Comic book blockbusters have become the norm for everyday movie-goers over the past few years. Growing up going to the premieres of these movies, I was always excited for what awaited me inside the theatre. Not only did they satisfy my geeky appetite, they also allowed me to take a break from my busy schedule. Especially as an athlete. I usually can relate aspects of my life to these movies, but I’ve never been able to connect a comic book movie to my athletic practice. That is until James Wan changed the tide (pun intended) with his most recent project, Aquaman.
Most sports operate on a field or court, often using various instruments like bats, paddles, and balls. Competitive swimming on the other hand happens in a pool with nothing but a cap and goggles. It’s a sport that I have been involved with for almost eleven years now.
On the surface, Aquaman stood out to me because it takes place underwater; the element I spend three-fourths of my day in. It wasn’t until the first trailer that I realized how much I wanted a water-based hero on the big screen. Like Aquaman’s reputation, swimming as a sport isn’t very popular with the general audience. It goes unnoticed in many countries until the Olympic Games roll around every four years. This is simply because other sports – baseball and football, for example – are spotlighted instead. Swimming is a sport that you really have to invest in to both understand and enjoy. I think the same goes for Aquaman as a hero. Being a swimmer and a person who is visually fascinated, Aquaman hit home when it came to my personal tastes.
Diving into it a little deeper (pun again), Aquaman hit home in more areas than just my athletic element and visual aesthetic. Arthur Curry’s story particularly intrigued me; a man caught between two extremely different worlds but bound to both as a leader. Having seen the film for myself, I now can resonate with Arthur’s conflict. Without giving anything away, Arthur wrestles with himself throughout the movie in more ways than one. He feels that he’s the reason why Atlantis won’t accept him, but at the same time is a loner among the people of the surface. In other words, he doesn’t feel he’s accepted in either place. Having wrestled with similar themes in my own personal life, it was easy for me to see a part of myself in Arthur’s shoes. As a swimmer from a small town, I swam on a small team when I was young for the first several years of my career. As I developed my talent for racing in the water, I found it hard to improve my skills on such a team, where often I was outpacing my teammates. I made the decision to switch to another team about an hour and a half from where I lived in order further my swimming abilities. Three days a week during the school year I would travel with my parents to practice. Every time it ended up being almost three hours on the road. When the summer came around, my teammates would graciously let me stay with their families for a whole week at a time just to let me pursue my goals. It was a tremendous opportunity that I would have never thought possible without the people in my life. Being away from home so much meant that I had to practice on my own whenever I wasn’t able to make the drive with my parents. Especially going into my high school career as a swimmer, it meant I had to split the difference a lot. Unlike Arthur’s arc in Aquaman, acceptance wasn’t a problem on both teams. However, it did feel like being in two different worlds. My feet were never in the same pool two days in a row.
As a freshman on my hometown high school team, I was on track to break several of the school records that year. While I was enthusiastic about doing so, I always felt pressured as a leader figure. Most of my upperclassmen were looking for tips on how to better improve their strokes at a time where I neither knew how to express how to help them or even wanted to be such a figure. I just wanted to swim my heart out and make the podium at the state championship meet. I had to find it in myself how to be a leader, but to accept that I was one. This was difficult for me because I always looked up to my peers as my role models, never myself. It took a lot just to tell myself that I was leader material, but after I did, swimming became a whole different sport. Instead of seeing my teammates as friends, I saw them as my family. Even though I was never a captain, I felt a responsibility as a teammate to now be an energy giver instead of just being there.
The Aquaman Jason Momoa embodies questions himself all the time, even about his decisions. Early on in the film, he makes a choice that ends up coming back to haunt him, and feels that he was the reason it became such a sour situation. When I was a junior on my high school team, my best race was the 100 backstroke. I had placed at state third every year, and usually broke my own record that I held. However, my junior year I knew I would be fighting for a chance just to be on the podium in third place.The sound of that didn’t appease me much. I was tired of working so hard to only end up third consecutively. Reluctantly, I made the choice to instead enter in an event I normally did not swim, but thought I would have a better chance at the championship title. I trained for the 100 fly the entire year, always trying to envision myself with the gold medal instead of a bronze one. The meet finally came, and eventually it was my time to race.
After all was said and done, after I gave it my best shot, I ended up missing first place by a mere .07 of a second. At first I was devastated, angry at myself for not opting for my regular events. I wrestled with myself before they called me up to the podium to receive my medal. Eventually, I found it in myself to let go my angry feelings and accept the fact that I had just swam an awesome race for myself. I may not have gone home with the title I set out to get, but I walked away knowing that I could compete in more than one event. There was no reason to be mad at that. It didn’t span the length of a film, but it was something that I related to when watching Jason play Arthur.
Outside of his role as the Aquaman in James Wan’s movie, Jason has become a big role model for me as. If you know anything about Jason’s heritage, you’ll know that he is from the Hawaiian Islands. He ended up going back there to learn more about his culture early on in his life. He’s said many times in recent interviews that the journey to becoming the King of Atlantis has been a long one. Five years since Zack Snyder cast him for the role, Jason has been waiting and training for his time as Aquaman. I can’t help but relate to that on a personal level; looking back at the five year journey I have gone through to get where I am as a college athlete. In club swimming especially, I had a number of dramatic ups and downs in my high school years. There were times that I qualified for finals in fast meets and times where I gained time in every race; sometimes at the fastest meet I had ever been to. I think the biggest downs in my club swimming career came from my mental attitude towards myself as an athlete. I always told myself that I belonged with the competition, but reflecting back on it, I never really accepted myself as a high calibur competitor. This boiled up in my conscience for years, and became so evident that my coach started stepping in.
As my senior year of high school approached, I was both questioning where I fit in my sport and who I was as a person. It took a couple of months into my college schedule to finally accept myself as a good enough swimmer. Someone who belonged with my new teammates and was a good enough person to be confident as a swimmer. I now am experiencing what I believe to be the biggest high in my life as an athlete. I finally have accepted myself in my heart as worthy of being a part of such a competitive atmosphere. When I saw Jason perform the haka chant at the premiere of Aquaman, this was further affirmed for me. The reason being is because of the message I think Jason was trying to say; accept who you are, where you come from, and don’t be afraid to show the world. I’m now trying everyday to accept myself a little more, how far I have come, and where I can go.
It’s needless to say, having seen the movie for myself, that I love Aquaman. I’m able to see Jason’s portrayal of Arthur Curry in a very personal light, and able to apply aspects of his journey as a hero and actor into my life. Honestly, I think that’s the most important thing to take away from a movie like this; being able to learn about yourself and see what the actors can teach you in their roles. It’s experiences like this that trump any review someone may have on a movie.