LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION!
Movie Flick – The Pirates of the Caribbean 1
Jack Sparrow: Put it away, son. It’s not worth you getting beat again.
Will Turner: You didn’t beat me. You ignored the rules of engagement. In a fair fight, I’d kill you.
Jack Sparrow: That’s not much incentive for me to fight fair, then, is it?
Norrington: No additional shot nor powder, a compass that doesn’t point north, (looks at Jack’s sword) and I half expected it to be made of wood. You are without doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.
Jack Sparrow: But you have heard of me.
The Piratical Philosophy of Freedom
David White hoists his mainbrace and shivers his timbers.
Even if the pirates have rivals for popularity, their four hundred year history of diversity, vigor, penetration and, I would argue, philosophy, must make for them a special place in the Popular Culture Hall of Fame.
We are delighted, but not surprised, to learn that Jackie Kennedy enjoyed playing pirates with her children. We note with interest that The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates, with its 350 pages of well-researched facts, begins with a chapter on pirates and popular culture. Look for ‘pirates’ in the subject catalogue of any library with a children’s department, and you are likely to find more children’s books on pirates than piratical works for adults, a disproportion unknown in other areas of crime. Pirate’s Eye, written and illustrated by Robert Priest, for example, is a fictional pirate book about a fictional pirate book that is at once charming, humorous and appealingly gross. It’s about the loss of and search for a pirate’s glass eye, but it ends with a strong image of compassion and empathy. One public library I checked had over a dozen children’s books on pirates and no adult titles.
‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ was the last Disneyland attraction Walt Disney worked on personally. Because of Disney’s presence in the pirate popular market, especially the Captain Hook character (considerably modified from the Barrie original) and the worldwide success of the theme park attraction, and of the three Pirates of the Caribbean films, we might expect the popular representation of pirates to be dominated by Disney. It’s not. Instead, an economy has developed in which the Disney products develop on their own, but others contribute even more outlandish presentations of pirate lore, only to create a larger market for those who offer ‘correctives’ telling the true story. Disney had the genius to present despicable material as good, clean, family fun; but the rest of the trade is involved in a sort of cops and robbers symbiotic relationship.
Captain Hook is one of the great comedic characters, no doubt, but it’s easy for anyone to see that his outfit is not piratical. His motive of revenge and his cowardice are atypical, if not outright erroneous. Interestingly, there may be more reality to walking the plank than some might credit. Captives who could not be ransomed were also said to be tossed overboard.
In the Disney theme park attraction, the pirates, designed by Marc Davis, are also more slapstick characters than anything fearsome. We chuckle, and all but the smallest children are delighted, not scared. The admission-paying masses tend to see the attraction as a history lesson, and at least one mother complained that Disney had gone too far in the interest of historical accuracy and frightened her child.
How does Disney do it? How does anyone gain so much credibility and make a handsome profit by selling a preposterous sham as ‘history’? The root unreality of the ride is that customers leave believing they know what it is like to pillage; and of the films, that viewers leave unaware how much of what they have seen were computer generated images.
Philosophers have a lot to learn from Disney – even more than how to project enhanced shadows on the wall of a cave. What Disney has done is to develop a technologically competent community so inventive and disciplined that the threads of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise are both effective individually and fully integrated into the whole experience. With the Disney product we have some superb technology; but the magic is always broken by legalistic facts, for example, the lengthy disclaimers on the attraction go on and on about wheelchairs, but they say nothing about hazards to those with a peg leg.
There are still pirates operating today, especially in Asian waters; but we are seduced by the popular culture objects since they pose none of the risks that are associated with real-life complexity. That the truth can be fascinating is demonstrated by What If You Met a Pirate? written and illustrated by Jan Adkins. One finishes this work (which must have cost a tiny fraction of the Disney attraction to produce) fully satisfied that one has as much as met not only a pirate, but the captain and his whole crew. She presents accurate technical knowledge simply and with good humor. Adkins even points out that modern piracy is the business of large corporations.
One cynical critic complained that Disney thinks we find these people so fascinating we’ll pay to watch them do anything. That’s exactly the point. Whether on a cereal box, at a child’s birthday or in a costume party, you can’t go wrong with pirates, and after over three hundred years of development of the popular lore, there seems no end to the ways you can go right.
Perhaps the simplest and best explanation is that we are all pirates or pirate wannabes. Disney provides the piratical life with (almost) no risk and (relatively) little expense. Disney’s is a highly efficient satisfaction machine. Certainly there has been apprehension from a business point of view. Still, pirates are as safe, from a business point of view, as any product idea could be.
Ironies abound. At the same time Disney keeps elaborating and extending its celebration of piracy, the company is battling the real-life ‘pirates’ who prey on Disney’s intellectual property.
Consumers appreciate the low cost of stolen goods. In the same spirit, pirates were willing to pay protection money to keep their hide-outs hidden, were free spenders of their loot, and used bribes to avoid arrest. ‘Legitimate’ operators saw piracy against their enemies or trade rivals as advancing the national interest. Pirates may be outlaws by definition, but they exist as part of an economy. Destroy their natural enemies (eg your naval rivals) and you will quickly find you have more pirates.
The sea bandits of old did not think of themselves as leading characters in a corrupt society any more than those who sing the joys of the modern pirate life realize they reflect the corruption that surrounds them. In the world that surrounds us, we have what could cynically be described as a ‘pseudo-fascist’ environment: anything goes as long as the government retains control and business profits. The Disney website itself contains a blurb of a fairly decent statement of an anti-fascistic philosophy of freedom, complete with ownership symbols. Pirates fit well with this corporately-endorsed propaganda.
It is not hard to see why middle class, conformist families visiting Disney enjoy singing a hearty “yo ho, yo ho” to the pirate’s life of pillage, plunder, rifle, drink and loot; to kidnap and ravage without giving a hoot. Doubtless it is for the same sort of reason they celebrate the lives and actions of the American Revolutionaries, also criminals with piratical connections. Freedom, even freedom that’s virtual and temporary, feels good. It can become addictive. What gives the pirates a (peg) leg up on other outcasts, is that as long as they are at sea or in a pirate port they are able to enjoy freedom in a community of the free, bound only by the pirates’ code of honor. The camaraderie of such a community is deeply enjoyable, giving rise to the many tributes to a ‘short but merry life’. Pirate ports were often described as ‘utopias’.
My argument is that what Disney and the other purveyors of pop piracy satisfy is not a hunger for thrills or a hunger for history, but a hunger for a philosophy: the philosophy of freedom. The lesson to draw from all this pirate culture is that there is a great demand for a philosophy of freedom that can underwrite a life of freedom. When philosophers fail to satisfy the public’s natural cravings for liberty, merchants such as Disney step in and provide the mirage of satisfaction by using superbly crafted illusions. Yet we find pirates attractive not as a diversion but because they symbolize what we value most – a free and happy life in a free and happy community.
Take anarchism, by no means the worst thing attributed to pirates. Disrespect for the government is manifest throughout the Pirates of the Caribbean films – for example in the joking dismissal of the offer to Jack of a commission in the Royal Navy. The Disney version makes anarchy palatable or even delectable to a family audience that in real life would be terrified of anarchists. Yet pirates plainly were anarchists, and continue to be attractive to practicing anarchists today. For example, today’s anarchists advocate Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZs), which have an explicit analogy to pirate utopias. But it is not clear how they propose to establish such an order, or the fellow-feeling essential to making their piratical anarchistic life a merry one. In a similar vein, the successful philosopher of today should be able to fund a small but attractive utopian community of those who are paid to think without producing anything: funded largely out of fees charged to those who aspire to a career in business or the professions. (On reading this, one of my students quipped that classroom philosophy teachers already engage in torture by reading assignment, and humiliation by Socratic questioning, without even going to the trouble of getting an eye patch and a parrot.)
