The Hidden Meaning of the Film Aquaman
What? This is the Book of Revelation! I whispered during one of the six viewings of the film Aquaman.
A Little Context
During this phase of my midlife journey, I had been re-exploring my childhood religion of Christianity – after having rejected it twice already.
The irony of being in a soulmate relationship with a fundamentalist Christian at the time was not lost on me. I appreciated C.G. Jung’s suggestion that, “We must read the Bible, or we shall not understand psychology” (The Visions Seminar Vol. 1; page 156). So, I jumped into the world of looking at Christianity through the lens of depth psychology.
I ate up books written by Dr. Ann Belford Ulanov, Jungian analyst and Professor of Psychiatry and Religion. One of my favorites was Picturing God (2002). I agree with her that the symbols of traditional religion are not effectively allowing many to live fully in connection with God. What is left is a disembodied experience of faith based on words.
I got even more excited after reading Women and Redemption: A Theological History (2012), by American Feminist Scholar and Catholic Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether. Her work reveals the strong feminine that is present in the Bible AND traces the lack of consensus that existed at the very start of the creation of the dogma of Christianity.
In the end, my decision NOT to get back on board was driven by exhaustion at the thought of having to wait for Christianity to transcend patriarchy.
But . . .
The fight to save the soul of Christianity continues.
My Unexpected Response to a Blockbuster Film
What? This is the Book of Revelation!
I had just finished reading Beginner’s Guide to Revelation: A Jungian Interpretation (1994), by Robin Robertson, clinical psychologist and author of multiple books on Jungian psychology. The timing of my reading of this book and the release of the 2018 blockbuster film Aquaman was uncanny.
The superhero film is based on the DC Comics character Aquaman, who represents the promise of reconciliation between the seven underwater kingdoms of Atlantis and with the surface world. Young Aquaman, named Arthur by his mother, is born of the love between Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis who fled an arranged marriage, and Tom, a lighthouse keeper.
I made the connection with the Biblical story during the third viewing of the film, specifically the image of Aquaman, golden trident in hand, riding atop the beast, which rose from the Trench Kingdom. The character played by Willem Dafoe quietly proclaims, “The King Is Risen.” I cried. I identified with Arthur as an underdog, and his wounds becoming the source of his power. The tears reflected a new awareness I was coming into relationship with my own wounds, and that this would bring a new sense of meaning to my life.
This prompted me to return to a previous dream:
An alien in the form of water (like in the film The Abyss)
took me down to the basement, to that closet,
where I peered into a hole in the floor that
contained fire. I could not face it and ran up the steps.
The basement in my childhood home had always been a fearful place. I decided to let my imagination drop me back into my dream, to that closet. This is what I saw and then drew:
I opened the doors.
I saw the hole in the floor,
and it filled with black and red flames and lava –
like in the movie Amityville Horror.
I was afraid. I wrote the words secret,
and then power below that,
and then fear of, on the very top of the page.
When I stepped back from my drawing, the energy shifted inside me from negative to a more positive sense of power.
I began to wonder, What is this secret power that lives in my shadow? I came to see this image as assurance that something new was brewing inside me that was looking for a way out – something fiery and strong.
From Personal to Collective
A significant similarity between the Biblical Book of Revelation and Aquaman is the seven fallen kingdoms in the film and the seven churches in the Biblical story. In the film, Atlantis, which once was an advanced kingdom, falls into the sea, because of its king’s unquenchable thirst for more power. The people became fragmented into seven distinct nations, each evolving or devolving into separate-looking and acting races.
The Trench were one of the original Atlantean Kingdoms that could be seen to represent a regression towards pure insatiable primal instincts. I wondered about the role of the Trench creatures as the guardians of the Hidden Kingdom, the place where the golden trident was hidden after Atlantis crumbled and sank to the bottom of the ocean due to its hubris.
It would be necessary to bring light to the shadow in order to find the treasure, the golden trident that could tame the beast – the instincts. One of the most powerful scenes is Aquaman and his female counterpart Mera, representing the partnership of feminine and masculine, willingly diving into the water with nothing but flares. They swim to the deepest part of the ocean, surrounded by Trench creatures who want to devour them.
They must then go through a portal not knowing if they will survive. Once through the portal, they arrive at the Hidden Sea, a time of prehistoric creatures seemingly living peacefully. The golden trident is now in the Lost World, it is the only thing that will unite the fragmented Kingdoms of Atlantis, and the Trident is guarded by the Trench Beast.
Only a true king can acquire the trident, a king of pure motive. It turns out that overcoming the Beast requires humility rather than strength. Aquaman kneels in total surrender. “I am not worthy. I am a bastard son, a mongrel, a half-breed. I am here because I love my family.”
