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Pirates of the Caribbean 2 showtimes

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy'd

Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when

Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vest the dim sea: I am become a name. . .

—Tennyson, "Ulysses"

My husband is a pirate aficionado. He bought (and read) the Wordsworth Dictionary of Pirates; he read Robert Louis Stevenson's great classic, Treasure Island, rather a lot as a boy, and is in his adulthood a passionate surfer and sucker for all things sea-borne and island-ish. So when he told me that there is only one real tale, when it comes to pirates, I stopped to listen. "Pirate plots," he told me, "are really only one plot: find the treasure" [1]. Then he said, "Arrr!" [2] and ran off.

Well, I grew up inland and when I gave The Voyages of Hakluyt a well-intentioned try, I fell profoundly asleep [3]. I spent years deploring Disney's version of Peter Pan; and while I probably should have known better than to equate Hakluyt (really very worthy in his own way) with Hook, I didn't. But two—no, three—pirate encounters saved my opinion of pirates in general: Steinbeck's Cup of Gold: A Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional Reference to History, a novel chronicling the middle-aged disenchantment of said sailor, neurotic, elegiac, and anecdotal; that florid yet thrilling movie Cutthroat Island with the Amazonian Gena Davis; and last but not least, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies [4]. I converted. Arrr.

Having been happily impressed with the first "P of C" movie The Curse of the Black Pearl, for reasons mostly to do with Depp, Bloom and, shiver me timbers, an exciting yarn [5], I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest wondering if it too could offer a real, sustained, two hour and thirty-one minute thrill of the sort I had come to expect. Comedy or crud? It turned out to be a bit of both.

Like the sagas of those original pirates, the bloody Vikings of the north seas, any good account begins at the beginning. So my account must; and that is with the cinema where we watched the show. Part of any good movie-going experience is, of course, its trappings—its riggings you might say—and in like, its crew. And as with any vessel of transport [6], its men and mien be noted, being an inalienable part of the whole atmosphere and experiential context. This particular cinema is an independent heritage discount experience, made of brick and plaster; and it is replete with all the requisite moth-eaten velvet curtains, dark shadowy recesses, and large, squeaky chairs. It is manned by two thin, pointy-faced, white-blonde boys, most certainly either Unseelie or Lost, and they are expert purveyors of slightly tarnished silver dreams. One sells in strict silence the tickets, perched cross-legged upon a red bar stool; and the other, sporting a goatee, sells snacks of the Milk Duds and Jelly Babies variety, whilst spouting cheerful and sudden reassurances: "May I have a medium Sprite?"—to which: "Faster than you can ever imagine." So the vessel.

The movie itself begins in media res with Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Swann standing in a heavy tropical rain at a wedding altar, waiting for her bridegroom, Orlando Bloom (Will Turner). Teacups fill with plashing rain and intermittent light; flowers fill and fall; and Knightly, in a typical lace-and-corset affair, gains several stone of water. She waits, of course, because a new and highly modernist [7] antagonist, Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), with absolutely no sense of the romance of the high seas, representing the interests of the East India Trading Company, has sailed into harbour and taken Bloom into custody. And, in manner suitably slimy and cavalier (and also despicably utilitarian) he sets a quest before Bloom: to find Johnny Depp's (Captain Jack Sparrow's) compass of desire, or be executed with his bride for consorting with traitors to the crown in the last movie.

Complicating this quest—which I found to be a strong device for the elaboration of that basic treasure-seeking plot, that uni-plot, that Ur-Pirate-Plot of Plots, by reason of consequences to be paid: laws broken, bureaucracies flouted, brands and gibbets in the offing—is Johnny Depp's own quest. While Bloom sets out to earn pardon for himself and Knightly, Depp seeks to save his very soul from a black spot [8] set on him by the great and fearsome monster of the deep, Davy Jones, via that victim of treachery from the first movie, Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård). And off they go, Bloom, Depp, and Knightly, [9] a-sailing into a typically weird welkin, darkling and a-welter with storms. Bloom and Depp, both tanned and sword-savvy to pleasing effect, duel and deal each other awry, while Knightly manages to get in and out of trouble nicely on her own, until at last there enters the real star of the show, a monster.