Not all pirates were full-fledged anarchists, and many performed services for governments or ‘legitimate’ merchants. Some paid fees to landowners who provided a safe haven. Pirates were at times functionally indistinguishable from governments or business in their willingness to disregard the law.
In 1898, in the first chapter of his Buccaneers & Pirates of Our Coasts , Frank R. Stockton (better known for his short story, ‘The Lady or the Tiger?’) sets out with uncanny accuracy the adolescent ambition to be a pirate. The underlying motive is the enjoyment of freedom, the means is bloodless (if not entirely non-violent), and the theft is morally vindicated by a just distribution of the booty. Such a pirate does not die with his boots on, not only because real pirates sailed in bare feet, but because this vision included a long retirement surrounded by books, art and other treasures taken from mercenary vessels. Thus pirates get to end their days by living the way philosophy professors live throughout their careers, once tenure is attained.
Stockton was a master of presenting pirate lore in a way that was entertaining as literature but also morally and historically critical. The same can be said of Peter Earle’s The Pirate Wars . Good writing and good scholarship clearly can be developed as commercial products that appeal to a popular audience without corrupting one’s conscience or warping one’s sense of history.
Children’s books, and even some scholarship, tries to license our attraction to pirates on grounds they are serving the cause of justice within the scope of what Catholic moralists call ‘occult compensation’. The Disney strategy seems to be to quiet our conscience by entertainment, allowing us to be virtual pirates without committing any real crime. The more thoughtful anarchists of today take little inspiration from such popular presentations of piracy. Disrespect for government and for big business is fundamental to any anarchist program; but criminal activity, if indulged in at all, needs to be carefully regulated (a sticking point for anarchists) and should never extend to self-indulgence or insensitivity, let alone cultural depravity on the scale of a Disney attraction.
Clare Hibbert’s Real Pirates uses a different approach. There is no moralizing, but no sanitizing either. We are given over twenty short biographies, with striking illustrations, making it clear that even if violent skullduggery is jolly fun to read about in anecdotal form with engaging pictures, it is uncomfortable to practice and likely to lead to a violent and painful end. One can hardly imagine the young readers will be attracted to a life of crime. In The World of the Pirate, Val Garwood also does an excellent job of entertaining us with the most disgusting details of what life was like for pirates. With Richard Berridge’s graphic illustrations there is no need for moralizing. Garwood also includes many fact/fiction contrasts.
The deep appeal of piracy appears to be the effect of combining anarchy with a realized utopia; individual sensual indulgence with a joyous community life; and lawlessness with the cause of social justice. It requires some imagination to reconcile all these in the modern world. In Fluffy: Scourge of the Sea, Teresa Bateman spins the yarn of the pampered poodle, who, captured by canine pirates, uses charm and skill to reform the whole crew. Fluffy succeeds because Fluffy went to fencing school, was able to whip up a superb meal, and sang a song of hope that had the crew’s eyes filled with tears. Bateman, a retired poet, shows her knowledge of history by having the crew elect Fluffy their new captain. Fluffy then shows the pirate crew they need not steal since they can make more money by performing in cute pirate outfits. I recall that Pompey was successful at ending piracy against Rome because he offered honest toil in new agricultural communities as alternative employment.
Real pirates suffered much, but they got to do what they enjoyed. Disney’s customers do not get to doanything, and suffer much only in what they pay. Their enjoyment is not the enjoyment of life, their enjoyment is the enjoyment of a professional entertainment product. The enjoyment may be real enough; but those who feel called to the pirate’s life can never be satisfied by a fleeting illusion, as Plato said. And as Philip Gosse pointed out long ago, the type who once turned to piracy still exists today, but must find other channels for their piratical talents. There is always room at the top
2. Please discuss the film, Freud, and Chocolate Cake?
Captain Barbossa: You know Jack, I thought I had you figured out. But it turns out you’re a hard man to predict.
Jack Sparrow: Me? I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you never know when they’re going to do something incredibly… stupid.
Jack Sparrow: Me? I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you never know when they’re going to do something incredibly stupid.
Do These Pirates Really Know How To Live…?
Like we stated in our introduction,
we’re hunting for treasure –
in this case, the “treasure” being
a deeper understanding about real, no-bull, “morality”
– and we think that Pirates of the Caribbean
offers some pretty big clues . . .
so we’re off!
The Cast of Characters
Governor Swann: the center of all that seems righteous, proper, distinguished, civilized, and boring – the stiff side of what seems “moral”.
Commodore Norrington: the Governor’s right-hand man, dutiful enforcer of all that seems proper, distinguished, civilized, and etc. He loves Elizabeth and wants to marry her, but still, the job comes first…
Elizabeth: the saucy young daughter of the governor and heroine of the story. She lives in a safe prison of luxury and is courted by the gallant, studly, and stiff Commodore Norrington . . . and yet she has a deep, dark secret: ever since she was a young girl, she has always harbored a hidden, unspoken fascination with pirates…
Will Turner: the blacksmith and secondary hero of the story – “hero” in the more traditional sense (the main story is actually Elizabeth’s), who was lost at sea as a boy but now lives in civilization and follows the rules… yet has some pirate’s blood in him…
Captain Jack Sparrow: the ultracool Nietzschian rogue pirate who has a taste for whiskey and loses every swordfight he’s in…
The Pirates: a bunch of plundering and pillaging, robbing and raping (or maybe not – this is Disney, after all), selfish and smelly barbarians, led by the fearsome Barbossa. They take what they want, when they want it, and have no qualms about it. The center of all that is improper, undistinguished, uncivilized, and all that seems “immoral.” And it wouldn’t be much of a movie without them. Aarrg.
The Chocolate Cake: we’ll come to this a little later.
The background of the story essentially consists of a fight between two teams:
In One Corner: the “citizens” of proper society, led by Norrington (on behalf of the cowardly Governor) and the British fleet.
And also representing this team – though a little less extreme than Norrington – is Good Will Turner.
In the Other Corner: the “pirates,” led by the fearsome Barbossa.
And also representing this team – though a little less extreme than Barbossa – is Captain Jack Sparrow.
And Caught In-Between:
is our heroine, Elizabeth.
When we first think of “pirate stories,” the classic, old-fashioned, generic pirate tales come to mind, which generally go something like this:
The “pirates” are the bad (“immoral”) guys, the “citizens” or civilized folks are the good (“moral”) guys, and the good guys eventually chase down the bad guys,
and ultimately win.
Luckily, Bruckheimer and his merry band were smart enough to hire some of the best writers in Hollywood – Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot (who aren’t quite as famous – as usual, probably no one has heard of the screenwriters, the guys who dream up all the characters and the entire story from scratch . . . but we digress).
In the skilled hands of Rossio-and-Elliot, the tale becomes an epic that sparkles with philosophical significance and spiritual transcendence, as we shall soon see . . .
“Life is a constant oscillation
between the sharp horns
of a dilemma.”
– H. L. Mencken
The First Horn of the Heroine’s Dilemma
First of all, to start a story off . . . the hero or heroine needs a problem.
The heroine and center of this story, Elizabeth, lives a safe life, protected from danger by her respectable (and “moral”) father, deep within the walls of everything that seems civilized, proper, and right.
And that’s a problem.
By the word “moral” here, we don’t mean that her father is saintly; rather, we we are speaking about a more conventional, social morality – something closer to Mill’s Utilitarianism: he is basically respected in his community, he generally tries to do the right thing, he can argue a strong case that he is doing as much of “the greatest good for the greatest number” that he can . . . he keeps his daughter well-fed, well-clothed, he pays attention to her, lavishes her with gifts, and keeps her safe from all the robbing, raping, pillaging and plundering of the pirate lifestyle . . .
– so at least, compared to the “morality” of the pirates, he is the extreme opposite end of the scale.
And that’s a good thing . . . right?
Well . . . some of Elizabeth’s first words in the story:
“I think it’d be rather exciting to meet a pirate!”
