(Unfortunately, I can’t come up with an excuse for why I would do something as shameful as miss school during the summer. I fear I am just incurably troubled in that way.)
So, anyway, my dear friend littledivinity and I have been rather extensively discussing J/E, and we decided to come up with a list of things that could objectively, logically be considered J/E support within the first film. And guys? It’s a long, long list. That pretty much makes you wonder why, exactly, it's Will she's kissing at the end.
Anyway, while we were on this subject, I found myself thinking very fondly (I am incurably strange) back to the A.P. English class that I took last year, just because I love analyzing fiction like McAdams loves Gosling. My teacher had us read this rather interesting book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster, which basically explores, in a very approachable way, lots of common literary techniques that tends to pop up in storytelling. (It’s a really interesting read, and if any of you guys are interested in literary analysis, I’d definitely recommend it. Otherwise, let’s pretend I’m not the biggest English geek of all time.)
The point is, I found myself considering some of the symbols discussed in there in relation to J/E, and realized that an eerie amount of them actually were applicable to our lovely ship within the first film.
And then I just got into discussing symbols in general.
And, well, I figured that if there’s any place where anyone might be interested in reading this babble, it would be here.
It’s quite interesting, though, the crazy amount of Jack/Elizabeth subtext that can be found in this film. Granted, it’s a summer blockbuster and not Virginia Woolf, so there’s a good chance that it’s all just me grasping for straws like a crazy person. But all the same, it’s interesting that it’s there. Veeeery interesting indeed.
So here we go!
Clothing (Or Lack Thereof)
First and foremost, let’s decide – for the sake of argument – that in this context, clothing symbolizes pretenses: it allows the characters to assume a façade, whether willingly or not.
While she is the very picture of a proper lady of the time period at the Commodore’s ceremony, Elizabeth is miserable. Not only is she torturously hot, but she is also barely able to breathe. It is very fitting indeed that when the Commodore proposes to her, she is in this state: the physical oppression that the clothing inflicts perfectly matches the oppression of proper societal conduct and the expectation that she will marry a fine man. Elizabeth is hardly the wilting flower sort, but the utter stifling of freedom is the one predicament that proves too much for her – and so she falls.
Enter Jack Sparrow, who puts his mission to steal a boat on hold in order to rescue a damsel in distress. Before doing so, he removes his coat, hat, and sword – all of which play a large part in expressing the façade of Captain Jack Sparrow – “the myth,” as Johnny Depp describes it on the DVD commentary. He reaches Elizabeth quickly, but discovers that it is impossible to make it to the surface with her in the dress – in order to survive, the dress needs to go. And so, without preamble or the consideration of propriety (well, he is a pirate), Jack takes the dress off.
And then, of course, there is the matter of the corset. It provides a whole new level of oppression for Elizabeth, one she certainly doesn’t like and has a very hard time enduring. While she lies unconscious on the dock, the soldiers are completely at a loss as to how to revive her; Jack, on the other hand, cuts the corset open and she can breathe again, simple as that.
While Will’s motivation throughout the film is to rescue Elizabeth, it is, funnily enough, Jack that saves her first, while Will is still struggling to call her by her first name. (As a side observation, it’s funny to see the completely opposite ways in which Will and Jack regard Elizabeth: Will insistently maintains propriety and refers to her by her last name, despite her request to do otherwise and annoyance that he won’t; Jack calls her Elizabeth at once, and is corrected with a livid “It’s Miss Swann.”)
Upon waking, Elizabeth is immediately filled with gratitude for her rescuer; Jack is intrigued by her upon discovering the medallion around her neck. The presence of proper society – as represented by Governor Swann, Commodore Norrington, and his men – illuminates at once, however, the impropriety of interaction between a lady and a pirate.
Acting under pressure, Jack pulls Elizabeth to him – and we are given, for a moment, the two of them in states of undress pressed against each other. (There is something charming about the fact that these two have been scandalizingly un-Disney from the start.) The chains (in addition to totally enhancing the undeniable naughtiness of it all) are a very concrete, literal illustration of them being bound to the roles they assume in society – in the presence of the Governor and the Commodore, Elizabeth is rendered a damsel in distress; Jack, a loathsome pirate.
Elizabeth ‘saves’ Jack right back, her close proximity to him robbing the Commodore’s men of the ability to shoot at him – while doing so, she puts his clothes on, fully rebuilding the image of Captain Jack Sparrow that is cocky and confident enough to deliver his classic ". . . almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow" speech.
Symbolically, the whole scene comes pleasantly full-circle. :)
The other prominent Jack/Elizabeth scene in the film just so happens to feature them, once again, in a state of undress. Marooned on the island, with Elizabeth having given her dress to Barbossa and Jack without his hat and coat, each character is emotionally stripped bare. Johnny Depp comments on the DVD that Jack is indeed at his most raw during the island scene, and points out the lack of his hat and coat in relation to this. Although it obviously pains him to do so, Jack contradicts Elizabeth’s belief that he once managed a glorious escape from the island; he admits to her the actual, less-than-impressive nature of his escape, and doesn’t bother to adapt his usual swaggering confidence as he does so.
Later on in the scene, Elizabeth behaves in as unladylike a fashion as is possible to imagine: she swigs rum and stumbles around a campfire shouting out yo ho’s, every bit as much of a pirate as her companion. Although the final edit of the film plays up the sense that she is manipulating Jack in order to burn the rum and build a smoke signal, the deleted scene “No Truth At All” suggests that she and Jack were indeed drinking together. Regardless of how much Elizabeth’s actions in the scene are driven by manipulation, she and Jack are indeed joined in their desire for freedom within the scene. During Jack’s speech about “what a ship is,” she looks both genuinely interested and moved. There they are, stripped down more than they are in the individual presence of any other character both physically and emotionally, and what we’re shown, if only for a few seconds, is a meeting of the minds between two people who are, quite frankly, peas in a pod.
