Hollywood often hits us over the head with racial healing. "Aquaman" takes a far more intellectual approach.
“Easter eggs” can blow the lid off hidden meanings, foreshadow plot twists or even offer profound insights into humanity.
For instance, if you were paying attention to a bookshelf in Christopher Nolan’s sci fi epic “Interstellar” you spotted an obvious foreshadowing of the climax.
Stephen King’s dystopian fantasy “The Stand” can clearly be seen at the far right of an encyclopedia set. “The Stand” is about many things, mostly King’s obsession with sex and desperate need for an editor. The title ultimately refers to the climax: a final stand against the forces of evil.
King calls his heroes to merely stand against the demonic figure of Randall Flagg, and when they do the hand of god literally shows up to defeat the evil one. It’s literally a deus ex machina.
Literally. I kid you not.
But it works in King’s story because it’s the only kind of deus ex machina that really makes sense, one where the eucatastrophe feels generated by our prayers to the literary gods. The reader’s desires align with the desires of the author, and when salvation by fiat mercifully arrives we don’t feel cheated, we feel like fledgling Israel watching as an invisible hand moves through the waters to make a path away from Pharaoh.
By placing “The Stand” at the end of an encyclopedia Nolan is signalling, in a not so subtle way, that when knowledge is exhausted you have to take a stand. After science comes faith, after technology comes courage.
In the end heroes have to trust that something bigger, something like destiny or love, is guiding things. And that’s exactly what happens in “Interstellar.” And that’s exactly what so many great stories do to us. Get us to wish and hope for the miraculous final leap of faith. Because we are like the little nondescript neighborhood boy in “The Incredibles”:
Bob: Well, what are *you* waiting for?
Little Boy on Tricycle: I don’t know. Something amazing, I guess.
Bob: [sighs] Me too, kid.
That’s why we watch stories. We want to see something amazing, to root for the amazing to happen.
Which brings us to WB’s latest film from the DC catalogue: “Aquaman,” the best superhero film of 2018.
Early on in the film’s prologue there’s a pop culture reference that reveals hidden depths, no pun intended, to this wonderful film. In fact, this easter egg serves as an interpretive key to the movie.
The prologue chronicles Aquaman’s parents fateful meeting and falling in love. At one point a worn paperback copy of HP Lovecraft’s Novella “The Dunwich Horror” can be clearly seen on the coffee table. The actual construction of the homage is extremely important, but before looking at that symbolism it must be made clear why that story was chosen and Lovecraft referenced at all.
There are several reasons for the reference. The most obvious one being that the lighthouse where Aquaman’s dad lives and works is located in Maine, part of New England. New England was Lovecraft’s home and where he set most of his stories. And his most famous American protége, King, sets a good deal of his works in Maine.
Both writers constructed fictional New England cities for their horrific tales. But “Aquaman” isn’t horror. So why reference one of the great 20th works of weird fiction?
Because “Aquaman” director James Wan is synonymous with horror. He has defined and redefined the genre for the early 21st century. From the “Saw” franchise to the “Conjuringverse” to the anthology TV series “American Horror Story.” Wan has had his fingers in a lot of terrifying pies.
But this is more than just a simple nod to the fact that Wan has been a monumental creator force in horror. The selection of this Lovecraft story is extremely telling.
Aquaman is the story of a “fish” person. As the old trope joke goes, his super power is to talk with fish. He can breathe underwater, swim like a torpedo, etc. Basically he’s a fish guy.
So then the obvious Lovecraft reference would be “The Shadow over Innsmouth” where the deep ones first appear. The deep ones are literally “fish people” very similar to the monstrous Kingdom of the Trench in “Aquaman.”
But while the trench monsters plays a significant role in “Aquaman” they aren’t the focus. The focus is Aquaman. And he represents a union of the earth and the sea. And while the Innsmouth story involves horrific hybridization between the deep ones and humans, that simply isn’t weighty enough for what Aquaman is. At best that would be a mere ironic reference, at worst a bad joke.
“The Dunwich Horror” was chosen over “Innsmouth” because it’s actually much closer thematically to what Wan and comics guru Geoff Johns we’re doing with this film.
In “The Dunwich Horror” a procreative union is made between the great old one Yog-Sothoth and Lavinia Whateley. Poor Lavinia is the daughter of some kind of Warlock who uses dark “magic” to bring about this unholy “marriage.” The union produces two monstrous sons. The first is a pretty typical Lovecraft monster with tentacles, etc. But the second son is much more powerful and starts to wreak havoc upon the countryside.
Strangely enough this story is actually a perverse retelling of the incarnation. Dr. Robert M. Price (the notorious Christ mythicist and Christian atheist) made this point on The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast.
But instead of the God of Israel peacefully and miraculously making Mary to be with child, the monstrous elder god Yog-Sothoth impregnates poor Lavinia through some horrific means.
The mechanics are not explained, so our minds are left to run screaming.
It’s important to understand that this is a “divine” union for Lovecraft. Because in the Cthulhu mythos the cosmic, the transcendent aspect of the world is terrifying and insanity inducing. Lovecraft wrote cosmic horror. What made his writing scary was less about tension and more about dread. His stories make us feel that reality is inherently icky and nonsensical.
This is the exact opposite of the Christian worldview. And in the story of the incarnation, the offspring of divinity is the prince of peace, the divine logos, one who makes sense of the world. In other words the exact opposite of Lovecraft.
