The Psychology of Aquaman
Let's get meta about the psychology of Aquaman fans for a sec. Why has there been no other Aquaman before this? Ok, there was an Arthur Curry in Smallville, and the CW almost did a series, but Jason Mamoa is the first significant Aquaman actor. We had all those goofy DC TV series decades ago, but no Aquaman?
The character has always been seen as a joke, except to a few die-hard fans -- I literally know only three, and this post is for you. Aquaman fans have faced jokes, ridicule, and an extreme lack of cool merch for years, and now your hero is beating box office records.
But seriously, why is this the first time the Aquaman origin story has shown in a live-action? His origin basically is the King Arthur legend. Arthur is a prince raised in humble beginnings which only endears him to his people. To prove his birthright, he must search for a legendary weapon that identifies him as the one true king. This is classic storytelling. Maybe predictable, but so is Superman, and he's had plenty of screen time.
More than a King: a Hero
Underneath all his one-liners, biceps, and bad-assery, Arthur grows in depth of character while on his hero's journey. In the early scenes, he doesn't help David and his father because they have killed other people. To him, they deserve death. He leaves them to the unforgiving "mercy" of the sea. Motivated by grief and anger, David becomes Black Manta to kill Arthur for allowing his dad to die. Honestly? I can't completely blame David. If the same story was told slightly differently, David would be the hero of the story instead of the villain.
Later Arthur recognizes his wrongdoing and that his actions contributed to David becoming the Black Manta. At the end of his journey and introspection, Arthur has the ability to execute Orm for all his crimes. Like David, Orm also has killed other people, but Arthur decides to show forgiveness in hopes that his brother will change.
"You were the reason our mother was executed. And I've hated you for it ever since."
For a movie that follows a clear-cut hero's journey theme, the family relationships are complicated. Arthur loves his mother, but at first is angry at her for leaving. Then he blames himself for her death. His half-brother Orm also loves his mother, but calls her "powerful yet flaw" and seems to identify more with his father.
Orm has no problem absolutely blaming Arthur for their mother's death rather than his father who actually ordered her execution. By the way, Orm keeps calling his brother a bastard for being born out of wedlock. Not cool, but like, no one ever talks about Orm's dad literally raped his mom and how Orm is a product of that? Orm just completely rationalized that one away? Ok. Anyway, despite all his actions, Atlanna still loves both her sons, not just the handsome, heroic one.
"You think you're unworthy to lead because you're of two different worlds? But that is exactly why you ARE worthy!"
Arthur has two identities: land-dweller and Atlantean. Through much of the movie, though, Arthur feels like he doesn't necessary fit anywhere. Constantly denied his identity as an Atlantean, Arthur also is called a freak while growing up on land. Psychologists call this experience "identity denial;" like when a native-born Asian American is told to "go back where you came from" and denied their American identity.
Often times when people have multiple cultural identities and are constantly told they don't belong in one setting, they will more strongly identify with so-called "minority" identity. Or they complete ignore one identify to more easily live within the "majority" culture. Sometimes. like Arthur, people are able to integrate the two sides of themselves.
Jason Mamoa also has a strong cultural identity that I believe showed through the movie. In various interviews, Jason has talked about his family heritage with sharks, and a shark at an aquarium protects Arthur from bullies.
I'm hoping that maybe this movie was inspiring to people of multiple ethnic or cultural backgrounds who constantly feel like they don't belong or are unwelcome. In the same way that Arthur is the true king because of his multiple cultural identities rather than in spite of them, people of various backgrounds have so much knowledge and perspective to offer a community. Not everyone is going to recognize it, but like Arthur, you have so much value.
"My parents were of two different worlds, and I was a product of the love that they shared. A son of land, and a son of the seas."