Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl part 3

At the top of Act III of Curse, Elizabeth has been rescued from the clutches of bad-pirate Barbossa, by declared non-pirate Will Turner (at the top of Act III Will declares, twice in ten seconds, his non-pirate status).  Since Elizabeths’ goal is for Will to be a pirate, she still faces an uphill battle.  As Will tenderly goes to cop a feel off Elizabeth’s breast, she takes out the medallion that started all this craziness, the one she took off Will that day so many years ago.  In the traditional fairy tale, the boy-prince is given a medallion that will one day prove he is royalty — here, the screenwriters have stood the tradition on its head and given the boy a medallion that proves he is a criminal.

Meanwhile, Jack bargains with Barbossa — he will give Barbossa the name he needs to make the gold curse go away in exchange for the Black Pearl.  It doesn’t seem like a very good deal to Barbossa, perhaps because, even if he has the name he needs, he now doesn’t have the goddamned medallion, and he needs both at the same time.  As far as mechanical processes go in magical solutions, I’m not fond of the “You need both pieces of the magical device to make the thing work” — we have it here in Curse, and more recently in Prince of Persia — to me, it makes the narrative into a scavenger hunt, like a level of Tomb Raider — and telegraphs to the audience everything that needs to happen before they can all go home.  I prefer a this-leads-to-that chain of devices, like the “headpiece of the Staff of Ra” that leads to the “Well of Souls” that gets you “The Lost Ark.”  Although I guess I should be grateful — there are 882 pieces of cursed gold, and the narrative of Curse only details the search for one of them.

(Oddly, Barbossa doesn’t merely torture Jack and demand he give him the name he needs — Jack is hugely outnumbered by Barbossa and his cursed crew, all of whom desperately seek to lift the curse, it couldn’t hurt.)

Before Jack can strike his deal with Barbossa, the Black Pearl catches up to The Interceptor, where Barbossa’s medallion now is (as is Will Turner, but Barbossa doesn’t know that yet.  There’s an exciting, well-staged ship-chase and sea-battle set piece, during which Elizabeth discusses strategy with Anamaria.  Anamaria presents a genuine alternative life to Elizabeth — we don’t know much about her past, but here she is now, captaining a pirate ship without a whiff of dissent or mutiny from her crew.  It will take Elizabeth a couple more movies before she comes to realize this potential — for now, she wishes only to be married to a pirate.

To look at Act III another way, we could say that Elizabeth’s wish as a 10-year-old, that a pirate would come and take her away, has borne fruit — Barbossa has come to take her away, but avowed non-pirate Will has taken her back, which makes Elizabeth’s eight-year-old wish, come chasing after her.  That is, Act I is “I wish this thing would happen,” Act II is “I’m sorry I made that wish,” and Act III is, literally, “My past is catching up with me.”

At the end of the conflagration, The Interceptor is blown up, the medallion is back in the hands of Barbossa, and Will Turner shows up to declare himself a pirate, if only by blood.  Now Will has taken another step toward being the pirate Elizabeth wants him to be, but he’s screwed up everything else in Elizabeth’s world, handing to Barbossa the medallion, and the blood, he needs.  Now that Barbossa has both parts of his device, Barbossa doesn’t need Elizabeth — or Jack — any longer, and makes them both walk the plank.  This is our protagonist’s “end of penultimate act low-point” — she wants to be taken away by a pirate, specifically Will-as-pirate, and now she has nothing — not only has she lost Will, but she’s done worse than be taken away by a pirate, she’s been thrown away by one.  Barbossa even takes back his dress, leaving Elizabeth in her slip — free of both her father’s dress and Barbossa’s as well.  On the one hand, now she has nothing, on the other hand, now she can begin again.  What will she choose to do?

Stuck on Rum Island with Jack, Elizabeth finds out that the story of his miraculous escape from the island was a tall tale — it seems that not even Jack Sparrow can be counted on to be a pirate when Elizabeth needs him to be one.

Jack gets drunk, and Elizabeth pretends to.  Elizabeth pulls the oldest trick in the book — pretends to be loose, then lets Jack drink himself unconscious.  Jack may think he’s becoming a sexual threat to Elizabeth, but Elizabeth is in control of the situation from the beginning.  Given the chance to be taken by a more-or-less genuine pirate, Elizabeth flees in the opposite direction — she calls her father and fiancee, Norrington, and enlists their help in going after Will.  Governor Swann and Norrington refuse her, but Jack, playing the only card he has left, tempts Norrington into chasing the Black Pearl, as a feather in his cap.  Jack does a lot of this kind of thing in Curse — he steps in to give Elizabeth what she can’t achieve on her own.  He does it throughout the narrative — he rescues her from her fall in the ocean, then prods Will into action, then brings Will to her on the Isle de la Muerte, then almost talks Norrington into chasing the Black Pearl.  It’s almost as though Jack is the “pirate side” of Elizabeth, without a real agenda of his own, and when Elizabeth no longer needs him, he rides off into the sunset.  Norrington refuses Jack as well, so Elizabeth plays the only card she has left — herself.  She pledges to marry Norrington if he will rescue Will.  That is, she pledges to capitulate to her father and her fiancee, give them what they want — a lifetime of propriety and constrictive dresses.