So . . . a girl who has wealth, security, respect, attention, a loving father, her own servants, and an oceanside view from the bedroom . . . and of course, she’s dreaming about meeting a bad-boy pirate. Deep within the white curl of the Taoist Yin-Yang, she is the tiny little black dot – the exact opposite, it seems, of everything around her.
What is the problem? Why is a young princess living in the center of luxery and righteousness dreaming and reading about a barbaric gang of robbers?
It’s pretty simple, actually: she wants a life with passion.
The way we see it, in spite of (and even because of) all her luxery, she sees her life as boring, stifling, conventional, lifeless . . . all in all, rather unexciting. (Editor’s note: For another incarnation of this same problem-of-the heroine, see Rose in Titanic).
Her corset, the underwear (and well-worn literary tool) that literally squeezes the breath and life right out of her, symbolizes her problem: for all her wealth, security, and extravagance . . . she – or her soul – can’t breathe. At one point – not seconds after Norrington asks her to marry him, potentially sealing her doom – her corset literally threatens to kill her.
And so, it seems that this particular and popular definition of “morality” – meaning safety, respectability in the eyes of others, social status, utilitarian righteousness and so on – is incomplete . . . and in fact, has some serious problems.
So, early in the story, Elizabeth’s problem is set: her life depends on finding what she is missing (she must find “IT”) – she must find a way to live with the passion, danger, and adventure she longs for.
And soon enough, she gets her wish.
The Second Horn of the Heroine’s Dilemma
Mere moments into the story Elizabeth’s dreams come true. (In self-help lingo, she actually gets to “Live Her Dreams!”)
She longed for passion, and danger, and adventure . . . and soon, she is captured and kidnapped by Barbossa and his seedy gang of pirate ghouls.
And of course, having not visited and fully appreciated LiveReal’s War Against Psychobabble, she learns – the way most folks do – the hard way about the wisdom of the cliche – that sometimes getting what you want and “living your dreams” isn’t what you thought it would be. In fact, it can be pretty downright nasty.
Having been captured by the pirates, her naive idealism is shattered as she discovers the brutal reality of her dreams: along with passion, and danger, and adventure . . . comes real danger, real fear, and real discomfort – and hey, it’s not really all that fun. While the story is rated PG-13, and so it can’t be that bad, the real potential for being murdered, raped, starved, beaten, and so on seemed to linger uncomfortably close by.
And so, naturally, she starts dreaming – and working towards – returning back home safely.
But remember, “returning back home to safety,” going back to the Eden she came from, while it seems more attractive than staying with the seedy pirates, is not “IT” either.
In other words, she is trapped in a real dilemma . . .
The Heroine’s Dilemma
To pause here and really analyze Elizabeth’s situation, this is the paradox she is living:
When Elizabeth is safe at home, she longs for adventure and passion.
And when she’s in the midst of adventure and passion (being captured by pirates), she longs for the safety of home.
Neither situation is very satisfactory.
In fact, both situations threaten to kill her.
“That human life must be some kind of mistake
is sufficiently proved by the simple observation
that man is a compound of needs which are hard to satisfy;
– that their satisfaction achieves nothing
but a painless condition
in which he is only given over to boredom . . .”
– Arthur Schopenhauer
It seems probable that, if she were to return immediately home, she would soon be bored once again, longing for adventure, passion, and an escape from the boredom. But at the same time, being held prisoner by beastly pirates is a bit shy from the ideal as well.
It’s a no-win situation. It’s a paradox. It’s a koan.
And it’s something that, actually,
we’re all pretty familiar with . . .
Getting In Touch With the Inner Pirate
The way we see it, everybody is a little bit of a pirate, and a little bit of a Norrington.
Freud nailed it pretty well when he was creating his model of human nature. In one version of his work, he theorized that every human (or more accurately, every person’s identity or ego) is essentially caught between a ravenous, lusty, animal-like “id” (like the pirates) that oozes sex and aggression – and a rule-following “superego” (like Norrington) that works to police the appetites, tame the passions, consider the consequences of actions, keep things proper, respectable, and in check . . .
– and we – the poor little egos – are caught in the middle.
So using this model from Freud, Elizabeth’s plight could actually be seen as a metaphor for all of us. We are all torn between the pirates and Norrington/Governor; we are all caught in a crossfire between the earthy, irrational demands of the “id” and the rule-following, consequence-considering demands of the “superego.”
( – and we all can probably relate to Elizabeth’s plight: when we’re in the middle of conflict and drama, we long for peace; when we’re in the middle of peace, we long for drama and conflict. When we’re at war, we often want to just go home and rest; when we’re at home resting, we read watch Schwarzennegar movies, or read about pirates . . . )
– and the two forces – the id and the superego – are born enemies, like lions and gazelles – incompatible, and in conflict-to-the-death. So we must choose between them; yet neither side is fully satisfactory.
It’s a no-win situation. It’s a real dilemma.
Or perhaps a more concrete illustration:
We’re on a diet. We want to lose weight. This diet is really important.
No sugar, no sweets, and definitely no cake.
One day we’re casually walking though a cafeteria.
And nearby, sitting on the counter, we spot a rich, sumptuous, moist, delicious slice of chocolate cake that is staring at us, begging us to take a rich, juicy bite of pure sweetness.
We face a choice: What do we do?
“Superego” commands: “WALK AWAY!”
“Id” commands:”EAT IT!”
“Superego” commands: “NO, WALK AWAY! YOU’RE ON A DIET!”
“Id” commands:”NO, EAT IT! IT’S YUUUUMMY!”
And so on. The angel’s on one shoulder, the devil’s-food-cake on the other.
It seems like a no-win situation – whatever happens, we lose:
If we choose to eat the cake (victory for the id) – the diet loses (at least for now). The dreams of thinness, health, the lean Victoria’s Secret/Schwarzennegar physique at the beach . . . won’t ever happen, or so it seems. And it also comes with a side-dish – a big helping of guilt.
Yet if we choose not to eat the cake (victory for the superego) – there can still be a downside of regret, of dissatisfaction, of unfulfilled yearning, of “what’s the point of being thin if I’m unhappy?” “Is being thin worth this much of a struggle?” And etc, etc.
The problem is set. It’s a dilemma.
It’s a koan.
The Human Dilemma
and the Reconciliation of Opposites
“Life is a constant oscillation
between the sharp horns of a dilemma.”
– H. L. Mencken
Of course, the problem of the cake is just one example. But actually, this same dilemma often repeats itself over, and over, and over again in the course of our lives in various forms.
Should I eat the cake (id), or not (superego)?
Should I go work out (superego) even though I don’t want to (id)?
Should I stay home and study (superego) or should I go out and party (id)?
Should I drink four gallons of tequila tonight (id)
or should I have a little less(superego)?
Should I sleep with my hot secretary (id)
or should I be faithful to my wife (superego)?
Should I date the motorcycle-riding, tattooed rock star,
or should I date the safe guy next door (superego)?
– and on, and on, and on.
In other words, while we’re using the battle between the id and the superego and the language of Freud as an example here, the actual core dilemma itself can actually appear in many different forms, like an actor appearing in different roles – for example, the dilemmas of “heart verses mind,” “duty verses passion,” “indulgence verses denial” and so on.
The essential condition is this: whatever form it takes, we – like Elizabeth – are caught between opposing, irreconcilable forces, and experience this as paradox and dilemma where we are forced to choose (yet often don’t know the correct choice to make) – and the situation is, of course, pretty uncomfortable.
In other words, we are trapped in duality.
This duality, this paradox, dilemma, koan, and no-win situation we’re trapped in obviously, is a difficult one with no easy answer, and the cause of a lot of – of even all – suffering. (Some folks even – understandably – give up, insist there is no answer, or even if there is an answer, we’ll never know it – in other words, they become nihilists.)
And one reason why we like movies, and stories, and drama – are because we get to watch other characters struggle with duality instead of having to do it ourselves.