“Aquaman” spoilers ahead…
Aquaman is clearly a messianic hero in this film. Because within himself there is a divine or metaphysical union. Many times he’s described as being of two worlds. The land and the sea. And his mother, Queen Atlanna, while not actually a goddess, is depicted as being semi divine. She’s certainly godlike when compared to land dwellers, since all the high-born Atlanteans are basically super heroes due to their superior biology.
This union of disparate worlds motif has been a fundamental part of Aquaman’s character for a long time. And that alone warrants calling him a “half breed” or mongrel. For a very long time his character has been part human and part Atlantean (in full disclosure this origin is actually stolen from Marvel’s Namor, but Namor still isn’t doing anything with it so who cares).
But in typical DC fashion they changed something about Aquaman without any fanfare that heightened this half breed aspect. He’s now a mongrel in two ways.
Jason Momoa is Hawaiian. And his father is played by Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) who is Maori.
FAST FACT: Aquaman’s first official appearance came via the DC Comics’ title “More Fun Comics” no. 73, circa 1941.
But before Momoa became Aquaman the character was a half breed between two different kinds of white people. Now he’s a mongrel combination between a white Atlantean and a non white American immigrant from New Zealand. We know his dad must be an immigrant in the film because Morrison didn’t attempt to hide his accent at all.
This is beautiful. No one made a big deal out of it. No one tried to turn it into a woke revolution vis a vis the identity politics of “Black Panther” or even the so called feminism of last year’s amazing “Wonder Woman.”
They simply changed it and almost no one noticed. Because outside of the circles that fetishize race via the nonsense of identity politics, almost no one in the west cares about a person’s skin color anymore. Melanin only matters when it’s used to demean.
Aquaman’s color change was barely on the cultural radar. It was done organically and probably for no other reason than the casting of Momoa. Which is the way its supposed to be. The skin color of the next Bond shouldn’t be debated, just which actor would be the best in the role.
But there’s more going on here than simply changing a character’s skin color. This brings us back to “The Dunwich Horror.” Because infamously Lovecraft was a racist. He believed the white race was superior. He came up during a time where elites feared white cultural genocide. Those were the days of President Woodrow Wilson, a notorious racist and the father of American Progressivism.
A time of scientism (not science) and eugenics. DW Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” resurrected the KKK through its mythological representation of the Klan as a struggle against black barbarism. Lovecraft was very much a man of those times, times that make today seem like a racial utopia by comparison.
In any case Lovecraft thought whites shouldn’t debase themselves with the so called mongrel nations.
In other words he would’ve hated this version of “Aquaman.” This film is a racial fairy tale. A fairy tale that spits on Lovecraft’s racist soul.
In order to defeat the film’s primary villain Aquaman must claim the ancient lost trident of King Atlan. In order to do this he must get past a monster named the Karathen, voiced by Julie Andrews. This monster bears many striking similarities to Lovecraft’s elder gods. For one thing it’s massive (kaiju size) and probably immortal. But mostly it just looks like one of Lovecraft’s creations.
Cthulhu is his most well known monster, basically an elephant body with an octopus face and leathery wings. The Karathen is essentially a Cthulu-esque monster with giant squid like tentacles creeping all about the ocean floor.
When Aquaman faces this Lovecraftian monstrosity it refuses to allow him near the throne where the trident is. It says that while many have tried to claim the trident over the centuries Aquaman is the most unworthy challenger thus far. Why? Because he’s a mongrel with tainted blood. That’s exactly what the Lovecraft inspired monster says to our mixed racial hero. It’s essentially as if Aquaman was facing off against Lovecraft’s ghost.
But then the Karathen backs off and allows Aquaman to claim the trident. Because Aquaman is the first person, since King Atlan, to be able to understand the monster’s speech. Not every Atlantean can speak with fish. Only Aquaman can. It’s never explained why. But we’re supposed to assume that its his mixed racialness that has given him this ability.
So the very thing that makes him unworthy in the Karathen’s eyes is actually what makes Aquaman the most worthy to claim the trident.
And this brings us back to the prologue and the paperback copy of “The Dunwich Horror.” The homage is beautifully constructed. On top of the paperback sits a snowglobe with a lighthouse in it. Sigur Ros’ beautiful “Saeglopur” begins to play in the background and the camera actually goes right into the snow globe.
The contents then become the real world lighthouse where Aquaman’s father lives. His mother and father appear at the top of the lighthouse, very much in love. The symbolism cannot be missed once we understand where the story is eventually headed.
— DC Films Hub (@DCFilmsHub) January 13, 2019
The union of Aquaman’s parents is superior to “The Dunwich Horror.” Their love is a light that fights against Lovecraft’s darkness. Wan literally placed their mixed-racial love as a beacon of light on top of Lovecraft’s union of abomination.
If this Aquaman easter egg project was all done by accident then its the most perfect accident I’ve ever come across.
Following this sequence Aquaman’s father suggests they name him Arthur because he’ll be a king someday. His mother is, after all, a Queen. But Atlana’s response is very telling. She solidifies the racial harmony at this film’s center. The Queen says that he’ll be greater than a King. Because he’s proof that “our people can coexist.” He’s proof that peace is possible.
And in what feels like a rebuke (accidental or not) to the identity politics of “Black Panther,” Queen Atlanna solidfies the racial ethics of the film right before Aquaman faces the Karathen.
Mera: Atlantis has always had a king, now it needs something more.
Aquaman: But what could be greater than a king?
Queen Atlana: A Hero. A king fights only for his own nation. You fight for everyone.