Sunday, May 22, 2011
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
"Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Luke 23:43
There are varying degrees of moral fortitude amongst the characters in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment in this modern Disney franchise. Then again, it's no surprise considering this is a movie saga about...well... pirates.
Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is a lovable criminal - guilty of looting, lying, stealing, and an unquenchable greed for more. We also find out in this film that, a while back, he also snuck into a Spanish convent (thinking it was a brothel by accident) to tempt the young novices to abandon their chaste lives.
One of those women was Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who left the religious life to become a pirate herself and sail as first mate to her father, the infamous Blackbeard (Ian McShane) - perhaps the most sinful of pirate captains, unforgiving of his crew and cruel to anyone that stands in his way. He stands against Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now an officer in the British Royal Navy - yet still guilty of his own shortcomings: vengeance, trickery, pride, and of course piracy - who sails to prevent Blackbeard from finding the Fountain of Youth.
No matter how dark (or at least colorful) their past might be, each of these characters can be redeemed. In a way, we - the audience - are rooting for them. We cannot help but smile at the exploits of Capt. Jack, the wittiness of Barbossa, the spunk of Angelica, or the stylish confidence of Blackbeard, no matter their flaws.
Aboard Blackbeard's feared ship, The Queen Anne's Revenge, a Christian missionary Philip Swift (Sam Clafin) is held captive - but believes and prays for the redemption of his vicious captor. Even the worst pirate that ever sailed is worthy of God's forgiveness and grace, he says.
Swift is a wonderful addition to the Pirates franchise, giving these light-hearted Caribbean romps a good moral center. The missionary acts out of love for all God's creatures, from the mutinous crew of the Revenge to the animalistic mermaids that swim in the deep. In one particular case, he treats a young mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) with compassion and respect even though she is capable and willing to attack his crew mates.
Swift's unconditional hope and love for Syrena points to the same unconditional hope and love God has for all people, no matter how good or evil they have been up until now.
One only needs to look at the story of Jesus' crucifixion to see this play out. As he was being nailed to the cross, Jesus looks upon the belligerent soldiers and says, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Lk. 23:34) And as he hangs upon the cross, he tells one of the guilty criminals hanging next to him, "Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Lk. 23:43) God offers grace to everyone, even the worst of the worst.
But this unconditional love does not mean we just lay back, do nothing, and accept God's forgiveness. While the Lord offers it freely, it is up to us to receive it - through repentance or by extending that same love to one another.
Consider Angelica who, despite her sordid past, acts out of love, pity, and hope for Blackbeard's soul - and (spoiler alert) is willing to give up her life so that her father might live. Or consider Syrena who re-examines her mermaid tendency to tempt and kill wayward sailors when one of those offers her air to breathe or protection from the sword.
It seems, though, the journey for Capt. Jack and Barbossa is still unfolding. Though both have their kinder sides and moments of grace (Sparrow begins to feel emotion in this film, perhaps the start of something greater), they both still operate out of a playful selfishness.
So thanks to a Hollywood that loves its sequels, the book isn't closed just yet on these characters - just as our Lord is a God of second chances (or fourth or fifth chances in the case of the Pirates movies). We live in hope for these pirate captains (and will await the next installment of the series) just as God looks forward, with giddy and divine anticipation, for our own redemption. Let us pray, then, that our story is one worth the wait.