Pirate Week: Pirates Day–Trilogies vs. Quarternities

it’s here! It’s here! Huzzah! Huzzah!

So yesterday, the fabulous Roger Ebert posted on his Twitter feed, his review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. He begins by saying, “Before seeing ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,’ I had already reached my capacity for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies, and with this fourth installment, my cup runneth over.” Indeed, the franchise started losing steam after the second installment, Dead Man’s Chest, and came to a nice and tidy completion after the third, At World’s End. But the ending of the third movie, left open the possibility of a fourth movie, giving us the hint that – should it happen – it would involve the hunt for the Fountain of Youth. So I’m seeing the movie tonight, meaning that tomorrow I’ll write my review. I’m very ready for the franchise to come to an end, but nonetheless very excited that they gave me one more installment.

In good proper Jungian terms, the franchise should end with this movie. Trilogies are nice containers for mythic stories. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just look at the original Star Wars trilogy or the Lord of the Rings. No one would ever think of making a fourth version of those movies. Indeed, Pirates also was a nice trilogy, if you follow it from the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann subplot. Reading these movies thusly, it becomes quickly apparent that a) Jack Sparrow is a charismatic minor character and b) the ENTIRE point of the series is for both of these characters to realize who they are, who they want to be, and how they intend to do that together. In other words, the point is for Will and Elizabeth to individuate and then conjugate. The first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, established this trajectory: Will had to come to terms with the fact that he’s a pirate’s son, and Elizabeth, in all of her spirit and spunk, could not be confined to the life of a New World aristocrat. Both characters turn to the seas, the classic symbol of the unconscious, to go find themselves. Dead Man’s Chest shows Will embracing more of his pirateness as he works through some daddy issues, while Elizabeth, in the mean time, moves from being helpless maiden to an independent woman. These two journeys nearly tear their relationship apart, but it is more essential that they sort these things out before they’re married, methinks.

Then At World’s End, they travel to the ends of the world, to Davy Jones’ Locker, to bring Jack Sparrow back from the dead. Notice that at the end of the second movie, Elizabeth killed Jack. Jack, for her, represents something, and I’m not going to call it Animus. Jack Sparrow, as pirate, is more of a figurehead of the total abandon of structure. Elizabeth went from an extremely controlled structure with her father to a complete lack of structure with Jack. So she kills him. But he’s an important part of her, or maybe she’s an important part of him, because she, though claiming she is not sorry for killing him, feels profound remorse for doing so. She believes that bringing Jack back will make everything better. But that’s only half of it: Jack is chaos. The East India Trading company and the Royal Navy is control. Elizabeth needs both sides to to balance her out. Yet, in the process of rescuing Jack and heading toward the Brethren Court, she is betrayed by Will and loses her father and Norrington, her socially-acceptable fiancé. Again, by siding with Jack, she loses all sense of control.

Will ultimately embraces his pirateness by becoming captain of the Flying Dutchman (I’ll spare the spoilers), which comes with a price: he has to ferry the dead to the Locker, and can only come ashore once every 10 years to be with his loved one. So, while Will turns into a symbol of chaos (Pirate), he comes with a controlled structure (a very specific schedule), and this makes him the perfect balance to Elizabeth. She still has the chaos of piracy, but she has the control over her own destiny.

A beginning, a middle, and an end, with a lot of growth and development involved. A recurring theme in the series is the idea that the treasure for which one is seeking is only found when one is good and lost.

So now we have a fourth installment, that does not bring Elizabeth and Will back into the fold. This one is entirely Jack’s story, and is necessary because they left Jack’s story hanging. Rumor has it that there is a Pirates 5 floating around, and if the movie on the Lego Pirates of the Caribbean video game is any indication, I can see where it would go. But, for all my love of the franchise, I don’t want to see it happen. 4 is the number of completion. it is the unit that rounds out the trilogy. 5, on the other hand, is the quintessence: the transcendence or the number of discord. Plus, they are looking for the Fountain of Youth. We assume they find it, based on the reviews, and we assume Jack does something heroic with its waters, based on the Lego game. However, if the franchise drinks from the proverbial Fountain, and makes more movies, it will live on forever, but eventually it will lose its flavor, as Barbossa learned when he was cursed by Aztec gold. And, as I tell my Humanities students, art that does not have any staying power is not good art. This is not something I wish for the franchise because it is among my favorites.

I love Pirates because it tickles my psyche, but it is also good escapism. I don’t go to those movies to think, but I wind up thinking anyway, which is why I like them.

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