Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.
Today’s Friday Favorite, from the final film of the trilogy, is one that I actually spent a long time discussing in part 1 of my Pirates of the Caribbean analysis. As the final battle approaches, Elizabeth, Barbossa and Jack head to parley with Beckett and Davy Jones (with Will alongside, having lead the East India Company fleet to Shipwreck Cove). Watch the scene below (in two parts, of varying quality, sorry) and then read on for my analysis:
It’s actually interesting the way Youtube worked out, because the split shows both of the reasons I love this scene. The first is stylistically. As I said in my analysis of the trilogy, the music borrows heavily from Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti westerns, and it’s such an unconventional choice for an epic pirate film. It helps set the mood for the showdown, and is helped by the fact that by this point we know a lot about the characters on both sides.
But the real reason I love this scene is from a storytelling standpoint, seen in part 2. If I had to pick one scene to represent the trilogy, it would be this one. It incorporates everything that came before it through three films, it helps develop the characters, it moves the pieces on the chessboard and it sets the stakes for the final battle. But what’s most remarkable about it is that all of the important things happen beneath the surface.
The dialogue in the scene generally consists of a prisoner exchange, with the villains swapping Will, the traitor, for Jack, the true architect of the situation. But watch it again and focus on the eyes of the actors. It all begins at about 35 seconds into the 2nd video. Will has just said that he was acting on his own, from his own motivations (to free his father from enslavement by Davy Jones). Elizabeth tries to warn him that the only way to free his father would be to kill Jones and take his place, saying, “I understand the burden you bear, but I fear that course is lost.” Will, of course, already knows this, and has worked out the plan with Jack, allowing Jack to kill Jones and become immortal (which is his motivation), while freeing Will’s father and allowing Will to stay with Elizabeth. He answers Elizabeth with the line, “No course is lost, if there is but one fool left to fight for it.” He holds eye contact with Elizabeth, and then right before the camera cuts away he turns his eyes to Jack.
Jack responds with this look.
Which draws confusion from Elizabeth.
The conversation continues, with Beckett proving to everyone that Jack is behind the confrontation (much to the frustration of Barbossa), while Jones reminds Jack that he still owes 100 years of service aboard the Flying Dutchman. Meanwhile, Elizabeth continues to try and figure things out, looking down and away as she thinks (at 57 seconds), and as she starts to realize there’s a larger plan afoot she looks at Jack again and then at Will (1:13).
Will gives her the slightest of smiles, to confirm what she figured out for herself.
And then Elizabeth acts, using her powers as King of the Brethren Court (powers given to her by Jack), to trade Will for Jack. This, of course, puts everyone exactly where Will and Jack wanted them to be, setting Jack in arm’s reach of the heart of Davy Jones. What we get in this scene is three characters so overwhelmed by their emotions that they can’t realize they’re being played. Beckett is smugly thrilled at punishing Jack and defeating the pirates, Jones is obsessed with revenge against Jack and stopping the release of Calypso, and Barbossa is determined to free her and free himself from the oppression of the Royal Navy. Everything from Will and Jack has merely been acting as they manipulated events to get them exactly where they want them.
Jack’s defining characteristic is that he’s always the smartest person in the room, but in At World’s End we see that he can no longer rely on himself alone. So he turns to Will and Elizabeth, not simply because of their positions, but because of their ability to work on his level (while bringing their own traits to the table). So while it may be that Will, Elizabeth and Barbossa walk off together to prepare for battle, the true alliance is with Will, Elizabeth and Jack. The final dialogue (which is unfortunately not in the clip) cements this as Will questions Elizabeth about being King. She replies, “Courtesy of Jack.” Will thinks for a moment and says, “Maybe he really does know what he’s doing.”
I can’t give Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio enough credit for writing these films. The intricate layers to the plot and the characters are rarely seen in comparable films. I wish I could find a copy of the script online, because I’d love to see how they wrote the cues in the scene. A lot of credit has to go to Gore Verbinski and of course the actors for giving the scene a sense of subtlety that would have been lost in lesser hands.
The real beauty of the scene, however, only comes with knowledge of the ending. The entire film (since the rescue of Jack from the locker, at least) has been about Jack’s plot to get to this point. It was complex and manipulative, involving striking a false deal with Beckett, confiding his plans to Will and trusting him to maneuver Jones and Beckett, and electing Elizabeth as King in order to get the Brethren out to war. But in the end, all of the masterfully executed plans are for nothing when Jones stabs Will. Jack is forced to make a choice (the film is all about choices) between getting what he wants and sacrificing it all for his friend, facing his crippling fear of death in the process. And when Will is bound to the Dutchman involuntarily, he still is able to make the most of it, willing to spend any length of time in service for just one day with Elizabeth. All of the strings of the trilogy run through this one scene, and it’s most definitely one of my favorites.
What do you think? Is the plot of At World’s End too complex? How rare is it to see a big budget, action adventure film that doesn’t just spell everything out for the audience? Isn’t it nice not to be spoon fed once in awhile? Let me know in the comments!