The Divine in Captain Jack Sparrow

Theology Thursday
Something happened to me on Tuesday which I thought I was going to blog about today, and then it turned out that maybe not all was as it seemed in that situation, so I haven't figured out how or even if to write about it. Then I remembered: Today is Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day! So in honour of pirates, I'm pirating my own post from my old blog. It was written during a decade where I kind of had some major issues with God, but I think I probably still agree with most of it.

You all think I’m going to talk about how much I like Johnny Depp, don’t you? Well I do. But I’m not. What I really mean is something like, “How Relating to Captain Jack Sparrow Might Be Like Relating to God.”



Such a proposition necessitates a lot of disclaimers, probably too many to enumerate here. But these are some of them:

  1. I don’t think Jack Sparrow (or Johnny Depp) is God.
  2. I don’t think God is a rather lascivious alcoholic pirate with multiple personalities. (I do believe He exists in multiple Persons: three, to be exact. But I digress.)
  3. I don’t think that any of the Pirates movies resemble allegory or analogy to Scriptural history in any point-by-point or intentional way. [2013 Note: I have not seen the fourth of these movies, so cannot speak to any parallels–or overturning of the parallels I mention here–in that one.]
  4. I mean no disrespect.

But hear me out. Here we have this enigmatic character who polarises people. He also polarises reactions within the same person. All of Jack Sparrow’s friends seem both to love him and to hate him. Not to mention that said friends seem to be on rather an unequal footing. He demands attention and respect, but we aren’t always sure he deserves it. Sometimes he seems absent. Sometimes he seems in control. Sometimes he seems to have completely lost it. Often, he seems crafty and clever. At least as often, he seems a complete buffoon.

I feel like this about God a lot. I think it might even be permissable to say that the Bible presents Him similarly on occasion. Of course He’s majestic and holy and just and wise and all those “omni-” things. He is. (I wouldn’t say the same of Jack Sparrow.) But He’s also presented as affected by our actions, emotional, ranting, and sometimes a little bit crazy. Who would come down here and sacrifice His life for us hopeless excuses for the Divine Image if he wasn’t somehow insane? Although foolishness is spoken against in the Bible, there’s also a holy foolishness (picked up on sometimes powerfully in literature) that it might be dangerous to forget about.

Here are some other interesting points of comparison. In movie number 2 (admittedly the worst of the bunch), Captain Jack does (albeit a little unwillingly) sacrifice his life for his comrades, having been betrayed by one of them . . . with a kiss. I find it hard to imagine that these parallels to Jesus’ experience were really intentional, just like I don’t think Jesus needed His disciples help to rise from the dead the way Sparrow needed his friends’ help to bring him back. Still, it does seem a detail worth noting.

Also, the major question underlying all three of the movies (besides, “Why is all the rum gone?”) seems to be “Can we trust him?”

Even as the audience, we never really know the answer to this question. (Usually the answer to the rum one is a lot clearer.) People are constantly surprised when an action apparently completely self-destructive ends up turning things around and saving the day. In a fictional (and not so fictional) world where every character seems to put his or her own interests first, none seems to do it more or better than Jack. But without him, none of them would have survived past the first half of the first movie, and if they had, their lives would likely have had both little adventure and little purpose. (Either way, there would only have been one movie. And few people would have bothered to see it.)

At one point in this last film [as of the writing of this post–1 June 2007], young William Turner (Orlando Bloom), whose own relationship with Sparrow has become strained, defends a strategy by telling the older pirate something like, “I tried to think like you would think. I thought, ‘How would Jack do it?’ I thought this was what you would do.” (What Would Jesus Do, anyone?) Sparrow mocks him lightly and then casts the poor boy, one might say, adrift. By doing so, however, he sets in motion a chain of events which saves the entire Pirate Brotherhood.

We, along with the rest of the characters, wonder if Sparrow really knows what’s going to happen? “Does,” as one of his opponents asks, “he plan it all out or just make it up as he goes along?” Is he just lucky? How does he know everybody so well? How does he turn even their antipathy towards him into something redemptive? Does he really care about everybody as much as he says he . . . doesn’t?


