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Eternals’ Hiroshima scene was personal for the writers, and Chloe Zhao fought to keep it

Kaz and Ryan Firpo discuss writing a superhero movie in the ‘grey area’

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Phastos weeps over Hiroshima bombing in Eternals Image: Marvel Studios
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Kaz and Ryan Firpo found the perfect collaborator in Eternals director Chloé Zhao. While the cousin screenwriting pair had a combined background in documentary film and deeply felt narrative drama, they were also of an age where their frame of reference for cosmic storytelling on the scale of a Marvel movie included Final Fantasy VII and Spirited Away. Both came up routinely while they worked with Zhao on the movie.

“Chloé is a fantastic human filmmaker that makes spiritual dramas, and at the same time, she’s a huge nerd,” Kaz tells Polygon. “And that’s sort of the secret sauce of Chloé.”

For the Firpos, Final Fantasy VII and the films of Hayao Miyazaki exist in the “gray area,” where epic moments play out with the emotional and ethical complexity. The writers hoped to ask the same big questions in Eternals — and stage moments as challenging as a recreation of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States, framed by a superhero story.

“It’s really a movie that’s about Humanity with a capital H,” Kaz says, “and the question of: Are we worthy of this gift that we’ve been given of both this planet and life? Then for these eternal, immortal space gods to grapple with that too, that was something that no movie, I don’t think, has ever had the chance to kind of do.”

As many Marvel writers have asserted over the years, Kaz and Ryan’s MCU-shaping experience began with CEO Kevin Feige, producer Nate Moore, and the rest of the development team leaving the pair to their devices. Eternals would emerge from the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, but there were no “must-dos” handed to the Firpos. Instead, they flipped through Marvel comic history, grabbing the best parts of Eternals history (along with some major inspiration from Jim Krueger’s Earth X run), and matching the high-flying escapades with their own Big Questions. Of course, the events of Endgame didn’t hurt the process.

Sersi (Gemma Chan) in Eternals. Image: Marvel Studios

“Thanos introduced us to rich complexity,” Kaz says. “Thanos doesn’t think he’s the bad guy. I think there’s a lot of people who support Thanos even, especially after the last few years that we’ve had. And so you look at that, and you say, ‘Well, that was the beginning of this gray area.’”

“This is the first time Ajak has questioned her mission,” Ryan adds. “The literal reason for that is because of what happened with Thanos, and humanity banding together and bringing back half the population like it did. But the more spiritual reason is, basically, she’s watched humans grow. And she’s watched humans evolve into the atomic age and the birth of Captain America and all these superheroes that occupy this very special Earth-616. That is what made her start to question, ‘Maybe this is one that we shouldn’t let go.’

From the early drafts, Eternals always focused on Sersi and Ikaris. “This is a movie that thematically deals with love versus duty, and so we wanted to have two characters who represented those ideas,” Ryan says. “And for us, Ikaris is duty and Sersi is love, but to make a more complicated, they’re in love with each other. We wanted [Sersi] because of her powers, but more specifically, because she even the way she has been written in other runs of Eternals is kind of like the most kind of human Eternal. She’s the one who is the most kind of messy, the most empathetic. We always describe her as basically ‘an immortal with a mortal soul.’ Like she was very tuned in to the idea of impermanence, and the idea that every moment is precious, because every moment is fleeting, even though she was eternal.”

Kaz adds that Eternals’ third-act twist was always planned. After rallying the found family back together, Ikaris reveals he was behind Ajak’s death and plans to bring Arishem’s command — to birth the new Celestial, Tiamut, from the womb of the Earth — to fruition. The Firpos wrote the rogue Eternal like he was the hero of his own movie. “If your mission is to save the world, and then you find out your mission is to destroy the world, where do you land? Who is good? Who is bad?”

Perhaps the most polarizing, provocative moment in the film is when a true atrocity tests the Eternals’ “do not interfere” code and breaks Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry). An inventor who gifts humanity with technological leaps, the Eternal watches as a mushroom cloud rises from the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It’s a shocking brush with reality, even more so because it’s in a Marvel movie.

Eternals Hiroshima bombing scene Image: Marvel Studios

“That was in essentially every draft of the script,” Kaz says. “We’re really proud of that one, just for what it’s worth. I’m half Japanese, and my family is super American, but by way of great-great-grandparents coming from Japan. And that’s just a big event in the world. It’s something you study in American schools. We grew up in the Bay Area, and in public school in California, what you grapple with very specifically is this idea. They actually teach it, it’s a whole unit, where one half of the class is divided to say, ‘You have to defend the bombing.’ And then you have to say why the bombing was bad. And it’s so useful to have a big conversation about moral complexity in the gray areas of war.”

Kaz wanted to bring that confrontational moment from his teenage memories to Eternals. “From the jump, I remembered from my seventh-grade middle-school curriculum: There isn’t a right answer to ‘Should we have dropped that bomb?’ Would it have saved a million lives? Did it? No one really knows that. And Chloé, to her great credit, she really fought to keep that in the movie. In every draft, people were trying to take it out. ‘It’s divisive.’ ‘It’s scary.’ ‘You’re talking about genocide.’ And she had the vision to preserve that.”

The Firpos aren’t surprised Eternals is divisive, “because it’s challenging so many things about the convention.” But it’s also a movie they’re proud of. And they hope to explore more of the grey area in future films. And the dream project? Well, as serious and personal as things get in Eternals, there’s no question they would jump at the chance to adapt Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy VII was a story I played when I was very young that changed my life,” Kaz says. “It really opened the horizons of what you could do in a story. I think, for me, my dream’s always been to take Final Fantasy VII and do it as the most epic story of all time.”

Chloé Zhao to direct?

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