So then, back to our story and Elizabeth’s particular dilemma . . .
How does she handle it?
Well, she does get a little help . . .
Enter the Heroes
Again, Elizabeth’s situation – like our own – is that she is trapped between two extreme and opposite irreconcilable forces: the pirates on the one hand, and Norrington on the other hand. And whichever of the two teams wins . . . it seems that, either way, she will lose.
But wait . . . there is hope:
soon, the dashing Will Turnerand the ultracool Captain Jack Sparrow come to her rescue.
At the beginning of the story, Will, on the surface, is on the team of the “citizens” (or the civilized superego): he hates pirates, follows the rules, lives deep in the womb of civilization . . . and while he is not as extreme as Norrington , he still totally respects the rules of society
– In fact, he respects the “rules of society” to a fault. In their first scene together as adults, Will declines to call Elizabeth by her first name – which she wants – and instead gives her a more “socially proper” (moral?) greeting, addresses her formally.
As we find out later in the story, this wasn’t was Will (or Will’s “id,” to be precise) really wanted to do. Will submits his felt desire (id) to social expectations (superego). And Will pays the price, embodying the parallel weakness of his “team”: he loves Elizabeth, yet refuses to tell her – or, as Captain Jack describes him, Will is “. . . incapable of wooing her. . .” because he is “moral,” he “knows his place” as a lowly blacksmith who is unworthy to make advances to the high-class daughter of the governor. In this sense, unwilling or unable to act on his passions because of his “morality,” Will is, in a sense, impotent. Jack, after all, repeatedly calls him a “Eunuch” and even tells him,
“You need to find yourself a girl, mate!”
Will Turner, then, has a similar dilemma to Elizabeth: he is living a “moral” life, as defined by the “citizens”/superego, and is fully in control of himself . . . yet he lacks passion.
Captain Jack Sparrow, on the other hand, is on the opposite side of the spectrum. He begins the story as a full-fledged pirate, in total rebellion against the social respectability of the “citizens” – ready to steal a ship, board a crew, begin plundering and pillaging, and living the pirate life.
Yet his choices also have drawbacks, and he also has experienced the limitations of his chosen moral strategy. Having been with thieves and robbers, he was recently robbed of his ship and left for dead. A pirate without a ship or crew, he – like Will – is also, in a way, impotent. Further, as we discover later in the story, he embodies another key weaknesses of his “team”: he is a criminal, an outsider, a wanderer, a loner, not respected in proper society, and has no ship, no home, and no friends. He wants respect. When his name is read – “Jack Sparrow” – he reacts with irritation: It’s “Captain, Captain Jack Sparrow!).
So both of these characters embody their respective (and opposing) stations in life (Will the civilized/superego, Jack the pirate/id) – and begin the story as mortal enemies and opposites.
And both, in their own ways, face the same dilemma.
Yet both characters, throughout the course of the story, confront this dilemma and even experience a psychological transformation . . .
The Transformation of the Heroes
Just a few minutes into the story, the honorable Will begins his transformation away from the pure “citizen” (superego) towards the side of the pirates (id). As Jack tells Will:
for having such a bleak outlook on pirates
you’re well on your way to becoming one:
commandeered a ship of the Fleet,
sailed with a buccaneer crew out of Tortuga…
and you’re completely obsessed with treasure!”
And Jack, the swashbuckling pirate, also takes some steps towards transformation, away from pure piracy (id) towards the side of becoming a “citizen”: he saves Elizabeth from drowning, offers to shake the hand of Norrington, and promises to keep his word of honor to Will:
“If you spring me from this cell,
I swear on pain of death,
I shall take you to the Black Pearl and your bonny lass.
Do we have an accord?”
In other words, each character takes some steps towards becoming his opposite:
Will, throughout the course of the story, becomes a little less stiff, a little more loose, a little less self-righteous, a little more passionate. From a meek, lowly, and dutiful laborer who knows his place and does not step beyond it, he becomes an instrument of civil disobedience who would make Socrates, Thoreau, and Gandhi proud: a man who is a good citizen, but who stands up against the state when it’s truly the right – moral – thing to do.
Nietzsche described Socrates as a man who embodied his ideal as the “best state of the soul of man”: the passionate man who is in control of his passions.
– Not a man who is merely passionate, but lacks in control of them (the pirates); not a man who is in control but lacks passion (the citizens/Norrington) – but a man who finds a way to keep these seemingly irreconcilable opposites together, and embodies both. This, in this perspective, is a higher, better, more evolved level or morality.
Will, the dutiful citizen, finds his passion. He finally allows himself to feel and express it, drops some of his stuffy self-righteousness and humble rags in favor of a more dashing musketeer hat, cape, and sword . . . and even finds the moxie to express his love for Elizabeth. He is newly transformed, a unity of opposites (at least in this respect), a citizen who is in society but not of it, who does what is truly right, but isn’t moralistic, isn’t righteous, and is spicy and saucy enough to break the rules when necessary.
Captain Jack does the same, from the opposite end of the spectrum. He finds his place – his boat, his crew, his place in the world – and becomes a little more respectable, a little less of a homeless wanderer, a little more of a man of his word, a little less of the respect-less criminal, a little more accepted by civilized society, even to the point where Norrington gives him a “day’s head start” before he starts chasing him.
So, in the battle between the “citizens” and the “pirates,” one citizen becomes a little bit more of a pirate, and one pirate becomes a little more of a citizen.
And these two heroes, working with Elizabeth, team up to confront and defeat first the real pirates (one extreme/Barbossa) and later the the stuffy citizens (the other extreme/Norrington).
The “Answer” to the Human Dilemma
Elizabeth, with the help of Will and Jack, ultimately resolves her own dilemma. (This is a Hollywood blockbuster, after all – how could it not have a happy ending?)
Elizabeth’s dilemma of pirates-verses-citizens, id-verses-superego, danger-verses-boredom that seemed utterly unsolvable in the beginning . . . is eventually solved. She gets to truly live her fantasy, and embody the best of both extremes (the passion of the pirates and the respectability of the citizens) while having the faults of neither. In a way, she has found a higher level of morality.
In her final scene in the movie, she embraces the newly transformed Will:
“So, this is the path you’ve chosen, is it?
After all…he is a blacksmith.”
“No . . . He’s a pirate!”
Although she began the story facing a no-win situation, trapped in duality with no escape . . . through fully taking on the ambiguity and paradox of her situation, and through a great deal of mettle-testing, gut-churning, mind-wracking struggle, she “cracked the koan” of her current situation, solved her dilemma, experiencing a reconciliation of opposites and ultimately a total transcendence of them.
In other words, Elizabeth got a small taste of “enlightenment.”
When the Movie’s Over
So, has this answered this question of morality for us, thoroughly and completely, forever?
Just kidding. Of course, we all have to confront our own dilemmas, embrace our own ambiguities, crack our own koans, and hopefully, ultimately, transcend some of our own dualities.
But maybe we can now do this armed with a few tools from Pirates. Like, for example, perhaps real morality lies somewhere between two extremes; it’s neither a matter of being stuffy, self-righteous, and self-denying . . . nor is it a matter of being reckless, uncaring, and self-indulgent . . . but the answer embodies the best of both extremes, and transcends the seeming contradiction between them . . . so it has something to do with the ability to hold both contradictory sides in your head at the same time, holding the tension between them . . .
– so the only “rule” would be something like “betweenness.”
Because in the real choices we confront in life, the “right” answers can often be a little more complex than the just following a few rules – as Governor Swann himself said:
“Perhaps on the rare occasion
pursuing the right course
demands an act of piracy?
Piracy itself can be the right course?”
or like Thoreau said:
“Do not be too moral.
You may cheat yourself out of much life.
Aim above morality.
Be not simply good; be good for something.”
Our quest for that horizon will continue.
So stay tuned . . .
3. Can you discuss the film and how it relates to Philosophy?
Will Turner: This is either madness… or brilliance.
