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'Pirates' – exciting but grotesque

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” poses some important moral questions, commends some redemptive actions and presents some theological Christian content in a positive way, but is set in a dark, scary fallen world where there is lots of evil, grotesqueries and even cannibalism. For the most part, the movie is a high-octane action adventure, but a little editing would have given it more zip.

In this follow-up to the very successful first movie, Will Turner and Elizabeth are about to be married when they are arrested for aiding and abetting the escape of a pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow. The arrest is actually a bargaining tool for Lord Cutler Beckett to use to manipulate either one of them or both of them into stealing Jack Sparrow’s compass so that Lord Beckett can find Davy Jones’ chest. To save Elizabeth, Will agrees to get the compass from Jack. Jack, meanwhile, has found out that the deal he made with the devil, Davy Jones, to give him the position of captain of the Black Pearl for 12 years has run out, and now Davy Jones wants to collect Jack’s soul.

Escaping Davy Jones, Jack and his crew run aground on an island of headhunters who want to cook Jack for dinner and eat the rest of the crew. In one of the most disgusting scenes of the movie, he is given a necklace of toes and fingers, and bites the nail of the one of the toes. Will Turner comes to Jack’s rescue, and Jack tells him that he will give him the compass – which points not to north, but instead points to whatever the person wants to find – if Jack will steal the key to the dead man’s chest from Davy Jones, who captains the Flying Dutchman.

On the Flying Dutchman, Will meets his long-lost father, who became part of Davy Jones’ crew because Davy Jones, who rules the oceans depths, offers to extend a man’s life 100 years if he serves him. The men who serve him turn into fish – men encrusted with barnacles and other artifacts from the ocean’s depths.

Will gambles for the key to Davy’s chest and almost loses until his father sacrifices his indentured servitude to save Will. Will then steals Davy’s key, and from this point the movie becomes a chase where Will, Jack, Elizabeth, Lord Cutler Beckett, and Davy Jones and his crew, as well as other pirates, are trying to get the treasure of the dead man’s chest, which is none other than Davy Jones’ beating heart.

“Pirates” could be used in theological classrooms. It poses theological and moral issues in a positive way. The movie asks at the start if Jack Sparrow will end up doing the moral thing, and if Elizabeth will turn into a pirate. It then asks, will Jack be good or bad? It discusses and demonstrates the Bible, salvation, self-sacrifice, redemptive activity and responsible, moral decision-making.

Regrettably, it sets all of this in a dark, grotesque, dangerous, fallen world. Thus, for many viewers, these theological musings may escape them.

“Pirates of the Caribbean” is not for children. Cannibalism is a strong theme, and grotesque images such as birds eating the eyes of people, a heart beating outside of a body, a necklace of fingers and toes and explosions will linger a long time in children’s minds. If some of these images had been toned down, the movie would have been more acceptable for a broad audience.

A little editing would have helped the movie become a little more tight and exciting, but as it is, the movie is very entertaining. Some of the acting in “Dead Man’s Chest” is very good, some slightly campy and some staged. The music, photography and special effects are very, very good, but again, as in so many recent movies, spectacle sometimes overwhelms the story. When that happens, it slows the story down tremendously.

In the final analysis, “Pirates of the Caribbean” is an exciting, entertaining movie. It should be a starting point of discussion about these important moral and theological studies. If it is not used to dig deeper, it is of debatable value since there are so many frightening elements in the film.