Tuesday, January 15, 2019

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Aquaman Scene 2

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 2 (The Curry Family) of Aquaman, directed by James Wan.

  • Snowglobe (0:31)
  • Icelandic music (1:55)
  • Arranged marriages and love (3:11)
  • Arthur, the legend and future king (6:31) @PrimeEarthMook
  • More than a king (9:15)
  • Parents and children (10:47)
  • A forking history of Atlantis (12:20)
  • Closing (14:35)

Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd

Special thanks - @PrimeEarthMook

<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast focuses on the DC Films from Warner Brothers studios. In this episode, we are going to analyze Scene 2 from Aquaman, directed by James Wan. This is a semi-montage scene where we see Tom Curry and Atlanna together and we meet baby Arthur. The ideas and interpretations that follow were put together by myself with Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and Sydney. You can find us all on twitter and you can follow the show @JLUPodcast.

So the end of what we are calling Scene 1 and the beginning of Scene 2 flow together nicely through the snow globe -- a lighthouse within a lighthouse. As we talked about before, James Wan uses very smooth and flowing camera movements during the love-story part of the prologue here, contrasting with the harshness of the storm before Tom and Atlanna found one another. And rather than a sharp cut between shots, he often uses a connected transition like here where the camera pushes in on the lighthouse, amidst the flakes in the snow globe, and it becomes the real thing, showing the passage of time. Later there will also be a shot where they push in and then out of the family photograph.

But starting here with the snowglobe, it can be thought of as a symbol for childhood, innocence, and so-called happy days. So this is also a good way to establish their innocent love and the happy days they will have together that will lead to a deeper love and the product of that love, Arthur. With regard to the snow itself, that’s another connection to past DCEU films that we forgot to mention in our overview episode on Aquaman -- here we have Atlanna, a newcomer to the surface world, being mesmerized by snowfall. And it’s similar to how Diana was mesmerized by snow in Veld. In both cases, it’s a woman having new experiences and growing in her appreciation of the surface world, or Man’s world, as the case may be, and in both cases the beauty and serenity of the snowfall marks the growing love between characters.

There’s also another DCEU connection happening right here at the start of Scene 2. If we think back to Justice League and the scene where Bruce Wayne meets Arthur Curry, that was filmed in Iceland and had a very Icelandic feel, even in the context of the film’s story. Now, here in Aquaman, as we meet Arthur’s parents and approach his birth, we have a musical sample from the Icelandic band Sigur Ros (SIH-gur Rhoes). The song starts out with a very pretty and intimate piano and then a high falsetto voice that is fitting for the feel of a family love story.  And I do particularly appreciate that it’s a familial sort of love, broad and encompassing of life and connection and having children and so forth, rather than just purely a romantic or lusting kind of love. The title of the song is also very fitting. It’s called “Saeglopur”, which means basically “lost at sea.” And that idea of being lost at sea fits in a literal sense for Atlanna, who was just found on shore, but it can also apply metaphorically to Tom Curry and then to Arthur Curry -- two men who are somewhat isolated and alone for portions of their adult life, but who will both be rescued from that lost-at-sea sort of situation by finding love and finding connection, with Atlanna and with Mera and the other connections to family that come from that.

Over the music, we have Arthur’s narration continuing. He explains about his mother, “She had fled an arranged marriage. Left her whole world behind. But in my father’s lighthouse, she found something unexpected. And my father found the love of his life.”
So this line is doing a few things, both of which are fairly straightforward. He’s giving some exposition about Atlanna and he’s marking the love story between his parents. With regard to the exposition, it’s beginning to fill in the reasons behind what led to her being found on shore, and he’s also giving us some early hints of Atlantean culture. We know already that she is a queen, but apparently even a queen is at the mercy of some expectations and requirements, and a queen may choose to flee her own society. It harkens back to European history, even into the modern era, where royal families from different kingdoms would arrange marriages as a form of pact or treaty, forging new alliances. For Atlanna, it’s somewhat interesting that her decision to flee an arranged marriage has led her to Tom Curry and will end up actually producing a relationship that does form a new alliance between Atlantis and the surface. But there is love at the root of that relationship, so maybe that gives some authenticity to the connection, rather than a bond that was explicitly and politically for the purpose of a bond.