7 Responses to “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl part 3”
  1. Matt D says:

    Aw, c’mon, Todd.

    Do the second one at least. I’ll paypal you the cash for the advil to get you through it.

  2. richard says:

    I’m really enjoying these. I’ve been wanting an intelligent analysis of the PoTC movies for a while, but haven’t known how to write it myself. Thank you.

  3. Isaac Sher says:

    Now there’s an interesting notion — Jack is Elizabeth’s enabler. He furthers her aims by mingling them with his own, which might even be a deliberate ploy on Jack’s part, to aid in “mingling” with Elizabeth’s petticoats, so to speak.

    This would also explain why Elizabeth feels so protective of Jack later on, aiding and abetting his last escape in this film.

  4. It’s almost as though Jack is the “pirate side” of Elizabeth, without a real agenda of his own, and when Elizabeth no longer needs him, he rides off into the sunset.

    Jack is pretty much just a roving meddler. He ducks in and out of the narrative whenever the characters need him. He’s established as a wanderer, with no moorings and no loyalties but to the sea, which is why he can disappear (“die”) at the end of the second film and reappear 45 minutes into the third film without the story falling apart.

    This quality is also what allows for a fourth Pirates movie, one without Elizabeth or Will. However, with Jack as the protagonist, I’d be interested to see how the screenwriters handle the action now that Jack is precipitating the events, instead of just stumbling upon them.

  5. Ice Sickle says:

    How would Jack compare to a trickster god archetype?

  6. Jim Vowles says:

    Your analysis is usually spot on, but I think that you share the inherent resentment of these movies that most critics have expressed. I confess a bit of surprise that I never had a moment’s trouble following the plots of ANY of the movies, but perhaps I’m an odd duck, trained as I am on a steady diet of comic books, anime, and sci-fi and fantasy stories.

    The first movie, as a stand-alone piece, is about mood, much as the ride was. It’s about celebrating the pirate’s life, and it’s about Will and Elizabeth rebelling against a world that would, if left unchecked, dull them and constrict them. It’s about creating a mythology in which it’s possible to escape the bounds of society and roam free — that’s the life that Jack represents. But it also tempers that romance with the gritty danger and lurking horror that you have to embrace if you’re going to completely abandon the civilized world.

    Barbarossa embraced the full pirate life, without the underlying goodness which Jack (we suspect, though we’ll go on without proof of that for a while) still maintains. He is therefore cursed, and unable to fully enjoy any of his ill-gotten gains. He’s a life lesson in the dangers of excess — he can no longer taste or fully experience human joys, and that undermines his piratical aspirations. By the time we meet him he simply wants out — he’s not even too worried about losing, in the end, because it means an end.

    Will of course denies his aspirations along with his pirate nature (they’re one and the same). He begins the tale utterly bound by an unfair society that denies him what he wants, and only by escaping that and embracing (at least part of) his inner pirate can he get what he wants.

    Jack wants his ship back. That’s really it — for him his ship is his freedom. He wants to remain free. To him, every step along the way in this movie is about getting there again, and getting back the one thing that matters. I think he’s conceived as being a bit mad, and a bit brilliant, and even he rarely knows where one begins and the other ends. Personally, I suspect they overlap about 80% of the time. He’s actually a brilliant planner, and one read on the character is that he knows precisely what he’s doing the entire time, and the madness is just an act, or at least a tool in his arsenal of skills. He refuses convention, but unlike Barbarossa, he’s not fundamentally *bad* — just dangerous to be around. But more fundamentally, at least in this movie, he is the Trickster, Coyote….Doctor Who, even. He brings about change in everyone he meets, and enables just about everyone to achieve their goals.

    When viewed as mythology, the following movies completely work.

    (Well, okay, *almost* completely.)

    • Todd says:

      I don’t have any real questions about Jack’s end of the narrative, nor do I “resent” them in any way — I own them all on blu-ray and watch them often. What analysis brought to the fore, for me, is that the movie isn’t really about Jack, and never was. Johnny Depp stole the whole movie, elevated a “comic relief” part and dragged the center of the narrative with him.