3 Stars — Suspenseful
The entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean series is strengthened by its interest in the spiritual world. From the curse of the Aztec gold, to the beating heart removed and locked away for safe keeping, to the journey into the afterlife, and scores of other spiritual and supernatural allusions to vessels and creatures in the first three films, this fourth film of the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, continues the tradition. Weaving mythology with the occult and Christianity with politics, the adventure continues for the charming pirate, Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).
Directing the fourth film in the series is Rob Marshall (Nine, Chicago). Although this is his first time directing a Pirates film, the writing of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio continues to bring depth and insight to both characters and plots. Having written all the films in the series, the twists and turns of the tales are evolving into an art form.
Touching the deeper longings of their viewers, the writing duo takes us into the world of myth and religion by focusing on the quest for the fountain of youth. This quest for unending life is central to human desire, but it also has political implications and individual motivations. These are seen clearly in the various characters of the tale.
In the case of Angelica (Penelope Cruz), her only desire is to save the soul of her evil father, the brutal Pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Blackbeard’s power was legendary. Able to control the rigging of his ship with diabolical effect, his crew were zombie masters of the occult.
But when Angelica reunites with her father, she stops him from taking the life of a Christian missionary, Philip (Sam Claflin). We won’t spoil how he becomes a central part of the tale, but his presence creates both a backdrop for the other motives and intentions as well as demonstrates the power of love to redeem.
A familiar character from past Pirates of the Caribbean films is Capt. Sparrow’s archnemesis, Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). But in this chapter of the ongoing tale, which looks toward two more chapters already in production, Barbossa is far more set on vengeance for what Blackbeard did to him than either his struggle with Sparrow or the opportunity for perpetual youth.
In addition to the theology and actions of the Spaniards, perhaps the most intriguing figure in the film is the mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). Embodying the varied folklore concerning these half-women/half-fish creatures, Syrena is an intriguing character. Suggesting that her mermaid tears have power as Chinese mythology suggests, and that she can lure sailors to their death with her song only to devour them as English mythology asserts, Syrena and Philip’s relationship is intentionally perplexing on both a mythical and theological level.
Resolutely uncommitted to anything, Capt. Sparrow is the personification of the films. Although in love, he leaves his beloved and rejects even the commitments of love. This is true of the film’s mythical and spiritual leanings as well as the pirates’ choice of lifestyle, making this a true Pirate’s tale as sung in the Disney attraction: “A pirate’s life for me.”
» When the Spaniards declare that eternal life is not found through a fountain, what do you understand them to mean?
» At the end of the film, when Syrena takes Philip with her into the deep, what do you believe happens? In some mythical stories of mermaids, there is an underwater kingdom in which sailors kissed by a mermaid can live without drowning. Do you believe this is the point of the scene, or is it something else? Why?
» The decision made by Blackbeard is assumed by Capt. Sparrow when he offered Angelica and Blackbeard the chalices. It demonstrated an evil that would take life from even his own daughter. Have you ever met such evil? How did you survive or escape it?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.