(It is interesting that when Will and Elizabeth finally do kiss at the end, Elizabeth has been reunited with her fancy dress and corset. But not quite as interesting as Will’s hat.)
Birds of a Feather
Well, this one is pretty basic. Chances are that anyone who’s read The Awakening for high school English has stumbled across this fact. Birds? Are a symbol. A very, very common symbol. For what, you ask?
Which is definitely rather fitting for our Mr. Sparrow and Miss Swann. It can be argued that what both Jack and Elizabeth desire most is freedom – the freedom to do what they want, to act the way they want to, not to have to answer to the confinement of society.
And really, it’s so basic that that’s all I can find to say about that, but I still thought it was worth mentioning. :)
Being submerged in water can be likened to a symbolic “baptism” for a character – according to How to Read Literature Like a Professor (er, not that I’m digging up my schoolbooks), it can symbolically mean rebirth or new identity.
What brings Jack and Elizabeth together?
And not only water, but being submerged in it.
When Elizabeth falls into the water, it’s because she is, quite literally, drowning: she’s being forced into a life that she doesn’t want in the slightest, and being faced with a proposal that will make that kind of life not only inevitable but imminent as well.
When Jack pulls her out of the water again, she is completely drenched. Physically, no trace of the reluctant lady is left, having been effectively destroyed by the water (Hat? Gone. Curls? Gone. Dress? Gone. Corset? Going.) – and from that point on, we are shown an Elizabeth that is clever, sassy, and well on her way to being kickass – it’s a far cry from the ladylike façade she was forced into assuming at the beginning part of the film.
Jack’s “baptism” is harder to pinpoint than Elizabeth’s, which is certainly more blatant; Jack is already pretty damn free, especially in comparison to Elizabeth, and therefore that isn’t quite applicable symbolically. There is a change, however: he jumps into the water a pirate, and comes out a (temporary) hero. How often do pirates cease their ship-stealing shenanigans to save a young lady, anyway? My guess is not very. This is the first point in the film where we’re shown that although he is a smarmy trickster, Jack Sparrow is a good man, and we can trust him. Pirate or not, he does save the girl – the girl he’s not even going to get – and it’s on a symbolic level as well as a surface one.
(On a DMC-related sidenote, fiction loves its irony, and water can also mean destruction in certain contexts. The disintegration of the Will/Elizabeth relationship can be perceived through the rain that destroys their wedding: a Noah’s Ark-esque flood that washes away the part of Elizabeth that wishes to be a lady and a wife and provides the capacity for her renewed taste for freedom. As if that weren’t enough, her wedding dress is later shown sinking to the depths of the ocean.)
This is actually me jumping back to my Film and/as Literature class that I took my junior year. Filmmakers tend to apply reddish lighting in order to communicate high emotion. Romance. Passion.
And, well, Jack and Elizabeth just so happen to both run around and sit by a fire. If the fire weren’t there, or if the scene took place during the day, it wouldn’t have nearly the same sense of intimacy between the characters. When there are literal sparks flying? It’s a pretty good sign that there’s some emotional sparkage going on as well.
Drink Up, Me Hearties
According to How to Read Literature Like a Professor, whenever people eat or drink together in fiction, it’s communion. Not communion in the church-on-Sundays, flesh-and-blood-of-Christ sense; according to my pal Foster, it’s more in the ‘community’ sense – “an act of sharing and peace.”
Thus, Jack, Elizabeth, and the rum-drinking?
Which, okay, seems a little obscure. But what Foster essentially communicates in this chapter is that eating or drinking together creates a strong bond between characters, one that is almost sacred, and all the more distressing when broken.
This is definitely applicable to Elizabeth and Jack in the rum scene – especially if the events in the deleted scene preceding it, “No Truth at All,” are taken into account as well. In the final cut of the film, we aren’t shown how, exactly, Elizabeth and Jack come to be drinking together. With “No Truth at All” taken into account, we’re shown that they take their first sips drinking to Will, in hopes of his survival; it then escalates into an almost-amiable conversation that eventually brings our pair to stumbling drunkenly around the fire yelling out the lyrics to “A Pirate’s Life For Me.”
Their conversation after dancing around the fire also suggests a moment of great connection between them: in fact, this may be the sole strongest characters-connecting-in-a-way-bearing-l
The rum-drinking scene’s primary function, then, is to bring Jack and Elizabeth together. (Granted, it does lead to their rescue, but according to the writers’ commentary, they at one time considered just cutting the island scenes altogether, so clearly they weren’t considered absolutely necessary in terms of plot.)
A Pirate’s Life for Me
The first lines of the film are lyrics from A Pirate’s Life for Me, as twelve-year-old Elizabeth sings it to herself.
Although it isn’t specified in the final cut of the film, it is established in the deleted scene “No Truth At All” that Elizabeth is the one who teaches Jack the song. Jack loves it, and the two of them seem to have quite a bit of fun singing it together on the island.
The final line of the film? A lyric from A Pirate’s Life for Me -- which, it isn’t a far stretch to assume, Jack most likely associates with Elizabeth to some degree. (I will refrain from putting “Now bring me that horizon” in a J/E context, since I’m sure that wasn’t the intention. Still – something unattainable that he will always devotedly strive for regardless? Oh, it’s hard to resist putting them together in acts of irrational fangirlishness.)
And so, because of the connection these characters forge, the film is allowed to come around properly full-circle, ending the way it began.
Kinda cool to think about, isn’t it? :)
And that would be it! (Finally, she shuts up.)
In conclusion – well, is it any wonder that the subtext became text in DMC?