Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean 3

It's threequel season at the flicks, with Pirates of the Caribbean sandwiched between Spiderman and Shreck, not to mention Oceans 13 (following 11 and 12), a third Bourne film, and just to be different Die Hard 4.

The critics haven't been too kind to Pirates 3, but apart from mistiming my drinks intake so that I needed the loo for most of the film, over 2 and a half hours of piracy and special effects zipped past - nothing like as funny as Pirates 2, but still a pretty good film.

Critics who had complained of being unable to follow the plot just weren't really concentrating - if you need a summary then there's a decent one on
Wikipedia, it's almost like a James Bond card game played out on water, as everyone tries to trick and double-cross everyone else. The main protagonists are the East India Trading Company - the baddies - and the pirates, who are the goodies. To be honest, there isn't a great deal to choose between them morally. The EITC ( 'it's good for business'), driven by economics, is violent, merciless and uses the law for its own ends. The pirates are violent, merciless, and don't bother with the law full stop. There are examples of good people on both sides, though the pirates probably shade it, especially in the films conclusion where one of them sacrifices the chance to become immortal for the sake of a fellow pirate. In the end the 3 main pirate characters are revealed by their actions to be motivated by something better than self interest.

It's quite nice not to have to struggle with accents, as the only American actor with a major part (Johnny Depp) speaks with a mangled cockney accent. It's slightly satisfying to see the English moving into the Hollywood fast lane, especially as in this film Depps character, which carried the first 2 films, is starting to get a bit tired. Apart from one or two sharp bits of comedy, the actors who carry this film are Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa and Keira Knightly, who completes her transformation from period dress English rose to fully fledged pirate captain during the movie.

Like the first two films, the spiritual issues are all related to death. In Pirates 1, the crew of the Black Pearl found themselves under a curse because of their theft of some ancient gold. The curse, effectively hell ('we drank but never quenched our thirst, we ate but the food turned to dust in our mouths'), can only be broken by the shedding of the blood of someone implicated in the theft. Pirates 2 centres on the question 'what is the price of a mans soul', and how far are people prepared to go in order to save their own, or the souls of others.

The question at the heart of Pirates 3, asked several times by the character Davy Jones (= Death), is 'are you afraid of death?' One of the most haunting scenes in the film has the dead, each in a solitary boat lit by a lantern, across a dark sea to their final resting place, Davy Jones Locker (ancient mariners slang for 'death'). What is worse, Davy Jones responsibility is to guide them safely across that final journey, but instead he has abandoned his post to visit death upon the high seas. The film ends with Jones destroyed and replaced by a benevolent new Captain for that final voyage. There's no sense that the destination is any different, but the taming of Death is part of the Cross: rather than being a door which shuts us off from the face of God for ever, death for those who believe is benevolent, it is a gateway to paradise.

There are a number of jarring notes in the film. The character Will Turner betrays pretty much everyone, and kills quite a lot of people, in his quest to free his own father from servitude to Davy Jones. One can't help but admire his single-mindedness, but it turns what could be a heroic quest into something a bit more blinded and self-indulgent. The (thankfully) brief turn by an incoherent Keith Richards as Capt Jack's father is a waste of screen time, and it seems pretty ironic that in a Disney film the capitalists are the baddies. Hello? self-awareness anyone?

The film still leaves you with some good questions: are you afraid of death? What are you prepared to give up, however precious, for the sake of the people you care about? And as the alleged 'pirate sympathisers' break into song on their trek to the gallows at the start of the film, what song do we sing in the face of death? Is it of fear, defiance, or faith?

And finally: one character embraces at the end of the film a life where he can only spend 1 day ashore in 10 years, with the woman he loves, and must spend the rest of the time sailing the seas and shepherding the dead. Yet he does it - echoes here of Jacobs serving 7 years to win the hand of Rachel. Those 1 days in 10 years are so precious that everything else is worth it. What kind of people would we be if we lived each day with the same attitude? Every day is a gift, time with those we love is a gift, gifts worth waiting for and gifts worth treasuring. Love is better than gold.

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