Jack Sparrow: It’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.
A couple of years ago, I taught a philosophy and popular culture course that focused, for the main of the semester, on Buffy, Harry Potter, and The Simpsons. It was a lot of fun, and I’m teaching it again this fall. The focus this year is on Buffy and The Wizard of Oz, with perhaps some Monty Python thrown in for good measure. But, that’s not what this is about – it’s about Pirates of the Caribbean.
That semester, I used Pirates as the final exam. With a full semester of literary critical and philosophical analysis of pop culture texts, the final was a viewing of the first Pirates movie followed by an exam that tested whether or not the powers of analysis of the students had matured a bit. The reason I used that movie was that, frankly, it’s both pretty easy to do the analysis if one has even a few literary frameworks at one’s disposal, and it’s got some very profound philosophical musings as well. Thus, whether one is rather a novice at pop culture analysis or a seasoned hand at it, Pirates of the Caribbean has something to offer.
There are questions of “keeping to the code” or not. There’s the psychological – “This is either madness… Or brilliance.” There are issues of friendship and of fairness and of identity – all tied up in a nice little swashbuckling bow.
Let’s start off with one of my favorites. Just out from Port Royal, Jack and Will have the conversation about Will’s “twice-cursed pirate father.” Will, you’ll recall, refuses to believe that his dad wasn’t an honest merchantman. He uses a variation of a line from his and Jack’s first encounter in Mr. Brown’s smithy shop. There, he accused Jack of cheating, to which Jack replied, simply, with upraised eyebrow as if to communicate the oddity of being accused of cheating, “Pirate!” In that one word, he tells Will that the “normal” rules of engagement don’t apply. Will doesn’t get it. On the Interceptor, he reiterates the “You cheated” and says that in a fair fight, he’d have killed Jack. To which Jack, apparently thinking the boy is thick (and perhaps rightly so) says, “Well, that’s not much incentive for me to fight fair, then, is it?” Swinging the yardarm around, he catches Will off-guard and tries to set the heretofore naïve Turner straight. Says Jack, “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. And me, for example, I can let you drown, but I can’t bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesies, savvy? So, can you sail under the command of a pirate, or can you not?”
To this point, Will has nibbled a bit at breaking the rules – he’s helped Jack escaped and commandeered a ship of the fleet. His justification would be that he’s trying to save Elizabeth. Jack’s little lecture, however, puts things in stark relief. It’s not a matter of breaking rules – there are only two to begin with. All the others are illusions.
So, the first question is, if we accept Jack’s statement as evidence of a philosophical view, what philosophical view is it that he holds. In one sense, we could suppose that there is an Hobbesian thread here – in a war of each against all, there is but rule (or two, or a rule and its corollary) – what a man can do and what a man can’t do. This is a statement of political and physical limitation. In one sense, it reflects a lack of communal solidarity – there is only what a (single, solitary, alone) man can do. Given the pirate code, as it is presented later, this is not surprising. When asked what the code to be kept to in the case the worst happens, Jack responds, that the one who falls behind is left behind. When Will suggests that this reflects a lack of honor among thieves, Jack defends the practice not by justifying it, but by suggesting that Will, himself, is well on his way toward becoming a pirate. This doesn’t answer Will at all.
One might suppose that it is easy to keep to the code when one is not the one left behind, that perhaps Jack might feel differently if it were he who were left behind. Yet, after the Pearl is made off with by Will and Jack’s crew, Jack reacts consistently with his early view – even though it is now his ox that is being gored. He says, “They done what’s right by them. Can’t ask for anything more.” So, it seems reasonably safe to conclude that the pirate view of the world is indeed an “each against all” world in which self-interest and leverage are the currency of the realm.
As a physical matter, the Sparrow Principle, shall we call it, addresses a sort of Machiavellian “might makes right,” as well. It’s not just physical strength – strength of personality, quickness of wit, etc., count as well. Indeed, Jack is a sort of Loki character, at times (a character sort that Depp was born to play). Returning from that brief digression, we know Jack can’t crew the Interceptor into Tortuga all by his onesies. Will is both deckhand and leverage. It is not clear that Will is much more than leverage for Jack at any point during the tale, but whether a friendship blossoms by the end of the movie or not, at this stage, Will is a pawn in Jack’s powerplay. Will, although significantly more naïve than Jack, learns quickly enough how the game is played and that either by strength of will or strength of body, he is both willing and capable of playing the game. It is a character that continues to develop into the next movies (e.g., rolling the bones with Davy Jones), but the focus here is the first movie, so I’ll say little else about that later development.
This is a reasonably nice segue into the psychological limitations as well. Clearly, there are limits on the quickness of wit, for example. Norrington could no more talk himself out of a dilemma than Jack could give up pirating his weasley black guts out. But, that’s not so much the psychological limitation to which I refer. Jack’s chiding of Will points out a truism that often goes unremarked. It’s not so much in the principle itself as it is in the explanation. Either Will can accept that his father was a pirate and a good man, or he can’t. To what extent is his mind capable of expanding to incorporate new realities and new perceptions of old beliefs? Can he face beliefs revealed to be false and not suffer mental breakdown, or can he not? If the latter, if he cannot face new challenges and obstacles, then helping Jack crew the Interceptor and serving as leverage is the extent of Will’s usefulness to anyone – including himself. However, if he can acquire a certain flexibility of mind and perceptions, then he just might survive, and might even thrive. Jack’s apparently simple observation provides considerable grist for the philosophical mill.
Another of his reflections does as well, although in a different way. What is a ship? What is a person? What defines identity over time? What is essential to a being, and what is merely accidental? Jack’s discussion with Elizabeth over rum about the nature of the Black Pearl is a wonderful jumping off spot for this discussion. You remember the famous line, I’m sure… “Wherever we want to go, we’ll go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that’s what a ship needs but what a ship is… what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom.”
To some, it would seem that all a ship amounts to is the hull and rigging and deck, etc. Jack makes an important distinction – between a necessary condition and a sufficient one. All of those physical features are what are required by a ship. Similarly, blood, flesh, bone, brain – all of these are required for a human being to be a human being. But are they enough. Sparrow, perhaps a bit romantically, declares that the cold physical realities are insufficient for true identity. The Pearl is not only the sum of her parts, she is also the Eternal Object in which she participates – she is not freedom itself, but she points to freedom, she participates in freedom, it is her telos or teleological cause. Similarly, whatever a person truly is is not solely a matter of physical stuff, but of cause and purpose and aim and telos. It’s an intriguing jumping off point for philosophical rumination as well.
I’ve left off conversation of Governor Swann’s discussion with Elizabeth, where he says that even a good decision, if made for the wrong reasons, can be a wrong decision. I’ll say only this here and mayhaps we can return for further reflection. On a virtue picture of ethics, a person is a virtuous person if, and only if, he does the right thing at the right time in the right way and for the right reasons. So, simply put, if one makes what, in other circumstances and in another time might have been a good decision, it does not entail that it is currently. There is an interesting return to this notion at the conclusion of the movie, again in the words of Gov. Swann. Addressing Norrington, he suggests that there might be certain circumstances in which an act of piracy is even the right action. While Norrington accepts that for the moment, the fact that he later pursues the Black Pearl suggests that perhaps Jack was right earlier – one good deed is not enough to redeem a man, and may be enough to condemn him. However, Swann’s notion that even something that in almost all circumstances is wrong might, at one moment or another, be the right action suggests that a virtue model is what is ultimately at stake here, and, further, serves as an apt criticism of the rigid legalism that might be found in the Gov. Swann of the opening of the movie.
Whatever else the case, it is a fascinating movie with plenty of jumping off points for philosophical conversation. The notion of the code and a Kantian autonomy/heteronomy distinction is ripe for the plucking, for example. I leave with this – there’s what one can do, and what one can’t do.
4. What is your philosophical argument?
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 Sparrow: Though it seems enough to condemn him.
