Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I liked it! It was entertaining and fun. Being the fourth installment in a series that hasn’t seemed to care much for coherent plot, I didn’t go in with very high expectations.  And what do you know, I wasn’t disappointed!  Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is as devilishly charming as ever. The plot was silly and cliche, but at least it wasn’t the exact same cliches and jokes that were being recycled in movies 2 and 3.  Or…not as much anyway.  We still get the freakish monkey screaming at the camera, but we don’t have to suffer the buffoonery of tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum (the soldiers, or the one-eyed pirate and his friend).  There’s no I’m-headstrong-and-a-swordfighter Elizabeth and I’m-good-but-a-pirate Will being friends, and then not friends, with Jack.  So it’s fresh, in a sense, although not really original.  The music is pretty much exactly the same as previous films, so don’t buy the soundtrack, but it does it’s job of lending to the atmosphere while you watch the movie, and making it more enjoyable by reminding you of how much you liked the first one, when the music and everything else was wonderfully new and exciting.

The plot is pretty weak; it’s more fun if you don’t think about it too hard. Because really, why would the fountain of youth require a ritual that involves Ponce de Leon’s silver chalices?  It wouldn’t, if the fountain was a real thing, because de Leon didn’t invent it, he just went searching for it.  And why would it require a mermaid’s tear? Why, so we can have mermaids in this movie, of course!  I actually loved the mermaids.  They reminded me of the ones in Peter Pan who will “sweetly drown you if you get too close.”  At first they appear beautiful and innocent, so alluring that one pirate is willing to kiss one even though he’s been warned she’ll drag him underwater and eat his flesh.  “At least I’ll have been kissed by a proper mermaid!” he declares.  But then her angelic singing ceases, and her fangs come out, literally.  And suddenly, confronted with the reality of her deadliness and not the romanticized version, he’s not so willing anymore.  It’s a pretty good metaphor for the destructiveness of sin, which is so easy to justify and sounds so much like it would be ‘worth it’ at the time, but which always, always leads to ruin.

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” –James 1:15

There’s actually quite a bit of focus on sin and salvation in this film, although it’s all misguided.  Angelica is focused on saving the soul of her father, the murderous pirate Blackbeard.  To that end, she tries not to let him actually kill people, even though as Captain if he orders it he’s still ultimately responsible.  I guess the thinking is, if the murder isn’t done by his hand, his soul isn’t guilty of the deed.  But that’s not really how it works, is it?  God is more concerned with the intentions of the heart than the outward actions.  Jesus says hate is just as bad as murder, (Matthew 5:21-22), and that even seemingly good deeds, like prayer and giving to charity, if done for the wrong reasons, are not so great (Matthew 6:1-8).

Furthermore, the idea that less sinning will make it easier for his soul to ascend is not Biblical.  The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), that salvation is attained only through repentance and acceptance of Christ as Lord, for “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12).  Even one sin is enough to condemn him, and Blackbeard isn’t the least bit repentant.  After his demise, Angelica screams that Jack has thwarted her attempts to save her father’s soul, to which he replies, “Your father saved you, perhaps his soul is now redeemed.”  But he didn’t save her on purpose, he thought he was saving himself.  Selfish to the end.  And as stated, that’s not how souls are ‘redeemed’, anyway.  Sorry, Angelica, but Jack doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  This is the same deviant who toyed with conversion on an ‘as needed’ basis earlier in the film, saying he was “willing to believe whatever he needed, to should to situation arise” or some such.  But you should know better, if you were really about to take your vows to become a nun before Jack seduced you.  Tsk tsk.

On to my new favorite ‘Pirates’ character: the missionary, Philip.  I loved his character, even though he apparently didn’t go a very good seminary, (if any).  He says (correctly) that there is always hope for any soul to be saved, but then editorializes (unbiblicaly) that he doubts it in Blackbeard’s case.  Even though I just spent a paragraph arguing that Blackbeard was ultimately not saved, it isn’t because he didn’t have a chance, and a minister (or any person) should never presume to give up on someone.  God doesn’t.  As long as they are alive we should hope and pray for their salvation.  Then, Philip tells the mermaid that she must be “one of God’s creatures”, and not descendant from those damned beings that weren’t on Noah’s ark.  Say what?  Firstly, all creatures on and off Noah’s ark were ‘God’s creatures,’ since he created everything.  Secondly, mermaids, if real, wouldn’t have been on the ark anyway since they could easily survive a flood along with all the other sea-dwellers.  But I appreciate his sentiment–that she’s a person, essentially, and that it’s wrong to mistreat her.

That’s why he’s my favorite–he’s so good.  (And cute!)  He has pure intentions, and he really tries to act Christlike, he doesn’t just preach, and he’s not concerned with his own welfare over his convictions.  When the mutinous pirates ask, before they cut him down, if he’s for them or against them, he doesn’t say that he’s for them so that he can get off the mast he’s been tied to for days.  He says, “I’m neither for you nor against you,” because his allegiance lies with God.  (This is a position I wish more American churches would take, instead of becoming enmeshed in politics!!!)  When the mermaid’s tank crashes and she becomes human (a la Ariel), he immediately gives her his shirt to cover her nakedness and helps carry her when she cannot walk, and I just kept thinking that some who call themselves Christians would have been offended by her nudity and gossiped and gasped and had a general outcry at the indecency of a minister holding a half-naked girl to his chest.  But Philip isn’t caught up in these distractions, he’s focused on the most important thing, which is helping someone in need.  I might be making a straw man’s argument here with my imaginary so-called Christians, but to me in this scenario he is reminiscent of the good Samaritan.

I was a little disappointed by the romantic development between my Philip and the mermaid, (Serena, I think he named her), because I was afraid he was going to somehow betray his convictions, for love, when he was so stalwart before.  In the end I don’t think he did, but I’m not sure because I don’t know what the heck happened to him.  Did he die, was he dying anyway, is it a mercy drowning, is she taking him to the fountain, if so is she going to sacrifice her life for his?!?!?!  That was perhaps the most unsatisfying subplot ending I have ever seen, especially since I was so invested in his character by that point.  I wouldn’t really mind if he died, if it was a good death; I just want to know what happened!  There had better be a deleted scene explaining that.

Another time, maybe I’ll write about why we all love Captain Jack Sparrow, and whether or not that’s a good thing.  (Good Blackbeard quote, to Jack: “Your words surround you like fog and make you hard to see.”)  But this is already too long, so, “ride hard between wind and tide!”

Philip, my favorite.

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2 thoughts on “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

  1. I am in total agreement with the whole preacher situation. I loved him but was sooo unsatisfied with his ending, or beginning of a new life. I like to think that she turned him into a merman somehow. And I remember now that it bugged me too when he said Blackbeard couldn’t be saved. As far as the plot goes, I usually don’t think too much on those guidelines anyways. I just look for things I can relate too or that look Awesome and I am inspired by.

  2. @Agreed, didn’t Gibbs or someone say earlier that there was no such thing as a merman? He could have been misinformed, but they didn’t really set that up as a possibility. And we know that the pool she drags him into leads to the fountain, because that’s where she swam when he let her go, to bring Jack the chalices, (which was awfully convenient for him and confusing as far as motivation for her). But if she brings him to the fountain, like I said, who is going to drink from the chalice without a mermaid tear to give Philip life? I don’t think Philip would knowingly take someone’s life that way. So…there is no satisfying answer.

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