Pirates of the Caribbean


Gen-X-Review-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-With the right eyes you can see everything coming back from the ocean. The ghost ships return, their dark sails and skull banner blowing in the mist, prehistoric barnacles clinging to their ancient timber. A man appears in the crow’s nest: His eyes narrow into the horizon, searching for the next vanishing point in the wide, empty expanse of water. Johnny Depp returns, having rediscovered his pirate soul, in the new film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Depp has a cache of people my age, who regard him almost as fondly as our patron saint, Curt Cobain. He was to us what James Dean or Peter Fonda was to earlier generations. We counted his early successes as our own, congratulating ourselves at our clever choices in picking Edward Scissorhands over Weird Science, at recognizing the early punk roots in Hunter S. Thompson, in deciding to embrace the camp sensibilities of John Waters over Steven Spielberg.

Then he played drug czar George Jung in 2001’s Blow, a film so tragically uncool that I half expected him to start telling me hate was a four-letter word and milk was good for my bones. Less a film than a public service announcement, Blow was the most disappointing film of the year, perhaps more so because Depp really shined in the role. It was like Jim Morrison opening for Britney Spears.

Pirates of the Caribbean returns Depp to a place of honor in my book. His portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow is so far over the top that it re-emerges on the other side of the world, transformed into a kind of parody of itself. He mumbles, darting his fingers insanely in the air, both repulsive and oddly seductive. It’s acting of a much higher quality than the film deserves, but it is also just good fun to watch.

Sparrow is a pirate without a ship. His arch nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) has stolen Jack’s Black Pearl as well as the loot from an ancient Aztec burial ground. This has spared Sparrow from a rather nasty curse, but it’s also left him adrift and alienated from the one thing that gives his life meaning: The endless voyage.

Destiny intervenes when Barbossa and the mutinous crew from the Black Pearl attack the town of Port Royal, abducting Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the governor’s daughter, and stealing a piece of the ancient Aztec treasure. Elizabeth had taken the amulet years earlier, when her ship had come across Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) on her way to the island.  She and Will are romantically interested in one another, but the rigid caste system keeps them apart, and being good kids they stick to the rules.

When Will learns that Elizabeth has been kidnapped he enlists Sparrow’s aid in getting her back, unaware that he also has pirate blood running through his veins. The stifled society has ruled against love and divided people according to the most arbitrary laws of birth. This culture is a black iron prison and only those with the mark of piracy will escape alive, and Will must learn to accept the need for freedom in his life, even if that freedom means danger.

Pirates of the Caribbean is weirdly wonderful and wonderfully weird. Its brilliant special effects never seem incongruent or out of place, and it doesn’t try to substitute bright flashes for fine acting or a tight storyline. Although it isn’t afraid of violence, it doesn’t really relish it either, and its horror is pretty tame by Hollywood standards.

I would love to see Pirates of the Caribbean at a drive-in under a full moon. It’s the sort of film that seems transported from the dream world. Like the Disney World itself, it seems pulled from some distant childhood memory, evocative and mysterious, a thing still wet with dreams and half-imagined things: The world beneath the water, where strange and beautiful things may still live.

Sparrow is the underwater current running through the story. His search for freedom inspires the lovers to be free of their own cages, and may have something to say to our generations, too. After all, the pirate is not always a fallen hero. Sometimes he is a hero in a fallen world, come back top redeem it from its own greed and prejudices.


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