Friday, May 25, 2007

Piracy and Immortality: At Worlds End

Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightley and Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End

If there is anything that I enjoy as much as watching movies with flesh-eating zombies, it's watching movies with another kind of popular Hollywood monster, pirates. I just sat through the opening night of the third film in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, At Worlds End. If you have no idea what I am talking about, read some background here and here. In summary, old friends Will Turner, Captain Barboza, and Elizabeth Swann go on a swash-buckling adventure to rescue the consumed-by-a-Kraken, Captain Jack Sparrow and make the world "safe" for piracy (In this film criminality represents "freedom") while old villains like the octopus-headed Davey Jones and the capitalism-run-amok, East India Trading Company try to stop them. Along the way there are all kinds of strange, funny, silly, and frankly boring things that go on that I won't mention in this post in case you might want to watch this movie. I did not like At Worlds End, even the sword fighting that brings out my inner eight year old got tiresome after awhile (maybe I'm getting old). However, watching this movie did give me a chance to apply some Baha'i thinking to a film, something I really enjoyed doing with 28 Weeks Later. There's actually a lot in this movie (like the previous two installments) that addresses death and immortality. There's lots of people in the film who either are dead, on their way to being dead, come back from the dead or are trying to avoid being dead. You could say there is an "un-dead" element to this film actually, though everyone is so good looking a zombie would be quite jealous. One of the many plots lines in this convaluted picture is that in order to kill Davey Jones, you have to take his place as Captain of his supernatural ship the Flying Dutchman. The bad news is that you have to do this forever and ferry the dead from this world to the next and only get to come ashore for one day every ten years. The good news is that you get to live forever. One of the characters who is brought back from the dead thinks this is a good deal and spends most of his time plotting to kill Jones and inherit his immortality. Another is willing to kill Jones for the sake of freeing his father from being a slave on the Dutchman but knows that he will have to give up the woman he loves. Jones, who is shown to be a tortured and literally "heartless" villain has a signature phrase that he says before dispatching an enemy, "Do you fear death?" If you answer is yes, you get offered a chance to be part of his crew for 100 years and delay the inevitable. If you say no, he makes you exit from this world quick and brutal. Jone's question is a provocative one and worth thinking hard about. If he asked me I would probably say "no" or "sometimes", but the real issue is not that I fear death but that I fear the responsibility that comes with life and the possibility that I will fail to live up to it. As a Baha'i I understand myself to have been created by God to inhabit this world for a short time (relatively speaking) and use my human experience as an opportunity to develop the powers and capacity of the soul that will be necessary for my "rebirth" in the new world and my eternal journey from God to God. The immortality of my soul is not so much in question as the condition that it will be in when I leave, which is ultimately up to me to a degree that nothing else in my entire life is. This is one of the many statements that Baha'u'llah makes about the soul that is at once reassuring and terrifying:

"Thou hast asked Me concerning the nature of the soul. Know, verily, that the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel. It is the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, to cleave to His truth, and to bow down in adoration before Him. If it be faithful to God, it will reflect His light, and will, eventually, return unto Him. If it fail, however, in its allegiance to its Creator, it will become a victim to self and passion, and will, in the end, sink in their depths."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 158)

The key word for me in this statement is "if". So do I fear death? Not so much since becoming a Baha'i. What I do fear is the "if" inherent in the human experience in this world.

What do you think reader?