Pirates of the Caribbean and Philosophy
The film I have chosen to write on is Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. I chose this movie because of all movies I have ever seen, I know this movie the best. I thought, since I know the movie so well, I could find philosophy pretty easy. Well, that wasn’t the case. It still took some time and effort to find philosophy in the movie.
The aspect of philosophy I have chosen to focus on is Existentialism. Looking through the lens of Existentialism, I will focus on the choices that Jack Sparrow makes during the movie as the choices Jack makes, define him throughout the movie.
This paper will discuss the movie and certain points in the film that I am focusing on. I will also discuss Existentialism in detail and focus on the points that connect to the movie. The paper will then focus on the philosophy in the movie and show how they connect.
Jack Sparrow is the main character of the movie. While the characters of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan play a significant role, they are more ‘supporting roles’ compared to Jack. Jack Sparrow used to be captain of a ship called the “Black Pearl”. It is a black ship with black sails and is said to be the fastest ship in the Caribbean. About a year into his time as captain, he was mutinied upon by his first mate, Hector Barbosa, and the rest of the crew. He was marooned on an island that no one thought was possible to escape. He was able to get off the island and from that point forward has been in pursuit of getting his precious ship back. Jack ends up in prison in the town of Port Royall. It is at this point that he meets Will Turner. Will comes to him seeking his help to rescue Elizabeth Swan who had been taken prisoner by the pirates on the Pearl. This moment in the movie is the first time a significant choice is made by Jack that starts to define him as a character. Jack is hesitant to help Will because he sees no profit in it for him. After talking to him briefly he seems to recognize Will and asks him his origins and who his father was. When he discovers that his father’s name is also William Turner, he agrees to help Will. We learn later in the film that the pirates on the Black Pearl are cursed and the only way to break that curse requires the blood of Will’s father, who had been part of the crew before being cast overboard. Jack knows this and agrees to help Will because he considers him to be the proper “leverage” he needs to get his ship back.
Jack’s main goal is that of ‘freedom’. He sees the Black Pearl as his freedom. Throughout the movie we are led to believe that Jack’s choices are all made with a selfish motive. In one of the last scenes, Captain Barbosa has Will captive in the pirates cave and is set to kill him and end the curse. At the same time the Royal Navy is waiting outside in their ships, ready to kill the pirates as soon as they come back out. Because of the curse, they cannot die. Jack convinces the Pirates to go attack the Navy while he waits in the cave with Barbosa. Without anyone knowing, Jack takes a cursed piece of treasure, becoming cursed himself. Jack and Barbosa end up fighting, both immortal. Jack ends up tossing his coin to Will who cuts his hand and drops the coin back into the chest. As the curse is lifted, Jack fires a single shot killing Barbosa. At the same time, the pirates on fighting the Navy start to die. They realize the curse is lifted and surrender. The significance of Jack’s choice is that he has left himself no escape. To kill Barbosa and have the rest of the Pirates captured, he is stuck on the island with nowhere to go but back to jail. Jack is later rescued by Will at the end of the movie after nearly being hung. He escapes and swims out to meet his crew who are waiting off shore with his beloved Pearl.
The subject matter I am focusing on is that of Existentialism. Existentialism is the philosophical view that refers primarily to a way of thinking about the world. According to our textbook, it “emphasizes fundamental questions of meaning and choice as they affect existing individuals.” . These include choice, identity, freedom, alienation, authenticity and inauthenticity, despair, and awareness of our own mortality. For this paper I will focus on a couple of them.
The first I will discuss is that of Choice. One main question in existentialism is ‘What am I to do?’ or ‘How am I to exist?’ This is different from asking, “What should I believe? Or think?” The question focuses more on how you should live. We are free to choose how to live our lives. We are not forced to live a certain way. Animals and plants do not have the same freedoms we as human beings have. A tree cannot get up and move to a different spot where there is more sun. The tree is planted and it is stuck unless moved by an outside force. We as humans can move around, choose what we eat, choose who we associate with. Because of this, we as humans create our own ‘nature’. Existentialists use the phrase, “existence precedes essence.” This basically means that we are thought of and created first, and then by our choices, we become who we are or our ‘nature’.
The second theme I will discuss is Authenticity. Authenticity in existentialism is defined as the “subjective condition of an individual living honestly and courageously in the moment, refusing to make excuses, and not relying on groups or institutions for meaning and purpose”. (Archetypes of Wisdom, by Douglas J. Soccio, 7th Edition, page 397) The opposite of this is Inauthenticity, which is when the individual is ignored or made less important than groups or institutions. To be authentic, as Soren Kierkegaard stated, is to find something, a truth or belief or idea that you can live and die for. We are authentic when we are living for what we believe and ourselves. For example, say you are brought up to believe in a certain religion. Maybe your parents or guardians are of that religion and as a child, they made you attend meetings and practice the beliefs and traditions they had. Are your beliefs authentic? As you grow older and move on and have a family of your own, are you raising them in that same religion? If you are, is it because you were told to and you don’t know differently? Or are those beliefs truly what YOU as the individual believe? Do they define you as a person and become part of your nature? Or are you just going through the motions? These are questions that can be asked to help determine an individuals “authenticity”.
The reason I chose to connect Pirates of the Caribbean to Existentialism is because of the choices Jack makes throughout the film and how those choices define him and define his authenticity. The first scene I described was of Jack’s decision in prison to help Will Turner find the Black Pearl. As I mentioned, it wasn’t until after Jack learned his name (which Will shares with his father) that Jack finally agreed to help. Later in the movie we learned that this was key to Jack’s plan of getting the Black Pearl back. Jack chose to help Will because it helped him. He is quoted as saying to Will “I see no profit in it for me” when Will first comes to him for help. After he learns his name, suddenly there was something in it for him. Jack’s main goal is to get his ship back. To him, the Black Pearl is freedom. This is what drives him and crates his ‘nature’. He believes that the Black Pearl will bring him the freedom he seeks to live the life he wants. This is what makes him authentic. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with the institutions or groups around him. Yes, he has a Pirate crew (or group), but they are his crew. He is the Captain and they follow him. He doesn’t need them to accomplish his purpose. The first scene of the movie is evidence of this as he sails into Port Royall on a ship that he crewed by himself.
The second scene I discussed is when Jack chose to end the curse and kill Captain Barbosa while in effect imprisoning himself with no way to escape the island other than in handcuffs. He chose to stop the Pirates from wiping out the Navy, but while doing this he left himself with no way out. Had he not taken this course of action, both Will and Elizabeth Swan would have ended up dead at the hands of the Pirates and he would have been left with out his ship, as Barbosa would have ended up killing him as well. He knew that he could possibly die by allowing himself to be captured but he was dedicated to his cause enough that he was willing to do so. This goes back to what Kierkegaard said about finding a belief or idea that you are willing to live and die for it. He also chose to do what he felt was right in that moment and acted with courage.
5. Can you provide a breakdown of the film?
“Prepare to be blown out of the water.”
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the first installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, released as a pirate adventure film, by Walt Disney Pictures on July 9, 2003. The film stars Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow), Geoffrey Rush (Barbossa), Orlando Bloom (Will Turner) and Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann). It was directed by Gore Verbinski, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and written by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert.
The film was inspired by and partly based on the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions, first unveiled at Disneyland in 1967. The film itself is set in a loose, floating period of time somewhere around the 1740s, although a number of concessions are made concerning historical accuracy. It was the first Walt Disney Pictures release to earn a PG-13 rating by the MPAA (all previous Disney releases were rated G or PG).
As of March 16 2004, Pirates had grossed at the box office more than $653 million worldwide—the 21st highest grossing movie ever. The Curse of the Black Pearl proved to be a success for Walt Disney Pictures and, within weeks of its release, the studio announced that a sequel, Dead Man’s Chest was in development and was released on July 6, 2006. It was soon followed by At World’s End on May 24, 2007. A fourth installment, On Stranger Tides, was released May 20, 2011. A fifth installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales, will be released on July 7, 2017.
