By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken
Spoilers ahead! Visitors to the coast of Oaxaca, and residents alike, have ample opportunity to see the ocean or to enjoy being in or on it. But how many are fully aware of the civilization that lies beneath the surface, as revealed by DC Comics and subsequently by the movie Aquaman? (Oh yes, the ocean portrayed in the movie is the Atlantic rather than the Pacific, but the characters repeatedly refer to other kingdoms under the surface, so surely some of them must be in the Pacific.)
We saw the Aquaman movie last December in Mexico City at the height of the frenzy about its opening. The lines were long but definitely not as long as the extensive queue for entering the underground aquarium across the street to see the real subsurface denizens of Mexico’s oceans.
For the most coherent and deepest (pun intended) understanding of Aquaman, you should be familiar with multiple legends; for relevant examples, think King Arthur, Atlantis, The Little Mermaid, Pinocchio, global warming, and Star Wars. Of course, a legend is accepted as historical truth, albeit unverifiable truth. The story of Aquaman is obviously true, as you can see for yourself. Aquaman, whose real name is Arthur (pointedly named after the legendary Arthur), is the son of a father who lives on land as a lighthouse keeper and a mother who was a queen in the great kingdom Atlantis under the water. Aquaman’s mother does not look at all like the mermaids who populate illustrated children’s books, but rather bears a startling resemblance to Nicole Kidman.
The population residing under the water has deep animosities toward the surface-dwellers in general and the water-breathing bad guys taunt Arthur for being a “half-breed,” unlike what we all know are the welcoming and nondiscriminatory attitudes of surface dwellers. So Aquaman and his mother are despised, and in fact if you only read the DC Comics you would be informed that Aquaman’s mother was executed for her sin of having a child with a surface-dweller. The movie, however, lets you in on the secret that his mother survived and can help Aquaman unite the realms of the water dwellers and the surface dwellers.
Before getting to this happy conclusion, the movie dwells on the elaborate planning of the water dwellers to defeat the surface dwellers in warfare. Aquaman’s half-brother is King Orm, who sees himself as in charge of all these arrangements. The movie makes the audience realize that it is a waste of time to study physics in high school or college, as many of the laws of physics are dispensed with under the surface of the water. Certain people can breathe under water, no problem. They can speak under water and be distinctly heard without any distortion or time delays. They can maneuver under water, even extremely rapidly, without making much of a wake.
The underwater residents are incensed at the surface dwellers for the way they have destroyed or polluted their ocean environment. In fact, in the first tentative military foray against the surface dwellers, all warships are cast up on land, and decades worth of plastics that had been strewn in the oceans are returned to the shores. You can see the resulting enormous clutter for yourself in the TV news broadcasts from around the world that are shown in the movie. Or you can pause the film and check out PBS reports on even greater amounts of plastic now being vomited up in the oceans around the world.
For many viewers, the major attraction of the movie is the actor Jason Momoa, who plays the superhero title role. In preparation for the role, Momoa spent months in various body-building exercises, which proved their worth for his many costumes that are skin-tight from neck to waist. In both his private life and in the role of Arthur, Momoa is committed to better understanding and cooperation among people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Momoa was born in Hawaii of a Hawaiian father and a German-Irish mother, but spent his childhood with his mother in Iowa where his Hawaiian heritage was not much respected. He inserted some unscripted Hawaiian and Polynesian terms and customary body motions into the movie, which survived the final director’s cut.
His character in the movie is committed to building harmonious relations between dwellers on land and those under the surface of the water, but he finds he cannot achieve his goals without establishing authority over the kings of the deep who are coalescing into a single kingdom to fight the surface dwellers. To do this, he must take on the mantle of the original king of Atlantis by pulling the king’s magical trident from a rock where it has stayed for years. Needless to say, he succeeds in a dramatic and emotional way, defeating the warlike kings and preparing us for as many sequel movies as we are willing to spend some money on.
We’d like to see sequel screenwriters introduce new villains that we love to boo and for Aquaman to defeat. Here are some we suggest. Plastic Man and Plastic Woman could be intent on strangling whales, dolphins and other sea creatures by reproducing like rabbits and filling the oceans with their nasty offspring called mermaid’s tears. Carla Caliente could be a stunning redhead who, when often angry, eats burning coal and breathes out gases that melt polar glaciers and causes the oceans to roil and rise. And finally, Petrolo, aka the Glob: although seemingly sweet and innocent, Petrolo randomly explodes into a large black sticky mass on the surface of the oceans, swallowing every living creature in its path. Will the Glob swallow Aquaman? We’ll have to wait for Aquaman 2 (and 3 and 4 and 5) to find out.