Yes, a monster of oceans. Davy Jones hisself.

Davy Jones, Duppy-Dewi, Devil Jonah, demon of the deep [10]. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! Davy Jones, and his crew of mutant monsters, Davy Jones, horribly amalgamated with the legend of The Flying Dutchman [11]. Cursed and looking like it, Jones and his ugly crew pursue their dark purposes across the seven seas; in this movie, that purpose is to get back at Jack Sparrow for his inveterate curiosity, for an unpaid debt, and, additionally, to creep the bejeezus out of us. Spending centuries at sea, Jones and his crew slowly become sea-creature-like. And while you might think that a boat-load of oceanic mutants may be just beyond the pale of silly, it worked for me. And remember, this is Disney. Willing suspension of disbelief goes with the territory.

So while the typically Disneyesque absurd "natives" of dubious Caribbean ethnicity [12], interminable chase scenes of various sorts, and the inevitable "dummy duo" comedy relief team [13] made me yawn and squeak in my vintage velour-covered cinema seat, the monsters managed to be both very Disney, and very cool. Take, for instance, the hammer-headed shark guy with his slow, evil grin; or the swabbie with blowfish cheeks; or the luckless beheading of the hermit-crab crew member, shell for skull, face for carapace and jointed legs protruding from his brainstem.

Or take Davy Jones himself: a heartless octopus of a mutant bastard, a sort of fusion Ahab-cum-Moby. His tentacle-beard squirms in a brooding manner around his face; he sighs and huffs wetly through his siphons; and, most pleasingly, when not planting black curse-spots on the hands of the feckless, he plays the organ most divinely, with the same virtuoso passion as that other cold and melancholy anti-captain of the deep, Nemo of the Nautilus [14]. And like any melancholy Byronic, he rather appeals than repels [15]. Take, for example, the foxy character Ulysses in myth and poetry: he too went by Nemo at one point in his tale; and like the Davy Jones of this movie, doomed to wander the verges of the world, he, in Tennyson's words, "cannot rest from travel," but is "become a name." In Byron's words in the melodramatic poem "The Corsair," though he is cursed, the Jones of this tale connotes the same appealing tropes of all the seven seas:

Oer the glad waters of the dark blue sea,

Our thoughts as boundless, and our soul's as free

Far as the breeze can bear, the billows foam

at least as much as he has "suffered greatly"! Emerging and submerging throughout the show, he and his crew and his ship, cursed and cursing, corrugated and coruscating with cancerous corals, streaming with great sluices of cold brine water and squirming with sea worms, for me, make the movie.

A few other things about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest are worth noting. Knightly (in spite of her rumoured rent-a-breasts) does a marvelous job of providing some much-needed feminist relief. Her sword and knife choreography is even more thrilling than Gena Davis's (though Davis's throaty voice can't be beat), and she makes Bloom and Depp in turn the most attractive foils. Independent, curious, and unpredictable, she's also honestly funny, when reduced to shrieking like a fishwife and throwing rocks at the men in a scene involving an amusing triple duel. There's also the fabulously creepy Tia Dalma [16] (Naomie Harris), voodoo mystic and swamp nympho [17], all tattooed cheekbones, buggy dreads, and indigo-stained lips and teeth. Surrounded by the foxing light of candles and fireflies, she steers the fates of Depp, Bloom, and Knightly into deeper creep. Depp, of course, continues to waft his loopy charm, eyeliner included, and deliver one-liners with arrogant panache, while Bloom is, as ever, wonderfully wide-eyed and Errol Flynn-esque [18].