The film was also well-received by critics. Johnny Depp received a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance as Jack Sparrow as well as being nominated for a Golden Globe. At the Academy Awards, The Curse of the Black Pearlwas nominated in four different categories.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the thrilling high-seas adventure with a mysterious twist that started it all. The roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow’s (Johnny Depp) idyllic pirate life capsizes after his nemesis, the wily Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), steals his ship, the Black Pearl, and later attacks the town of Port Royal—kidnapping the Governor’s beautiful daughter, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley). In a gallant attempt to rescue her and recapture the Black Pearl, Elizabeth’s childhood friend Will Turner joins forces with Jack. What Will doesn’t know is that a cursed treasure has doomed Barbossa and his crew to live forever as the undead.
“Quiet, missy! Cursed pirates sail these waters. You don’t want to bring ’em down on us now, do ye?”
―Joshamee Gibbs to Elizabeth Swann[src]
A wrecked merchant vessel.
A massive ship emerges from the grey and unnatural fog. The HMS Dauntless, the pride of the British Royal Navy, is sailing on a voyage from England to the British settlement of Port Royal. While the Dauntless sailed through the Caribbean Sea, young Elizabeth Swann (Lucinda Dryzek) stands at the bow rail, gazing at the sea while singing a pirate shanty. One of the sailors, Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally), warned her about “cursed pirates” and, after Lieutenant Norrington (Jack Davenport) intervened, stated his superstition about singing about pirates in the unnatural fog. Although Elizabeth expressed her fascination for the subject of piracy, both Norrington and her father, Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce), showed their concern, with Norrington stating that he intended to see all pirates get “a short drop and a sudden stop”.
Elizabeth Swann taking the medallion from Will Turner.
The Dauntless then happened upon the wreck of a merchant vessel, which Gibbs took to be the work of pirates. Prior to this, Elizabeth spotted a lone survivor: young Will Turner (Dylan Smith), lying unconscious on a piece of driftwood. After being brought aboard the Dauntless, Will roused in time for he and Elizabeth to introduce themselves before he lapsed back into unconsciousness. Elizabeth then noticed a gold medallion about his neck, which, after seeing a skull, gave her the thought that Will was a pirate. Fearing that Norrington would have Will hanged, Elizabeth takes the medallion from Will before he was taken below decks. As Elizabeth stood on the bow of the Dauntless, looking at the medallion, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Looking up, she saw a tall ship with black sails moving silently through the thick fog. At the top of the highest mast flew a flag—a flag that had the same skull as on the medallion. As the ship slipped quickly into the fog, Elizabeth widened her gaze upon realizing it was a pirate ship. Fearing the black-and-white flag billowing in the wind, Elizabeth shuts her eyes.
“Well, well. Jack Sparrow, isn’t it?”
“Captain Jack Sparrow, if you please, sir.”
―James Norrington and Jack Sparrow[src]
Captain Sparrow atop the mast of the Jolly Mon.
We rejoin Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) eight years later, as she wakes from her dream of that fateful day. She still has the medallion, kept in a hidden compartment in a chest of drawers, and puts it on. Her father, Governor Swann, knocks on the door, startling her. He then enters with a gift for her: a dress from London he hopes Elizabeth will wear to Captain Norrington’s promotion ceremony. She agrees to wear it, though finds the corset highly restricting and uncomfortable. The Governor receives a visitor, in the form of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who has forged a sword for the soon-to-be Commodore. It is clear he has developed romantic feelings for Elizabeth, but they part on less-than friendly terms, owing to her station as the Governor’s Daughter and his, a lowly blacksmith’s “apprentice”.
Meanwhile, a strange figure is approaching Port Royal onboard a sinking dory: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is in the market for a new ship, and, after bribing the harbormaster (Guy Siner), he heads into the docks, high above at Fort Charles, Norrington’s promotion ceremony gets underway. Sparrow is accosted by two marines, Mullroy (Angus Barnett) and Murtogg (Giles New), but distracts them with mention of the legendary ghost ship, the Black Pearl. Mullroy and Murtogg then argue among themselves on if the Black Pearl was a real ship. After distracting them with that conversation Jack Sparrow attempts to commandeer the ship.
On the battlements of the fort, Commodore Norrington offers Elizabeth a proposition: his new status has made clear to him he has not yet taken a wife, and sees Elizabeth as a “fine woman”. Elizabeth faints—though less through shock at James’ words, and more because of the tightness of her corset—and plummets into the sea far below. Sparrow, having engaged the marines in idle conversation, dives in and rescues her from the seabed, from where her medallion sends out a mysterious pulse, a signal sent across the waters. Back on the harbor, Jack’s interest is piqued by the medallion, but his questions are forestalled by Norrington, who arrives with marines to arrest the pirate, having recognized a brand on his forearm as the mark used by the East India Trading Company to identify pirates. Jack, however, holds Elizabeth hostage long enough to have his effects returned before making his swashbuckling escape into the port.
Jack Sparrow pointing a sword a Will Turner
As he tries to escape, Sparrow meets Will Turner, who is now John Brown’s blacksmith apprentice, inside of the blacksmith shop, and a swordfight ensues. Eventually, Sparrow is knocked unconscious by Will’s employer (who had slept through the entire swordfight) and arrested by the Royal Navy officers who have just broken into the blacksmith shop.
“They’ve taken her! They’ve taken Elizabeth!”
―Will Turner to James Norrington[src]
The Black Pearl launches its attack on Port Royal.
That night, Port Royal is besieged by the infamous ghost ship known as the Black Pearl — a black vessel crewed by a vicious, bloodthirsty crew, and captained by a man reputed to be “so evil that Hell itself spat him back out”. The mysterious pulse which emanated from Elizabeth’s medallion seems to have “called” the Black Pearl somehow. Crew members from the Pearl find Elizabeth (who hides her true identity as the governor’s daughter by using Turner as a last name) in possession of the medallion, and take her back to their ship. She invokes the rule of parley (“parlai” in Middle English, “parley” in modern American English—a negotiation or discussion between two parties, particularly in military situations, during which no harm can befall the adversary) in order to be taken to the captain of the Black Pearl, Hector Barbossa, to ask that he cease his attack on Port Royal in exchange for the medallion. Barbossa agrees but, employing a loophole in their agreements, abducts Elizabeth. Later, Elizabeth is asked to dine with Barbossa and to wear a red dress. When she refuses, she is told that the captain said she’d say that, in which case she’d be dining with the crew and she’d be naked, Elizabeth decides to wear the dress and dine with the captain much to Pintel’s and Ragetti’s disappointment. The next day, Will (having seen Elizabeth taken by the Pearl’s crew) fails in his passionate efforts to convince Commodore James Norrington and the Royal Navy to pursue the culprits immediately (despite the Commodore’s own feelings towards Elizabeth). While the Commodore puts his faith in strategy, Will takes up an offer by Jack Sparrow to rescue Elizabeth in exchange for breaking him out of jail.
Stranded with no apparent way to pursue Barbossa, Jack and Will Turner have no choice but to “borrow” a vessel. So they jump aboard the Interceptor, the Royal Navy’s fastest ship, and made way for open water. After assembling a crew to man the Interceptor on the lawless island of Tortuga (Spanish for turtle), Jack and Will set off to find Barbossa and the Black Pearl, which is heading towards Isla de Muerta — a mysterious island that’s supposedly undiscoverable, save for “those who already know where it is.”
“For too long I’ve been parched of thirst and unable to quench it. Too long I’ve been starving to death and haven’t died. I feel nothing. Not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea, nor the warmth of a woman’s flesh. You best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Turner. You’re in one!”
―Hector Barbossa to Elizabeth Swann[src]
Hector Barbossa in his cursed form.