19 thoughts on “The Divine in Captain Jack Sparrow

  1. I like your analogies. I haven’t seen any of the movies either, but don’t you think the bible is the one story that other stories can only hope to imitate? There is so much going on there, and the overarching story is one that appeals to any good story (don’t all epic stories rely on a hero who comes into a broken world, sacrificing himself or his easy life to create at least the promise of a way out). Also, as a writer, I can imagine being on the look-out for hooks to hang references on. If someone were to ask me to write the fifth PotC, I would probably get some bible in there, if only because it takes such a grand place in my story mind. Also, if anyone is reading this, I’d be fine writing that movie.

    • Heh. Nice one, Bas. 🙂

      Yes. There’s actually a sort of theology surrounding story (Donald Miller does a lot with this in his books, if you’ve read any of them), and I fully agree that the story arc of the Bible is the ARChetype for all other stories. Philip Pullman, who grew up in a Christian background and is now an apologist AGAINST Christianity intentionally (as I hear) wrote the “His Dark Materials” series to try to overthrow the archetype, but (I haven’t read them) I’ve heard his attempt was not successful. My theory is, even if you hate the story, it’s such a foundation of the human experience that you can’t escape it.

      • Awe man! I had archetype in there, but because I used arch in the same sentence later, I scratched it. I’m shaking my fist at the screen for letting the pun slip away, but thanks for catching it ;-). I haven’t read Donald Miller. Is he any good? What one book do you recommend?

        Mr Pullman sounds like a fun person to be around. That’s one thing I’m never getting about some atheists either: I’m okay with you believing that the gospel isn’t true, that there’s no redemption, no absolute morality, no point in live and that love is an illusion that tricks our brains into thinking life is worth something at least, but how on earth (and in the heavens, because it’s a big question) is that something you deem worth convincing others about? Even if you would be right and all Christians are in a mass delusion of coming redemption, a loving God and justice for all, why would you ever deny them that? Is that the nobility of the dark side? Plato crawling out of the cave realizing what he sees, and unwillingly dragging out others too, because ‘If I’m miserable about having seen the truth, I’d better not be alone’ (which in itself is a contradiction in theology, I would argue, because I feel the theological struggle on one level is alone vs. together).

        I don’t expect you to answer these questions, don’t worry.

  2. I highly recommend Pullman’s first (of the series): The Golden Compass. Called something else in England. A marvelous tale full of well fleshed out characters and high adventure. I think it is perhaps the best fantasy book I have ever read. Alas, it goes down from there.

    “Who would come down here and sacrifice His life for us hopeless excuses for the Divine Image if he wasn’t somehow insane?” Jenn, that is a mighty strange thing to say. Are you saying that God is such a hopeless bungler that he created us “hopeless excuses”? Fraid I can’t agree. 🙂

    • No. I don’t think He created us as hopeless excuses. I think WE did. (If the tempter–regardless of how the story literally went down–could convince humans that they needed to TRY to become “like God” when they already were, it implies something of our own attempt at self-creation.) Have you noticed how screwed up this creation that, at least according to the Biblical account, He called “good” and “very good” is, lately? We still have our moments of glory, but I have yet to meet a person (least of all myself) who consistently lives up to their own expectations, let alone legitimately divine characteristics. I believe it’s all in there. I just think we’re cracked mirrors.

      Also–Pullman is on my list-of-things-to-read. I’m fairly cautious (although obviously not totally immune from) bashing books I haven’t, in fact, read. I’m always interested in what other people have to say about them, though. Like, I’ve never heard anyone mention that 2 and 3 were not as well-crafted as 1, in this case (although I suspect that is often true).

  3. A ship-shape post me hearty! (Yes, I’m a bit late but I’m joining in anyhow). Cap’t Jack would approve I think, it’s a good analogy and food for thought.
    On the tangent – I think Pullman well deserves his title of master storyteller, though he is every bit as provocative as people suggest. HDM is modelled on Milton’s Paradise Lost and Pullman takes something of the Tony Stark stance in pulling this off. As you can tell I am a fan, just as I’m a fan of C.S. Lewis. I admire both for their writing and not necessarily their beliefs. Give Pullman a try, if only to see what you think 🙂

  4. I have just been forced to re-watch all 3 “Pirates” because I never looked or really paid attention to hidden or parallel meanings. The problem is that your descriptions made sense and I could see. You have brought me out of the darkness and given me light! Can I get an amen!?! Say Hallelujah!! This was great. Made me go “hmmm” (and comment)

  5. Pingback: How the Pirate Brotherhood is Like the Church | That's a Jenn Story

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