And we continue –
Chapter Two: The Curse of the Black Pearl
When we step out on to the wharf with Captain Jack Sparrow it’s quite clear that we have stepped into the world of salty pirates and principled citizens, well researched and purposeful. By that I mean not only that Disney had done it’s homework for this beautiful period piece, but that they have transported us into a world where vice and virtue ‘swashbuckle’ to great effect. As with the double edged sword, their strokes divide bone from marrow and our careful attention to dialogue discerns thoughts of the heart. The first encounter between the two brightly clad members of the shore brigade and the dingy unkempt renegade of the sea sets the tone for the entire saga. At first they are parallel lines preferring no real contact. When contact must occur the players feign a perpendicular head on clash of wills. But intrigue and necessity quickly confound the linear proceedings and surprising curves ensue.
We know of course that virtue will win, but vice must first display its arrogance. The two adversaries most poignantly meet when the cursed captain and the virgin daughter sit at table to dine. Though technically kidnapped, Elizabeth has already displayed her taste for the forbidden fruit, the gold Aztec coin she wears secretly on a chain. Barbossa, however, makes no qualms of demonstrating his haughty but vain pursuit of the pleasure he once possessed, but which mere gold, the same hanging from Elizabeth’s neck, has robbed from him forever. The true significance of this extravagant meal is hinted at by the presence of an apple. We are dining in the Garden of Eden after the Fall. It’s as if Adam is confronting Eve with the full force of blame for his fallen nature. What Barbossa explains in words, the moonlight exposes to the eye. His insatiable concupiscence is brilliantly revealed in the slug of wine he pours between his teeth. Gulped with such vigor, the substance which should rightly gladden the hearts of men instead runs futilely over his skeletal frame. It’s a great visual borrowed from the ride and given infinitely more meaning in the context of the story. The pursuit of hedonistic pleasure eventually becomes empty regret.
Adam and Eve’s pity party is ultimately busted up by another. William ‘Will’ Turner is a sword-smith by trade, a gentleman by choice, and a pirate by blood. His choice and his blood relate him to the old Adam’s vice. The culture of the time would have him believe that the sins of his father, William ‘Bootstrap’ Turner, have also served to condemn him to vice. But Will, practicing the freedom implied in his name, opts instead for virtue. Although he is a common laborer, Turner’s impeccable etiquette is held up by Governor Swan as an example to emulate for his errant aristocratic daughter. Whereas Captain Barbossa tells us that unchecked vice imprisons, Will’s traits tell us that habitual virtue frees. Here too, Miss Swan has already made her desires known, but until the wedding she must ever state them ‘at least once more.’
Once Turner acts on his pirate instincts, his choice remains noble and good, but his blood is what Barbossa must have. It and the remaining coin are the final ingredients for redemption, the lifting of the curse and the ability to again live finitely. The seemingly demonic pirates know that the blood of this Adam liberates and restores. But one should also be cautioned that this blood is the instrument of justice as much as mercy. Will’s blood can be deadly, as in Barbossa’s final breath once the single bullet is fired, or it can be forgiving, as in Sparrow’s assisted final escape.
Lest my intentional blurring of the analogy get carried away and ultimately confuse the point, I’ll finish with this, the opportune time to clarify. The choice and the blood in this story are less salvific and more covenantal. I see the plot device as inspired less by the cross of Christ and more by the sacrifices of Abraham, Moses and the priests of the Temple. This blood, shed and sprinkled, reverses the punishment of sin, it restores things to the way they were. The blood of Christ, on the other hand, makes all things new, a reality never actually encountered in the Caribbean of these characters. Sacrifices having been made in the temple cave and at the military courtyard, Jack swims away and the Black Pearl sails again. He is virtuous but mere mortal.