All accounted, I found Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, driven by character as much as the pirate mono-plot, to be a pretty darn good yarn. Or should I say a half a yarn? For the movie is really only part of the tale: it leaves off where next year's Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End will, I imagine, begin. If the start of this movie was in media res, the end is most certainly, you might say, in media "irres": the quest dissolved, betrayal and revenge burgeoning, mysteries of the heart left locked, and a great, big, slimy, vasty-tentacled, tooth-mawed Kraken [19] of the dark and crushing deep lurking, most spectacularly injured and probably most spectacularly angry, waiting to re-emerge.

So, feeling rather like Squirrel Nutkin, I was left with half a tail; left, in the final moments of the movie, marooned amid-stream, waiting for Bloom, Knightly, and Depp to take the tale onwards sometime, I suspect, between Thanksgiving and Christmas of next year. Is this a half-an-ass of a tale? [20] Is this the inevitable albatross of franchise? Will I, driven by curiosity and a latent taste for pirate-fantasy, come back for more? Arrr to all three—though those swabbies, blackguards, and sea-worms will make me wait.

The movie is a bit like singing a sweeping rendition of "Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of—".

See? Not so satisfying.

But standing up in the dark of the cinema at the end of the show, a-dazzled by the swashing and buckling, black squalls and bright rain, sub-Atlantic monsters and daedal sword-play, I and my husband both had to admit, final verdict, that we'd be springing for another $6.75 come "P of C III." On the way out of the theatre and into the moonlit night, I told the Unseelie brothers to look for me again. They might have smiled.

The End [21]


Footnotes

[1] Witness the childhood classics—well, contemporary classics—Muppet Treasure Island (1996) and The Goonies (1985). Witness The Count of Monte Cristo (1888) and that old novel Missee Lee: The Swallows and Amazons in the China Seas (1941), by Arthur Ransome.

[2] Decoding was in order. In the A Real Pirate Dictionary For Real Pirates! website, copyright 2005, Captain Marcy Marxer, defines "Arrr" as the following:

Part of speech: exclamation. 1. A pirates' favorite word. It can be used for anything, GOOD or BAD! Examples: "Arrgh! What a lovely day!" Or, "I don't like that! Arrgh!" (Don't pronounce the gh, which is silent). Sometimes spelled "Arr!"

[3] Sample chapter titles from Hakluyt's work Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage (1892):

Chapter III, "To prove by experience of sundry men's travels the opening of some part of this North-West passage, whereby good hope remaineth of the rest"; Chapter VIII, "Certain reasons alleged for the proving of a passage by the North-East before the Queen's Majesty, and certain Lords of the Council, by Master Anthony Jenkinson, with my several answers used to the same"; and Chapter X, "What commodities would ensue, this passage once discovered".

Can you even read these chapter titles? Does not the eye glaze over?

[4] And the real point of this piece.

[5] Who would not thrill at the sight of a cursed crew running across a moonlit seabed, illuminated into their true, skeletal form, cutlasses waving, bent on battle?

[6] Transport into the worlds of imagination, that is. For instance, did you know cinemas were once called "mutoscopes"—turn of the century devices to transform photographs into moving pictures? Mutoscopes. I like that.

[7] By which I refer to the formal roots of the worldview "Modernism," characterized by values of skepticism, rationalism, and the will to domesticate mysteries. This is indicated in the movie by the ongoing rendering of a great map on the wall of Lord Cutler Beckett's office. He thinks he has all the answers. Others may disagree.

[8] Totally referencing Stevenson's classic tale of black spots and revenge.

[9] Really, aren't "Bloom," "Depp," and "Knightly" the perfect last names for stars of a pirate movie?

[10] "Duppy" is a Jamaican/Barbadian term for ghost or evil spirit, about which many stories are told. Example:

Once a man was walking in the street on a night. He met a duppy. His teet' was like fire; so de man went to ask for a light, did not know it was duppy. So de duppy gash his teet' at him an' he run. So de duppy went on met him again. De man did not know it was him, went up wid a complain':—"See, sir, I meet a man jus' now, ask 'im for a light an' he gash his teet' at me!" De duppy grin his teet' again an' ask, "Teet' like dese?" an' de man run again.

"Dewi" is the sixth century Welsh Saint David, born in a storm, with a strong insistence on immersion in icy water for all his followers.

