The Message of Mercy in ‘Aquaman’

Some potential spoilers ahead for Aquaman.

On December 21st of last year, James Wan’s Aquaman dove head-first onto movie screens everywhere. Since its release it has managed to gross over 1 billion dollars at the box office. The film surprised people with its engrossing action and stunning visuals, though everyone generally agrees the plot is paper thin and there’s not much here that hasn’t been seen before. A deep, contemplative film never seemed to be the point (unlike the other DCEU movies) but that doesn’t keep Aquaman from subtley conveying an important message about mercy.

From the very beginning, we get the sense that Atlantis isn’t a very forgiving place. When Queen Atlanna (played by Nicole Kidman) washes on shore and subsequently falls in love with Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison), she warns that the King of Atlantis won’t forget her treachery. We’re later led to believe that after bearing said King a son, she is sacrificed to a tribe of sea monsters. When Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) learns this later in life, he grows jaded toward the underwater kingdom and feels no affection for it or the machinations of his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson).

His merciless attitude stands out most in a scene where his greatest enemy, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), is born. Curry mortally wounds Manta’s father and leaves him to drown on a submarine. Though the pirate begs for mercy, Curry turns a cold shoulder to the father and son. As a result, the father dies and the son becomes Black Manta to gain revenge.

This lack of mercy stands out all over the movie. Eventually, as the third act begins, Curry realizes that he and the rest of Atlantis need to put a little more love in their hearts. He shows remorse over not saving Manta’s dad and considers how different the present would be if Orm’s father forgave his mother instead of sentencing her to death. At the film’s climax, it is a show of mercy that cuts off a long line of bloodshed.

Mercy may seem like a simple thing. It may even feel too vague to know what it is. But mercy and forgiveness are necessary for the world to have peace. Consider all the anger coursing through American culture today: anger toward the President, anger toward various groups, anger toward opposing fan bases, anger toward each other. It’s never been easier to be offended than it is today and our propensity for outrage is tearing us apart.

What can stem that tide? Mercy. Mercy looks at the anger, takes a breath, and pumps the brakes. Maybe some anger is justified, but is all of it? Do we need to verbally tear into each other over someone’s views or opinions? Mercy doesn’t think so and Aquaman presents us with a good picture of mercy in action. Mercy is deployed on people who don’t deserve it and it’s a beautiful scene to behold.

After seeing the movie, I had a long discussion with someone over that Black Manta moment mentioned above. I agreed with the film’s sentiment that Curry should have saved the injured dad and taken them all to prison. The other person felt he was justified to leave a couple of murderers to die because of their own folly. It’s a moral quandary that could take up a whole article by itself, but I’ll simply argue here as I argued that night that it is better to show mercy than revenge. Curry learns that lesson the hard way. Aquaman shows us a lesson on screen that we can grasp and apply to our own lives.

So the next time you feel yourself getting angry over something, stop and consider if it’s worth it. Perhaps instead of offering another person a sword, you can extend mercy and offer them your hand. You may not agree with them, but at least you have disarmed hatred, which is something our world could use less of. If you struggle with showing a softer side, consider Aquaman and find your courage.

What did you think of Aquaman? Did you see other themes in its depths?

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