Writing Tips and Film Critique

How Removing One Line Of Dialogue Can Totally Change A Scene

I have a firm love/hate relationship with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While I love Batman, and Superman is a favorite character of mine, I’ve always felt that the story in the film is so completely flawed that it needs a complete re-imagining. No, that’s not what this particular blog post is about (although I may do a re-imagining sometime in the future). Instead, what I want to discuss is editing and how removing one line from a scene can change the scene for the better. I think you know which line I’m talking about here.

Yes, the infamous, “Why did you say that name?!” line that launched a thousand memes. I cringe every time I hear that line. It’s just so bad that it makes me wonder how it got past the writers, director, producers, actors, and editors. My guess is that they weren’t willing to experiment and see what the scene would be like without that line. Luckily, I’m more the adventurous type.

So, I took that scene and did a couple of small edits to remove the dialogue in question. Actually, along with, “Why did you say that name?!” I ended up removing Superman saying, “Find him,” because Superman doesn’t say who “him” is which means Batman wouldn’t know who to find after killing Superman anyway, and Batman asking, “What does that mean?” because Batman’s confusion feels out of place among the rage. Oh, and I also edited out Lois saying, “It’s his mother’s name,” because that just made Superman look like a little child. I cringe every time I hear that line, too.

When I played back the edited clip, I found a bit of a transformation, small but important. In the original film, the trigger (stimulus that initiates a change in behavior) for Batman is the name Martha, made clear by Batman continuously asking, “Why did you say that name?!” The name Martha, on its own, doesn’t make sense as a trigger, though, because it’s a name Bruce has likely heard thousands of times since his mother’s death. I can imagine how ridiculous it would be for a younger Bruce to be channel surfing, come upon a show that starts with the host saying, “Welcome to Martha Stewart Living; I’m Martha Stewart,” and Bruce yelling out, “Why did you say that name?! What does that mean?! Those cookies look so delicious!!!!!” In addition, I’ve heard it argued that once Batman discovers that Superman has an Earth mother, that makes Batman see Superman as human rather than alien. This is also ridiculous as, human mother or not, I doubt Batman would suddenly alter his perspective so drastically from the truth – Superman is not from Earth – that he would embrace Superman as a friend. Realistically, given his mental state, Batman would likely see Superman’s human mother as a sort of traitor to her species.

However, removing the line, “Why did you say that name?!” makes another line, said by Superman, into the trigger: “You’re letting him kill Martha.” Rather than the name Martha as the trigger for Batman, the trigger now becomes the idea that Batman is allowing Martha to die, which makes sense when you factor in Batman’s memories of when he was a child, and all he could do was allow his mother to die. The very reason he became Batman was to prevent people from dying, to do what he could to stop this type of tragedy from happening again. This is what snaps Batman back from his raging desire to kill Superman, and it feels better, within the scene, that what stops Batman from killing Superman isn’t who Superman is but who Batman is, and I think this line of reasoning fits well with the apology Batman offers Alfred not long after the end of the fight. It shows that Batman remembers who he is now and why he’s Batman, which is what Alfred was arguing with him about throughout the film.

So, that’s what occurred, for me, when I removed one simple line from a scene that needed help. I’m thinking of doing a second blog post, concerning the scene before the Batman/Superman fight in which Superman confronts Lex Luthor, Jr., to show how too much dialogue can weaken a scene. Maybe I’ll have that one up sooner rather than later. Until then, tell me what you think. Does my cutting of the line, “Why did you say that name?!” make sense? Do you find my reasoning to be sound? Should Superman have won that fight? If you say yes to that last question, we’ll be friends forever. 🙂

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