There is an interesting exchange between Will Turner and Jack Sparrow as they are walking underwater, using a small boat to create an air pocket. As they approach the Dauntless, Will quips, “This is either madness or brilliance.” Jack replies, “It’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.”
Pirates of the Caribbean, The Curse of the Black Pearl is both “madness and brilliance.” Hidden in its craziness are some brilliant scenes and dialogue. Of course, a movie based loosely on an amusement ride can be expected to be a bit frivolous, but Black Pearl also has some themes, hidden in the silliness, which are rather spiritual. The most obvious one is, of course, being cursed for eternity.
That’s exactly what I thought when we were first told the tale. Buried on an Island of Dead what cannot be found except for those who know where it is. Find it, we did. There be the chest. Inside be the gold. And we took ’em all. We spent ’em and traded ’em and frittered ’em away on drink and food and pleasurable company. The more we gave ’em away, the more we came to realize—the drink would not satisfy, food turned to ash in our mouths, and all the pleasurable company in the world could not slake our lust. We are cursed men, Miss Turner. Compelled by greed, we were, but now we are consumed by it.
What a perfect description of what sin does to us. C. S. Lewis, and many Christian writers before him, spoke of a desire which cannot be fulfilled by anything in this life. Blaise Pascal, the famous seventeenth century mathematician and physicist, wrote about what has been referred to as a “God-shaped hole” in our lives:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. [Pensées VII(425)]
St. Augustine of Hippo also opined in his fourth century “Confessions“: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
The cure for the curse in the film is a bit different than the cure for sin, however. The Aztec gold, blood money which the Aztecs paid Cortez “to stem the slaughter he wreaked upon them with his armies.” However, Cortez did not relent from his slaughter, so the “heathen gods placed upon the gold a terrible curse. Any mortal that removes but a single piece from that stone chest shall be punished for eternity.” In order to break the curse, the pirates had to restore all the gold they had stolen, and provide blood from each person who had stolen any of it. It apparently did not matter that in order to restore the gold, the pirates had to continually raid ships, towns, and villages to recapture what they had “frittered away” – in much the same way the prodigal son had squandered away his inheritance. But the cure could only restore the pirates to what they were before—mere unscrupulous mortals. They may again be able to enjoy food and gratify their lust, but true satisfaction will still elude them.
Not all pirates are totally unscrupulous. Captain Jack tells Will that his father Bootstrap Bill was both a pirate and a good man. As the pair make their way out to sea in the “commandeered” Interceptor, they fight over whether Will’s father was a pirate. Literally crossing swords, Will claims Jack could never best him in a “fair fight.” Jack responds:
Then that’s not much incentive for me to fight fair, then, is it? [moves one of the sails so that the yard catches Will and swings him out over the sea] Now, as long as you’re just hanging there, pay attention. The only rules that really matter are these – what a man can do and what a man can’t do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man or you can’t. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you’ll have to square with that some day. Now, me, for example, I can let you drown but I can’t bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesy, savvy? So… [swings him back on board and offers him his sword] can you sail under the command of a pirate? Or can you not?
Although Jack’s philosophy is rather ends-justify-the-means and situation ethics, there does seem to be a difference in pirates. Jack definitely is self-serving in almost everything he does, but there are some glimpses of humanity in him (in a good sense) from the beginning of the movie – and throughout. When we meet Captain Sparrow, we see him sailing into Port Royal. We see the bones of three pirates hanging there as a warning, and Jack takes time to salute them. Soon afterward, he rescues Elizabeth, who has fallen into the sea. What his motives are probably not entirely altruistic, but he does save her – at risk to himself. Commodore Norrington soon discovers his true identity, leading to this dialog:
Elizabeth : Pirate or not this man saved my life.
Norrington: One good deed is not enough to redeem a man of a lifetime of wickedness.
Jack : Though it seems enough to condemn him.
While Norrington’s desire for “law and order” is commendable, he reminds me of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. It seems he would not be pleased if all of piratedom were to repent and begin to do good deeds. After all, as he says, good deeds are not enough to redeem a pirate – or a son – of a life of prodigal living. Redemption requires a willingness for restoration on the part of the father – or the state.
Thankfully, our Father is so willing. The questions that remain are: are we willing to return? and, will we welcome our “younger brother” when he returns?