The end, until the next one!
Chapter Four: At World’s End
In my opinion, At World’s End should rightly have out earned the famed 1997 movie that went on and on and on until we were lulled to sleep by the last half hour of dialogue, essentially reducible to two words, “Jack” and “Rose”, shouted out above the din of everything that was more enjoyable than them. The fact that it didn’t even pass the one billion dollar mark in world wide box office still makes me angry. I can’t let it go.
Furthermore, critics and the general public condemn themselves when they allege that the movie contains disappointing plot confusion that’s too hard to follow. With James Norrington I want to lean over the table and yell into their faces, “Weren’t you listening?!” Over the decades we have become lazy movie goers. But what we don’t realize is that if we don’t think and muse while we are watching, we are still being formed. Pure entertainment does not exist. So, grab your rosary and let’s muse.
If the second movie asks the soul selling question, the third corrects the mistakes made by asking each main character one more question. This time around they must give answer to their crimes by way of recompense and redemption. They are mercifully asked, “What are you willing to suffer in order to reconcile the wrongs you have done?”
Before we dive into the particulars of each individual answer, I am delighted to explore yet another concept very unpopular in the secular world that is trumpeted in this Hollywood blockbuster, that is redemptive suffering. The concept is delivered to us once again by our resident theologian, Pintel. It shouldn’t be surprising because historically lots of pirates were Catholic, and this guy has a good head on his shoulders. He offers his insight out loud on the way to World’s End, a journey which, by the way, contains subtly moving backgrounds that could justifiably be displayed scrolling on high definition screens next to the still works of the masters in the Louvre. It’s breathtaking artwork. Now, where was I before truth broke in? Oh yes, the gorgeous Chinese masted Junk passes through a region of cold that recalls Dante’s lowest layer of hell. While shivering with the others, Pintel surmises, “I’m sure our suffering is for something good.” Normally we are trained to shun any kind of pain and suffering. Our society has tipped even so far as to advocate Euthanasia, physician assisted suicide and other violations of human dignity in order to avoid suffering. But Pintel thinks otherwise. Although he recognizes pain for what it is, disordered nature that says something is wrong, he is neither indifferent to it nor aggressive against it. His hope in embracing it is also not in vain as moments later he discovers its purpose. I concede that this is a fleeting element of the script and played for comic value, but such pearls wisdom shine at night like a lamp on a stand in the center of the room.
Elizabeth Swan is maybe the most unaccustomed to sinfulness and so finds it most difficult to hide. Remorse changes her behavior and she becomes clumsy and aloof. Her secret weighs her down. In Will’s words and by her own admission, she cannot be trusted. But she is willing to suffer the journey to World’s End to find Jack, bring him back to life as it were, and thereby restore the purity of her love for Will. As much as her glances were false and misleading for the audience in number two, the glances in number three are telling and truthful. Her love is exclusive. Once Jack is found her eyes are only for her husband to be.
Will Turner’s soul bargaining is perhaps the most blatant having been done through a dice game. But his motives and means are transparent, he is fulfilling a promise to his father. Only when the circuitous betrayals begin does he attempt to hide what he is doing. Still, Master Turner too suffers the journey to World’s End to board the Flying Dutchman and save his father. But that’s not the only pain this redemptive journey will cause him. He will also endure the hardship of a strained relationship between his beloved bride to be and him. It’s the necessary consequence of making a choice, a consequence he hopes will later heal, but one which he cannot allow to stop him.
Bill “Bootstrap” Turner, due to his servitude to the Flying Dutchman and its cruel captain, cannot suffer for redemption. He can only suffer. Since he has surrendered his free will to a mere creature, he slowly looses himself to that creature. The only mercy is that his memory and consciousness are fading, but so is his ability to feel and to love. Again, I’m overwhelmed by the true counter-cultural nature of this movie. On display in Bootstrap is the utter sadness of not being able to suffer for a purpose. We already know that he would do anything for Will but his choices have rendered him so helpless that he even takes a knife after his own son. Like a hapless addict, he is pathetically part of the crew and part of the ship.
Governor Swan, we learn, had sold his soul out of ignorance. His fault is diminished and his death carries a semblance of happiness. As he suspects foul play he questions his roll. Rather than risk loosing redemption, he suffers the fate of death. Virtue is always rewarded and he’s reunited with his wife. Although he must be mourned, his eternal fate is clearly good and marvelously depicted aboard the transitional boat, ghostly and tangible, spiritual and material. So like the gospel is this appearance that I half expected the former Governor to beach his vessel and eat a fish.
Commodore Norrington experienced the farthest fall and, as one would expect, the most admirable ascent. He too suffered death for his redemption, but his is less like that of a simple virtuous man and more like that of an heroic martyr. His redemption is made crystal clear when he is presented a choice. He has risen the ladder of virtue so high that when asked by Davy Jones the predictable and, by now silly proposition, he presents no fear of death. His self promotion is completely replaced by true valor. He is redeemed in a most victorious way.
Lord Cutler Becket dies a hopeless and mute death. His is a miserable fall. Thunderstruck, he first mindlesssly descends the disintegrating stairway, his hand sliding across the perfectly polished surface of the hand rail which splinters and shatters behind his touch. Then he drops helplessly into the sea where the once proud flag he served becomes his unforgiving burial shroud. His plans that day come to nothing. His death is as cold as his life and his end is best summarized in his own words to the apparently immortal Davy Jones. Becket claimed, in good business, to have conquered even the supernatural and brazenly declares, “The immaterial is . . . immaterial.” If indeed his declaration is true and he held it to the end, his soul is not only sold, it’s annihilated.
