Bruce’s methods of dressing like a bat dismissing him as beneath him saying he is out of his mind. And perhaps this idea that Bruce is crazy extends to this notion that enemies are coming from far away. Ultimately Arthur is given several reasons to reject Bruce's plea to join the team. A few of the villagers begin singing in anticipation of Arthur departing into the sea, signaling to us that this is a recurring phenomenon. This distracts Bruce allowing Arthur to disappear in a "magical" fashion. When Bruce looks back all he sees are some ripples in the water. If there was any doubt as to Arthur’s identity before, this solidifies that he is The Aquaman. This is also a bit of Bruce getting a taste of his own medicine being on the receiving end of a hero absconding before he could say anything further, something we will see him and the other heroes do later to Commissioner Gordon. Unfortunately for Bruce, his super power was able to initiate a conversation with Arthur but it didn't help him to actually convince him to join him. Bruce turns and walks away dejected, parting the people as he leaves as he did when he arrived. He has failed his mission.
The way the villagers sing upon Arthur’s departure gives the sense that they worship him like a god, similar to how some worshipped Superman in BvS. It’s almost ceremonial. Aquaman calls Atlanteans a superstitious race when he speaks to Vulko later on, but here we see the villagers themselves appear to be somewhat superstitious. Although Arthur retorts that they aren’t calling him their king, while this is technically true, here we see the villagers elevate him in such a way which suggests that perhaps Arthur isn’t aware of how some people on the surface view him.
Ray Porter who does the voice of Darkseid in the film was kind enough to share a link on Twitter to the lyrics of the poem the women are singing in this scene. Please excuse the pronunciation here, but the title is Vísur Vatnsenda-Rósu translated to “Verse by Rose Vatsendi” and it was written by Icelandic poet named Rósa Guðmundsdóttir. The artist Björk actually performed this song on the Hector Zazou album Chansons des mers froides.
The first verse is:
“My eyes and your eyes,
those precious gems.
What's mine is yours, and what's yours is mine,
you know what I mean.”
Here, what was Arthur’s sweater becomes the woman’s sweater. And she appears to value Arthur like a precious gem.
The second verse is:
“It has been long since I've seen him,
his beauty was true,
everything that can be good about one man,
most of all he had.”
Since King Tides only occur once or twice a year, it makes sense that it would’ve been a long time since last they saw Arthur. While Jason Momoa is certainly considered a very attractive human being, Arthur’s beauty also comes from his generosity and goodwill to the villagers. So in this respect he is viewed as having good qualities and inner beauty.
The third and fourth verses go:
“I miss you the more then anything,
tired from the floods of tears,
I wish, we never had met,
my dear friend.
I looked at nobody like him,
Alms move the heart,
God only knows I loved him,
with all of my heart.”
This goes to the heart of Arthur being worshipped like a god. There is a certain obsession, certainly evident in the way the one woman sniffs the sweater. And the way the villagers stand around for the duration of the song shows their exaltation of Arthur.
The next verse goes:
“Every heat cools down,
covers valleys and carries glaciers,
rocks and everything that is,
I shall never forget you.”
This sort of fits with the cold climate of their village. It can almost be viewed as a rationalization for living in such a harsh environment. Amidst the cold, Arthur stands out as a glimmer of hope and inspiration.
And just to wrap things up, the last three verses are:
“The eye is touched by clear tears,
loyalty breaks to pieces,
my heart is wounded,
betrayal is hard to take.
I know your blossom,
your kindness inside.
Goodbye dear Eyjafjörður, [pronounced: Eyafjordur]
the fairest fjord of all.
I remember when we first met,
long ago, and now love is gone.
Now, I'ts as if a dog meets another dog
in a fox nest.”
The song refers to the Eyjafjörður [pronounced: Eyafjordur] which is one of the longest fjords in Iceland. It’s possible this village is located in this long, narrow inlet, and the Goodbye refers to Arthur departing from it. And although it is cold there as mentioned in the previous verse, these villagers see its beauty. Their tears and wounded heart, along with their loss of love seem to refer to Arthur’s departure, and the emptiness they feel when he leaves them.
There could of course be a whole string of other meanings for this song here, but this was just our initial impressions at finding meaning in it within the context of the scene. Notably the song echoes into the next scene of Martha leaving Clark’s grave, and really her farm and life in Smallville as she’s known it. So there is certainly some significance the song has in that context as well as it relates to departure and heartbreak.
End of Episode
That’s our analysis of this sequence introducing us to Arthur and starting us on Part 1 of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Next we will give our thoughts on some emotional scenes with Martha and Lois as we continue our analysis.
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