Friday, June 01, 2007

The Divine in Captain Jack Sparrow

You all think I'm going to talk about how much I like Johnny Depp, don't you? Well I do. But I'm not. What I really mean is something like, "How Relating to Captain Jack Sparrow Might Be Like Relating to God."

Such a proposition necessitates a lot of disclaimers, probably too many to enumerate here. But these are some of them:
  1. I don't think Jack Sparrow (or Johnny Depp) is God.

  2. I don't think God is a rather lascivious alcoholic pirate with multiples personalities. (I do believe He exists in multiple Persons: three, to be exact. Then there's also that "seven spirits" thing, which makes no sense at all. But I digress.)

  3. I don't think that any of the Pirates movies resemble allegory or analogy to Scriptural history in any point-by-point or intentional way.

  4. I mean no disrespect.

But hear me out. Here we have this enigmatic character who polarises people. He also polarises reactions within the same person. All of Jack Sparrow's friends seem both to love him and to hate him. Not to mention that said friends seem to be such on a rather unequal footing. He demands attention and respect, but we aren't always sure he deserves it. Sometimes he seems absent. Sometimes he seems in control. Sometimes he seems to have completely lost it. Often, he seems crafty and clever. At least as often, he seems a complete buffoon.

I feel like this about God a lot. I think it might even be permissable to say that the Bible presents Him similarly on occasion. Of course He's majestic and holy and just and wise and all those "omni-" things. He is. (I wouldn't say the same of Jack Sparrow.) But He's also presented as affected by our actions, emotional, ranting, and sometimes a little bit crazy. Who would come down here and sacrifice His life for us hopeless excuses for the Divine Image if he wasn't somehow insane? Although foolishness is spoken against in the Bible, there's also a holy foolishness that it might be dangerous to forget about.

Here are some other interesting points of comparison. In movie number 2 (admittedly the worst of the bunch), Captain Jack does (albeit a little unwillingly) sacrifice his life for his comrades, having been betrayed by one of them . . . with a kiss. I find it hard to imagine that these parallels to Jesus' experience were really intentional, just like I don't think Jesus needed His disciples help to rise from the dead the way Sparrow needed his friends' help to bring him back. Still, it does seem a detail worth noting.

Also, the major question underlying all three of the movies (besides, "Why is all the rum gone?") seems to be "Can we trust him?"

Even as the audience, we never really know the answer to this question. (Usually the answer to the rum one is a lot clearer.) People are constantly surprised when an action apparently completely self-destructive ends up turning things around and saving the day. In a fictional (and not so fictional) world where every character seems to put his or her own interests first, none seems to do it more or better than Jack. But without him, none of them would have survived past the first half of the first movie, and if they had, their lives would likely have had both little adventure and little meaning. (Either way, there would only have been one movie. And few people would have bothered to see it.)

At one point in this last film, young William Turner (Orlando Bloom), whose own relationship with Sparrow has become strained, defends a strategy by telling the older pirate something like, "I tried to think like you would think. I thought, 'How would Jack do it?' I thought this was what you would do." Sparrow mocks him lightly and then casts the poor boy, one might say, adrift. By doing so, however, he sets in motion a chain of events which saves the entire Pirate Brotherhood.

We, along with the rest of the characters, wonder if Sparrow really knows what's going to happen? "Does," as one of his opponents asks, "he plan it all out or just make it up as he goes along?" Is he just lucky? How does he know everybody so well? How does he turn even their antipathy towards him into something redemptive? Does he really care about everybody as much as he says he . . . doesn't?


Heather said...

Great parallels. Hadn't thought about it in this way, and I thought you made some good points.
Of course, anyone talks about Depp or pirates, I'm all ears!

Barry Pike said...

This is interesting, Jenn. It reminded me straightaway of a fascinating lecture that I heard, and then subsequently a book I read, by Ken Gire. It is entitled "Windows of the Soul," in which he talks at length about this kind of parallel.

To inadequately summarize and oversimplify the topic, Gire posits that most, if not all, of the truly compelling, emotionally moving, points of climax in the narratives of literature and drama actually point to God. Such moments point to a transcendent experience of the supernatural, which is why we are moved by such moments.

Even the most secular works attempt to crack open our spiritual dimension, for that is where resides our deepest urgings, longings, and sense of signifcance.

He uses numerous examples from cinema, such as Schindler's List, Hoop Dreams, The Elephant Man, Camelot, An Officer and a Gentleman, et al. His book delves into other areas as well, but this post makes me think you would like this book.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Really, really interesting post. I've seen only the first Pirates of the Caribbean, and then only under duress (although I liked it quite a lot, in spite of myself). Your analysis reminds me of The Man Who Was Thursday, which I wonder might have served as some source material for the scripts.

I suppose you could do some analysis of the name: Jack (derived from Jacob, who wrestled with God and led a relatively charmed life) and Sparrow (evoking the notion that God's eye is on even the sparrow that falls to the ground). In any event, Jack reminds me of Ferris Bueller, who's one part everyman and one part wunderkind: he's exasperating and charming at the same time, at least in part because he capitalizes on serendipity.