An inspired character addition in At World’s End is Captain Teague. He is Jack Sparrow’s father, Johnny Depp’s inspiration and basically Keith Richards as himself. This saga about sin and redemption is desperately in need of a priest, and who better to don the hat than them, or rather him. Captain Teague’s costume lays bare the priestly intentions of his creators. His head is swimming in Christian symbol and clerical sign. Rather than beads and coins, he is adorned with silver crosses. His entrance stirs reverence and the massive book establishes an authority which demands the assent of his listeners. I would guess that his is a celibate clerical state as well. Once his wife died it’s made abundantly and hilariously clear that he never remarried. Nor, by the same evidence, would any sane woman ever marry him. The keeper of the code has taught his son virtue on the seas, so when there is a question the Codex Pirata is produced in all its glory and its status is restored. It is a collection of no mere guidelines but of principle and law to be strictly followed. In fact, I think the Code at this point replaces the Rosary as the object which embodies the moral theme. Devotion is the unfailing source of courage in Dead Man’s Chest and holy obedience is the guarantee of righteousness in At World’s End. The adherencce of the Pirate Lords at council and the creative and virtuous adjustments Jack makes to their long standing traditions outside the law eventually bind them together against an otherwise insurmountable force and fleet of war ships.
Captain Teague by all present evidence worked hard to discipline his son, teach him wisdom and keep him on the straight and narrow. The bond between father and son is one of the reasons why it is predictable that Jack would use Will’s hand and not his own to stab the disembodied heart. Virtue dictates that the other’s life and not your own counts first. The fact that he looses his chance to captain the Dutchman no longer matters. Jack’s discernment was instant because it was the right thing to do.
As a rule, relationships can either help or hinder the quality of virtue found in each individual. Two relationships that are vital to understanding the thrust of the movie also provide a great study in opposites. The selfish love of Davy Jones and Tia Dalma is well juxtaposed with the selfless love of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan.
Selfish love seeks pleasure for the lover and control over the beloved. It is different from any other kind of love in the fact that it is prone to disappointment and easily becomes disdain. Love and spite in the lives of Tia Dalma and Davy Jones are odd and symbiotic creatures. They are even palpable in the music that envelops them. The score is at times dominated by the tender soft tones of a heart shaped music box but then mutates into tortured cords blown forth from angry organ pipes, brass and percussion. Then, following the whim of the selfish heart, single soft notes return and summon Jones’ trembling tear. Caprice is beautiful and ugly, touching and tense. Wandering with the wind, the heart aches for what it is conditioned to never fully possess. When it is disappointed, selfish love will drift, there is nothing to keep it stable. Tia Dalma searches elsewhere because her nature is as impulsive as the sea. Jones takes his jaded love back and turns it into hate. The moment his beloved touches her lover’s empty chest and steals a vision of what he used to be offers a glimpse of what selfless love could afford them. But they both cling tightly to their different forms of selfishness and the moment is lost. Their hearts are rent again and they each turn away from the virtue that could help them and toward the vice that hurts them.
Similarly, Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner could have walked away from each other at any time. They had as yet no unbreakable bond of marriage between them. Furthermore, they had secrets and betrayals that were causing them to drift. Their communication was waning and their families each gave reasons for them not to be joined. Governer Swan distrusted the lowly blacksmith and Bootstrap Bill knew that his son would need to choose between his fiance and his father, he could not have both. I imagine that if ‘Liz’ had met her girl friends at Starbucks and started to complain about ‘Billy’s’ latest antics on behalf of his lost father, they’d tell her, “You don’t need this aggravation. He’s bad news. Dump him and get out while you can.” If Will had let slip his complaints about the love of his life over a beer on the lido deck, you can bet the guys would say, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea. Here’s the solution: Forget about this last one. We’ll introduce you to Babette the Gorgeous. She’ll help you forget” Unfortunately, in our day and age the bond of marriage itself would not change the scenarios much. But the 18th century love between these two redeemed people weathers many storms and one maelstrom.
To love selflessly is to will the good of the other. The lover gives to the beloved unconditionally because the reciprocal love is so trusted that it does not need to be felt. Such is the nature of a covenant, it is mutual and lasting. Elizabeth and Will share a rarified love, the kind that gives and is able to forgive. The tide carries them to emotional places they would never have been able to predict, but the purity of their love is all the preparation they need.
One of the most cherished aspects of their love is the fact that it is purposefully chaste. They abstain from complete self giving in the conjugal act of intercourse until after Barbossa has received their vows in the absolutely best marriage rite Hollywood has yet come up with, bar none. When they do consummate the marriage it is celebrated by letting us know that what happened appropriately off screen was for them both unitive and procreative. Pleasure, joy and life are all the results of love that is faithful and holy. Pope John Paul II’s collection of reflections entitled ‘Theology of the Body’ seems to be fully up on screen by the movie’s portrayal of faithful, erotic and fruitful love. Footprints in the sand, a game with the boot and one last embrace before the sunset are two becoming one flesh. Plus, the post script epilogue gives me the hope of Pirates of the Caribbean: A New Beginning. Come on number four.