Here, Arthur doesn’t specifically say why Atlanna was fleeing her arranged marriage. The trope would be that it was a loveless marriage, because often in stories and films, arranged marriages are contrasted with true-love. And that’s the implication here, because in the same line, Arthur says she fled an arranged marriage and then he says that she was the love of his father’s life. Later on, we will see another arranged marriage in the case of Mera and Orm, a linking between the kingdoms of Atlantis and Xebel, and although it is a loveless arrangement, Mera will break from Orm not to seek true love but instead to stop a war and save her people.

It’s also very possible with Atlanna that she was not fleeing Atlantis to seek out her true love but she was leaving because King Orvax was simply a cruel or terrible ruler. Whatever it was, it was a big decision because, like Arthur said, she left her whole world behind. Just as Mera will do, and Arthur will make that connection when he is finally empathizing with Mera on the plane. But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

Right now, it’s all about Atlanna and Tom Curry. The montage here communicates strong affection between them, and they both seem to be genuinely good people, and comfortable around one another. As they’re sitting in the living room, we can hear on the TV that Hurricane Arthur is due to make landfall soon. And by the way, there was an actual Hurricane Arthur in July of 2014, hitting not Maine but the North Carolina region of the Eastern U.S. There was also a Tropical Storm Arthur in 1984 and 1990, but neither of those work with the in-universe timeline of this being 1985 or 1986. So the filmmakers must’ve just wanted to have this moment of banter about the name Arthur, and have it be spurred on by something coming ashore from the oceans, like a hurricane.

As Tom moves over toward Atlanna, he asks, “How about Arthur?” This is a great example of very efficient storytelling --- the filmmakers don’t have long to establish this love story but it’s an important foundation for the film and they’re doing a good job of it by relying on music and body language and then a line like this does a lot of work, too. Right away, we know that Atlanna is pregnant and that they’ve been having conversations about what to name him. Atlanna responds playfully, “After the hurricane?” And Tom says, “After the legend. He’s a king, isn’t he?”

This is an explicit connection to the Legend of King Arthur. There are debates about whether an actual King Arthur existed in Great Britain, but of course the stories are very famous. There are several versions, such as an old one by Mallory, stories in the 1800s by Tennyson, and the 1958 novel by T. H. White, which is the one I’m most familiar with, The Once and Future King. And of course there are also many movies, such as The Sword in the Stone from Disney, Excalibur which is a particular favorite of Zack Snyder, and most recently King Arthur: Legend of the Sword by Guy Ritchie, a version that I like quite a bit.

The aspects of the King Arthur story that are probably the most relevant in conjunction with Aquaman are, first, that Arthur is the rightful heir to the throne but he grew up not as a prince but away in much more humble circumstances. Second, that Arthur returns and claims his throne by pulling the magical sword Excalibur from the stone, just as Arthur Curry will reclaim the magical trident. And third, one of the most important lessons Arthur learned before he became king was that violence is really only justified if it is used to prevent war or to prevent further violence. And that is precisely what we’ll see with Arthur Curry, as in the climax of the film we will see that he does ride in violently on the Karathan but it is for the purpose of stopping a supremely deadly war.

Now speaking of the Legend of King Arthur, I wanted to mention something about Scene 1. Friend of the show Omesh Sing, aka @PrimeEarthMook, noticed that Atlanna’s original white scaly outfit and her coming out of the water could’ve been an homage to the Lady in the Lake from the Legend of King Arthur, who was also depicted in white. And both women played a role in helping the Arthur kings retrieve their magical weapons.

So Tom Curry’s quick line prompts us to draw several parallels to King Arthur as we settle in for the story of Arthur Curry, a child who will have royal blood, and then Atlanna responds and foreshadows some more of the plot and the themes of this movie. She says in regard to the idea that her child will be a king, “He’s more than that. He’s living proof our people can coexist. He could unite our worlds one day.”

