I spend the final two weeks of the fall 2018 semester reading furiously, writing, erasing, re-writing, thinking, and generally suffering greatly. I wrote one semi-decent final paper, the longest I have written in Korean ever, the content of which was not entirely terrible. My second paper was the equivalent of my most recent half marathon. I came, I tried, but the only thing I did was finish. This paper was a mess. The research goal was vague which made it impossible to figure out what I needed to read, and what I was looking for while I was reading. We can’t win every time I guess. At the end of this proverbial research marathon, I was exhausted. I needed an escape from the existential angst aroused by this particular novel I had read for the more successful final paper. (To be discussed later, maybe.)
So it was the early hours of Christmas and per family tradition a movie was in order. Late night screenings are common in Seoul. I had booked a 2 am screening of Aquaman because super hero movies are one of the only film genres everyone can agree on.
I forking loved this movie.
It was super cheesy and dumb. There was sexy bad-ass Ariel and a nicer, funnier Kal Drogo with better tattoos. There was underwater CGI adventures with mythical creatures. There was the greatest line of all time, “CALL ME OCEAN MASTER” to which I laughed out loud. There were dinosaurs! It was perfect.
However as I could not turn off my brain entirely, one thing about the movie’s script really bothered me. It is not the premise itself that Aquaman has a unique perspective for uniting the two worlds. I would argue that he doesn’t, but that is not what I took issue with. It is that his ethnic makeup kept being brought up in order to prove his worthiness as The True King and as a “bridge” to unite everyone.
I could probably have handled it if Aquaman had come up with this idea on his own, but this is not the case. Rather, everyone around him pushes him to take on this burden. “You are of both worlds!” they say, encouraging him to usurp his half-brother, the actual rightful king.
As a multicultural kid, I dealt with a lot of similar issues. Who am I? Why do I look like this? Where do I belong? And often, we take on our parents’ insecurities/prejudices about their own identities in the process of trying to figure this out. Even as an adult it is painful to be confronted with it.
Despite Aquaman embracing his mixed human-merman identity as bridge-builder in the end, this is not always the case in real life. As someone who must ruin everything fun, I could not stop thinking about this after the film. I wished the film had just let Aquaman be who he is, an awesome superhero, without constantly barraging him with race-based philosophies of how he should feel fated to save the world.
In conclusion, the existential angst this movie was meant to help me escape was only partially quelled due to badly written identity tropes. I give it 8 out of 10 Momoas.