Here, we learn the true story and intentions of Barbossa and his crew. The ship and its crew were once under the command of Jack Sparrow until they mutinied a decade ago, stealing the bearings for Isla de Muerta from him, and then marooning him with a pistol containing only one shot. The island contained a cursed Aztec treasure that the crew of the Black Pearl discovered — but believing the curse to be a myth, they took the Aztec treasure for themselves. Shocked by this action, Will’s father, “Bootstrap Bill” Turner, the only pirate who protested against the mutiny, sent one of the cursed gold pieces away to his son in order to ensure a fitting punishment for the crew’s betrayal. In retaliation, Barbossa ordered Bootstrap to be tied to a cannonball and thrown overboard. Too late, the crew discovered that the curse was indeed real; in order to break it, they were required to return all the pieces of the treasure to its chest and give a blood sacrifice from everyone who removed them. As part of the curse, the crew’s gluttony, greed, and lust for worldly possessions can never be satisfied, and
Elizabeth Swann seeing Hector Barbossa’s cursed form.
they became undead, forced to never die or rest in their covetousness (moonlight reveals this fact, showing the pirates in its glare to be living, rotting skeletons). After a decade, they have succeeded in fulfilling almost all of the requirements to end the curse — save for obtaining the blood of Bootstrap Bill and the gold piece he stole. With the medallion (in reality, the last piece of the treasure) and Elizabeth “Turner” (who they believe is the child of Bootstrap) in their custody, Barbossa believes he finally has what he needs to lift the curse.
“You know, for having such a bleak outlook on pirates, you are well on your way to becoming one: sprung a man from jail, commandeered a ship of the fleet, sailed with a buccaneer crew out of Tortuga, and you’re completely obsessed with treasure.”
“That’s not true! I am not obsessed with treasure.”
“…Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.”
―Jack Sparrow and Will Turner[src]
Barbossa and Elizabeth near the Chest of Cortés.
In a cave full of treasure on Isla de Muerta, Barbossa, believing Elizabeth is Bootstrap’s child, anoints the last coin with her blood and drops it into the chest. When the crew questions if the curse was lifted, Barbossa shoots Pintel, which has no effect on him— the curse remains unbroken. Confused, Barbossa asks Elizabeth if her father was William Turner, to which Elizabeth says no. Barbossa then asks if she knows where his child is that sailed from England, eight years ago, and Elizabeth does not answer. Enraged, Barbossa knocks out Elizabeth. Reaching the island, Will suspects Sparrow may betray him and knocks him out. He rescues Elizabeth, who takes the medallion, and they escape to the Interceptor. The crew of the Black Pearl discover Jack, wandering around, and Jack is then taken to Barbossa, as Jack invoked the right of Parley. Barbossa is shocked by seeing Jack alive and well and orders the crew to kill their old captain. Jack then asked if Elizabeth’s blood didn’t work, which caused questioning if Jack himself knew whose blood would work.
“Stop blowing holes in my ship!”
―Jack Sparrow to the crew of the Interceptor.[src]
Back aboard the Interceptor, Elizabeth returned Will’s medallion to him, and he realized that it was his blood, not Elizabeth’s, the pirates required to lift their curse. Angry and despairing, Will drove Elizabeth away, yet again forestalling the chance of romance between them.
The Black Pearl fighting the Interceptor.
At the same time aboard the Black Pearl, Jack barters with Barbossa—he will reveal Bootstrap Bill’s child in exchange for the Pearl. Jack’s negotiations come to naught when the Pearl pursues the Interceptor. As the Pearl draws near, the crew of the Interceptor prepares for battle. Soon, both ships fired at one another, causing damage to each vessel. It didn’t take long for the crew of the Pearl to win, and retrieve the medallion.
The crew of the Interceptor is imprisoned, and Barbossa watches in anticipation as the Interceptor is blown up and sunk. Will then reveals that he is Bootstrap Bill’s son and demands that Elizabeth and the crew be freed, and not to be harmed, or he will shoot himself and fall overboard. Barbossa agrees, but applies another loophole: marooning Elizabeth and Jack on an island. Will is then taken to Isla de Muerta, where Barbossa plans to kill him to break the curse.
“You could probably have your bloody friend Norrington to thank for that!”
―Jack Sparrow to Elizabeth Swann[src]
Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swann marooned
Elizabeth and Jack are stranded on Black Sam’s Spit, the same island on which Jack was marooned a decade ago. Elizabeth asks Jack about how he escaped the island last time, to which he answered that with the help of the rum runners, he bartered passage off the island. But seeing that the rum runners are long out of business, Jack has no plan of escaping. Then, Elizabeth took matters in her own hands by burning all their supplies (Jack’s hidden cache of rum), as well as some of the small island’s palm trees, to create a signal fire to alert anyone from the Royal Navy of her location. Elizabeth and Jack are eventually rescued by Norrington, but Elizabeth is unable to convince him to go back and rescue Will until Elizabeth promises to marry him.
“You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be monsters!”
―Hector Barbossa to Jack Sparrow[src]
Upon arriving at the cursed island, Jack convinces Norrington’s forces to lie in ambush for Barbossa’s crew while he goes in and convinces them to come out. He convinces Barbossa to delay spilling Will’s blood to break the curse until after they have killed the crew of the Royal Navy ship Dauntless and taken the ship. This proves to all be part of Jack’s plan; however, he was not expecting the undead crew to walk along the ocean floor to the ship, which allows them to escape the planned ambush. As the Black Pearl crew engages the Royal Navy in hand-to-hand combat aboard the Dauntless, Jack steals one of the cursed coins, unseen by Barbossa, and engages in his own swordfight with his former first mate. Because of the coin he stole, Jack now has a share of the loot, so he too is cursed and thus can’t be killed until the curse is lifted. Moreover, in order for the curse to be lifted, his blood must now also be given.
“So what now, Jack Sparrow? Are we to be two immortals locked in an epic battle ’til Judgement Day and trumpets sound, hmm?”
“Or you could surrender.”
―Hector Barbossa and Jack Sparrow[src]
During their fight, he distracts Barbossa long enough until both he and Will can give their blood and return their respective coins (Will has the medallion from the start of the film, Jack the coin he recently stole). Before Will drops the coins into the chest, Jack shoots Barbossa with his pistol, containing the one shot he was given when marooned after Barbossa’s mutiny. When Barbossa claims, “Ten years you carry that pistol, and now, you waste your shot.” Will claims, “He didn’t waste it!” and drops the coins into the chest breaking the curse. After the curse ends and all the Black Pearl crew becomes mortal again. Barbossa falls to the treasure-covered ground and drops his sour, green apple. Once they realize they’re no longer cursed — and no longer immortal — Barbossa’s crew surrenders to the Royal Navy.
Jack has fallen off the cliff.
“So, this is the path you’ve chosen, is it? After all, he is a blacksmith.”
“No. He’s a pirate.”
―Weatherby Swann and Elizabeth Swann[src]
Jack Sparrow sailing off on new adventures.
Back at Port Royal, Norrington is forced to hang Jack as per law, but Will, who believes him decent enough a person to not deserve death, rescues Jack. Elizabeth, inspired by Will’s sudden defiance, as well as his confession of love towards her, rejects marriage to Norrington and declares her feelings for Will instead. Norrington agrees to release her from her promise and Will is pardoned for his criminal act; meanwhile, Jack escapes and awkwardly falls into the ocean, to be rescued by the crew he assembled to help him earlier and who now man the Black Pearl. As the movie ends, Norrington watches as Jack sets sail for unknown adventure, impressed by the pirate enough to allow him one day’s head start before setting out in pursuit.
Jack the monkey becomes undead once more
Meanwhile, Barbossa’s pet monkey, Jack, climbs out of the water and onto the Aztec chest, where he takes a piece of the treasure. Jack’s skin sloughs off and he looks at the camera for a moment before pouncing forward, the scene disappearing into his mouth.