"Jonas" is that prophet from the Old Testament who brought rather bad luck in the form of storm to the vessel he sailed on, fleeing his fate. His is the first of a surprisingly large number of accounts of men swallowed by whales. Unlike the men in most of the other tales, he emerges undigested.

[11] The Flying Dutchman is most commonly sourced as an historically existent Dutch captain, relentless in his rounding of Cape Good Hope in a storm: he declared he would do it though it took till Judgement Day. And so it shall.

[12] In fact, there is a call by descendants of the people portrayed in the movie to boycott Disney. See here to learn a bit more.

[13] The "comedy duo" element is present in almost all of Disney's cartoons: Pumba the Warthog and Timon the Meercat in The Lion King (1994); Lumiere and Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast (1991); Abu and Iago in Aladdin (1992); the eels Flotsam and Jetsam in The Little Mermaid (1989). Which although irritating and formulaic is really very Shakespearean—witness the Wise Fool in King Lear, Touchstone in As You Like It, Sir John Falstaff in the King Henries, and very notably, Dogberry and Verges in Much Ado About Nothing. Here, the comedy duo are pirates Pintel (a foolish fool) and Ragetti (an eloquent fool).

[14] From Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and its sequel, The Mysterious Island (1874).

[15] Other Byronic anti-heroes include Milton's Satan (1667), Mister Rochester of Jane Eyre (1847), Professor Snape of the Harry Potter series (1997-present), and even, may I venture, Doctor Claw of Inspector Gadget (1983-1986).

[16] A little etymological speculation: "Tia" is Spanish for "aunt" of course—a common term in many languages for a wise woman. "Dalma" is a Spanish family name, but it also means "plunge, submersion or dive" in Turkish—a tenuous connection at best, but hey, Disney's not always strong on accuracy anyways—and there is that as yet unexplained Turkish prison in the movie. I like the Turkish translation of Dalma for its nice metaphorical representation of shamanistic seeing.

[17] "Nympho" being doubly suitable since nymphs were women-denizens of water; although in fact swamp nymphs were more specifically called "limnads" or "limniads."

[18] Particularly in the scene wherein Bloom slides down the "mainsul, cold and white" using his knife—very Captain Blood (1935). I mean, really.

[19] The Kraken is, by the way, entirely real. Check out National Geographic's articles here and here.

The Kraken appears in Norse sagas (which the Norwegian and Icelandic listeners and scholars always distinguished as a genre of realism quite apart from their romances and myths), as Ragetti points out, as well as in the Greek myths as one of the Ketea.

[20] Which, historically, would perhaps be quite acceptable in the context of pirate tales. Check it: "At the siege of Carthagena, Le Golif saw an incoming canonball and raised his leg to let it pass. Unfortunately its ricochet took off one cheek of his buttocks, hence his nickname "borgnefesse". . ." from The Memoirs of a Buccaneer, Being a Wondrous and Unrepentant Account of the Prodigious Adventures and Amours of King Louis XIV's Loyal Servant (known for his singular wound as Borgnefesse, Captain of the Buccaneers) (1954).

[21] Of course, this is not really the THE END any more than Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is the end of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" story. Perhaps The World's End will draw the threads of this yarn, this story-net to a close—for, as yet, in Tennyson's immemorial words, I think Bloom, Knightly and Depp very much have yet to "drink life to the lees."

Jasmine Johnston lives in China with her husband and several heavy books. She maintains a speculative weblog that is the only site to yield both "ratus ratus" and "seed pearl" on Google. It includes phonetic transcriptions of Mandarin ("pu-toong-hwa") as well as lively anecdotes involving smog and/or wonton soup ("hoon-doon").



Jasmine Johnston lives in China with her husband and several heavy books. She maintains a speculative weblog that is the only site to yield both "ratus ratus" and "seed pearl" on Google. It includes phonetic transcriptions of Mandarin ("pu-toong-hwa") as well as lively anecdotes involving smog and/or wonton soup ("hoon-doon").
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