So on one level this is a simple indication that we can expect to see a story where the main character, Aquaman, can be a unifying force between land and sea, having been born as part of both worlds. On another level, this is a connection to Man of Steel where Jor-El also saw his child, Kal-El, as a bridge between two worlds. And just as Atlanna is saying that Arthur will be proof that coexistence is possible, we saw in Man of Steel that Kal-El was living proof of alien life. His existence was also profound in the sense of being a natural birth, embodying freedom of choice and new potential for his society. Similarly, Arthur is living proof of new potential -- of positive relations between Atlanteans and surface-dwellers.

And on yet another level, Atlanna’s line connects to the King-versus-Hero theme in the film. A recurring idea is that there are things greater than being a king, or more broadly, there are greater causes and greater roles to play than perhaps what comes along with a certain title. Here, Atlanna is talking about something beyond just being a ruler, but someone who shows new potentials and new connections between people who could otherwise be enemies. Indeed, a big part of this film is about making new friends instead of enemies. Later on, Mera also says that a hero is greater than a king. That it is greater to think beyond borders than it is to just think nationalistically.

This moment with Atlanna sharing some optimism and dreams with regard to her child is something that can really resonate with parents in the audience. When holding an infant, they represent so much potential and there are so many possibilities that still lie before them, and as a parent, it is also natural to think about some future contributions and good deeds that your child might be able to perform in the world. This boundless potential, and the parental hopes and dreams are another way to look at the connections between Aquaman and other films in the DCEU. Jor-El and Lara certainly had high hopes for their baby, and later Jonathan Kent also had profound hopes of his adopted son Clark standing proud before the human race. Hippolyta had hopes, along with fears, about her daughter Diana and the destiny that awaited her. And in Justice League, although he’s of course much older than in the other cases, Barry Allen also had a father who was trying to encourage his son to pursue a full life and reach his full potential. Victor Stone has a more complicated relationship with his father, but they seemed to be at a better place at the end of Justice League, at least, and we can definitely see relationships between parents and children as a key part of this universe. And of course the absence of Bruce Wayne’s parents is just as significant as the presence of other characters’ parents.

We can also think about the traits from parents that may or may not be passed on to their children. Both Kal-El and Arthur do seem to take on traits from their birth parents, even though they didn’t necessarily grow up with those parents. And both of them hid from the world for a long time before they came out of hiding to become heroes.

In the last portion of Scene 2, we get to see the cute baby Arthur, which is of course a straightforward way to endear the character to the audience -- we are, after all, predisposed to think of babies as adorable. And we also get to see a caring and nurturing Atlanna as mother, holding up a fork and sharing fairy tales with Arthur, similar to how Hippolyta shared the history of the Amazons and the Godkiller sword with young Diana. Atlanna says, “And the trident could only be wielded by the strongest Atlantean. And it gave King Atlan mastery over the seven seas. It made him so powerful that the ocean itself became jealous, and sent a terrible earthquake to destroy Atlantis. Down it fell, to the bottom of the ocean. But legend has it that one day a new king will come who will use the power of the trident to put Atlantis back together again.”
So this gives us some initial information about Atlantis -- namely, that it used to be above ground but then sank, just like the actual legend says. It also mentions King Atlan and the trident and notes that it was the prominence and power of Atlantis that led to its downfall. We will later get more detail about this history from Vulko and Orm in various scenes, but here, it’s a gentle way to foreshadow some major elements of the plot, such as the legend that a new king can come forth to reclaim the power of the trident.

Later on, when talking to Mera, Arthur will refer to this trident story as just a fairy tale, but of course as a savvy movie-going audience, we know that there probably will be some truth to it. One other thing to note here about Atlanna’s interaction with her son is that it’s nice and in fact very important that she is maintaining her Atlantean culture even as she has this family on the surface. She is not abandoning or hiding her own culture.

What we are calling Scene 2 then ends with the dog barking, which seems to be a warning of danger.

End of Episode

That is our analysis of Scene 2 of Aquaman. Thanks so much for listening, and we also want to give a special thank you to our patrons. You can become a patron by going to patreon.com/JLUPodcast and if you join at the $4 level then you can have access to our Man of Steel analysis. We have Scenes 1 and 2 complete and are planning to release one episode per week. So please join us there if you are a fan of Man of Steel. And next up on this public feed will be Aquaman Scenes 3-4, where we see some impressive action from Atlanna and then bid her farewell.

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