The beast could be seen to represent Satan, manifesting as shame, guilt, doubt about one’s worthiness. Afterall, the foundation of division is an inherent lack of self-worth. Jesus of course was born of a woman pure in spirit married to a carpenter man in a muddy manger. Jesus was born as a result of God’s love. Aquaman was born of the love between two people from different worlds. Atlantis was once part of the surface world, but its greed was the cause of its demise; its sinking to the bottom of the ocean and a once unified people became separated and divided and unable to communicate with each other.
I don’t know about you, but this is ringing a bell.
Healing and Reconciliation of Feminine and Masculine
A significant part of Robertson’s interpretation of the Book of Revelation has to do with reconciliation between many types of opposites, and ultimately between the feminine and masculine. Arthur was born to Tom Curry, a lighthouse keeper, and Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis. Arthur’s father is a humble land dweller who finds Atlanna on shore; she escaped an arranged marriage. The product of their love is Arthur, who is seen by his Queen mother as the potential for reconciliation between the sea and the land.
Arthur’s wound is a feminine wound because his mother must leave him, but he maintains a sense of relatedness with his father. Without his mother, Arthur relies mostly on his wounded masculine, which manifests as aggression. His mother is a warrior and his father cares for a lighthouse. She sees him as being able to facilitate the healing between the sea and the land because he is a product of both.
Eventually, he has no choice but to go to the depths after his half-brother Orm attacks the surface (the ultimate climax of violent division). He now must explore the other part of who he is but has denied, the sea – his unconscious, and the place of his wounded feminine and wounded masculine. It is Mera (she’s an insider), pledged as wife to Orm (she bravely challenges convention), who partners with him, guiding him on the journey with both her masculine and feminine.
I would suggest that Arthur goes on two separate journeys. The first journey is facing the beast in the Trench where he faces his demons (shadow), but instead of killing the beast he kneels in humility. After coming into relationship with his wounded child, he is ready for the physical battle – his heroine’s journey – to reconcile the land and sea.
Examples of Balanced Feminine/Masculine in Women
The main women characters in Aquaman, Queen Atlanna and Princess Mera, both play the role of disrupter, brave challengers of convention striving towards the highest principle of love (Meghan above – the feminist Christian). The Queen is punished for her rebellion, sacrificed to the Trench and assumed dead, but she survives and is redeemed; she is the wise woman who stands for unification and love. The beast can also be seen to reflect the return of the feminine, a dark feminine, that can only be tamed by taking her rightful place as partner of the masculine.
As Queen Atlanna watches her second-born son Orm being taken away, she tells him “Your father (patriarchy and patriarchal religion) mis-led you. The sea and the land are one.” These two women prepare Aquaman to face the Beast and secure the trident. Both women embody a balance of the feminine and masculine. They are able to focus on justice AND be merciful, to judge the situation by facts AND call on an inner knowing.
When Aquaman is transformed as a result of securing the trident, his clothing transforms as well into a combination of intense green and gold, and the trident is made of gold. Mera is also dressed in green, with a gold crown on her head. My experience of the two of them felt numinous and caused me to recall something I read in Jung’s mostly autobiographical book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963/1989).
During the time he was considering a connection between religion and psychology, Jung received a spontaneous image of Christ. “I saw that his body was made of greenish gold” (p. 210), which he connected to the goal of alchemy – to reconcile spirit and matter. For me, Aquaman and Mera, as partners brought to life Jung’s experience for myself. Christ as the union of feminine and masculine, spirit (heaven) and matter (Earth), unified the fragmented kingdoms that were once Atlantis with the surface world. Around this time, I experienced my own spontaneous image, that of Christ and Mary merging.
Why I’m Sharing this Now
First, I’m amused by my own experiences of film. I hope you are entertained!
Second, I think this film reflects a potential climax of the damage that has been done to women AND men both literally and psychologically by patriarchy (a system of domination), which has informed every part of our lives, including religious belief.
And . . .
The film also reflects the key to evolving beyond this world – reconciliation – between perceived opposites – both inner and outer.
Out of all the chaos of today has emerged increased consciousness for many, and violent resistance from others. Those for which a heightened sense of empathy and compassion have erupted are now responsible for holding that space, especially for those who have been overtaken by fear.
Am I Crazy? What Do You Think?
Have you ever been intrigued with a particular film’s impact on you? You just couldn’t stop thinking about it? Your friends didn’t understand? You didn’t know what to do with it? I love working with film images – not too different than working with dreams.
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