Now that the dust has settled from the release of the third film in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, it seems many fans have found themselves confused by the story, claiming that plot is convoluted with excessive and hard-to-follow rules, curse terms, mathematical calculations, and other situational variables.
It is my hope to clear up some of this confusion, and shed light on what is really quite a simple story.
First, let’s revisit The Curse of the Black Pearl, where we meet our heroes and villains for the first time. As we begin our journey, it’s already ten years after the meat of the story occurred.
Ten years ago, Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew on the Black Pearl sailed the seven seas, pillaging gold and Pieces of Eight to the nines. At this point, Jack hears about a hidden chest of Aztec gold coins, albeit cursed. Being the infinitely greedy pirate that he is, he ignores the curse, and tells his first mate Barbossa about the whereabouts of said gold and finds himself marooned on an island after being thrown off deck by mutiny.
Eight years later, Will, the twelve year old son of Bootstrap Bill Turner, is found by Governer Swann and his eleven-year-old daughter Elizabeth (currently engaged to a three-star Captain Norrington four years her senior), holding a single medallion of Aztec gold around his neck left by Bill eight years ago in hopes of preserving the curse upon his fellow crew of fifty pirates that he’s at moral odds with hundredfold. Through a course of seventeen events that couldn’t be simpler, Captain Jack, who has since gone insane with hatred and escaped his desert island, stumbles upon the medallion and realizes its connection to his ship, sending him on a freshly awakened quest to reclaim the Pearl.
As the first film draws to a close, Will, Elizabeth, and Jack form a trio of sorts, putting them at odds with the forces against them twenty-four-seven. As they realize that the blood of the descendant must be shed on the Aztec gold in order to lift the curse, the trio kill two birds with one stone by evading the authorities and outwitting the cursed buccaneers, eventually concluding that it’s basically six of one, half dozen of the other.
This all brings us to the second film in the trilogy, Dead Man’s Chest, where everything starts to become perfectly clear.
As Dead Man’s Chest begins, the East India Trading Company has monopolized trade in the Caribbean and has vowed to eliminate its greatest monetary threat of piracy. As our young couple Will and Elizabeth (remember them?) prepare for their wedding, Lord Beckett has labeled them an aid to renowned pirate Jack Sparrow and has threatened to execute both lovers unless they retrieve Jack’s magical compass. Simple enough.
Meanwhile, we learn that for the last thirty-three months, Jack has been held on a cannibal-inhabited island after being visited by Bootstrap Bill delivering the black spot, and is now an indentured sailor aboard Captain Davy Jones’ ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman. Thirteen years prior, Jones raised the Black Pearl from the locker in exchange for Jack’s promised servitude on the Dutchman for one hundred years. As Jack has been vainly searching for the key that leads to untold riches, his magical compass has failed him seventy-two times since does not know what he truly wants, and therefore cuts a deal with Will to trade the broken compass in exchange for finding the secret key with the assistance of the voodoo priestess Tia Dalma eighty-five miles away. Will agrees to the deal.
So that’s clear.
When Will and Jack meet Tia Dalma, she informs them that they key unlocks the chest to Davy Jones’ beating heart, which he carved out of his body fifty-five years ago after losing his first love of fifteen years, burying it in a secret location. Whoever possesses the heart controls Davy Jones, thereby controlling the seven seas. Afterwards, back at sea on the Flying Dutchman, Jones demands one hundred souls within three days for Jack’s freedom and keeps Will as collateral. Perfectly logical.
Back in Port Royal, Governor Swann frees jailed Elizabeth, validating a Letter of Marque, with which Beckett intends to recruit Sparrow as a privateer, which Elizabeth wants for Will. (Of course.) Elizabeth stows away and lands in Tortuga, finding Jack and Gibbs recruiting crew members to overthrow a disheveled Norrington, who blames Sparrow for his ruin. Escaping the mob to Isla Cruces, Jack, Norrington, and Elizabeth find the Dead Man’s Chest with Will, who’s escaped the Flying Dutchman with the help of his father Bootstrap Bill. For reasons that are crystal, Will reveals his intention to stab the heart in order to free his father, and a three-way duel erupts between Jack, Norrington, and Will, ultimately nullified the by the Letter of Marque’s documentation.
So that’s that.
Later, the Flying Dutchman pursues the Pearl downwind to outrun it, and summons the Kraken. In a final assault with the Kraken, Elizabeth deceptively kisses Jack while unknowingly being seen by the valiant Will, handcuffing him to the mast. Escaping the ship, Elizabeth joins the others as Jack is taken by the Kraken with the Pearl to Davy Jones’ Locker.
That may be where people are getting confused. But it’s then revealed, if you’ve been paying attention:
Davy Jones witnesses this from six hundred yards away and declares his debt unsettled. Norrington then makes his way to Port Royal to deliver the heart and the Letter of Marque to Beckett, while Will, Elizabeth, and the remaining Pearl crew members seek refuge with Tia Dalma, who proposes saving Jack from Davy Jones’ locker. When they all agree, Barbossa comes down the stairs eating an apple and is declared through implication to be their new captain.
This elegantly simple sequence of events sets us up for At World’s End, the third film in the trilogy. It is in this film that all the loose ends are tied up, all the gaps filled, and nothing is left misunderstood.
Our third film naturally begins in Singapore. It’s a given that Beckett has declared war on piracy, and has commanded Davy Jones to destroy all pirate ships. As we already know by now, the Nine Pirate Lords comprising the Brethren Court have been summoned to Shipwreck Cove, yet the late Captain Jack Sparrow is marooned in the afterlife of Davy Jones’ Locker and poses the problem of absenteeism, which really throws a monkey wrench into the picture since it’s already been established that his presence is critical to the juncture.
As most of us have been suspecting, Pirate Lord Sao Feng has been holding Will captive for burglary, with obvious intentions to attack the bathhouse before the East India Trading Company soldiers get there while Feng barters to Beckett for Sparrow. After the ensuing chaos, the crew journey through a familiar frozen sea to reach World’s End via a waterfall and encounter the insane Jack who’s hallucinating about giant crabs and self-recursion.
To further clarify the issue, Tia Dalma reveals to Barbossa and the others that Jones was appointed by his sea lover Calypso, and has been left to ferry lost souls between the world of the living and the world of the dead. As Elizabeth sees the soul of her father pass by on a dinghy, she rightfully deduces his murder by Beckett, and distraughtly vows to avenge his death.
Meanwhile, the chart we’ve all been talking about reveals a green flash on the horizon, signifying a soul returning to Earth. When Jack deciphers a clue on it, he finally realizes the ship must be capsized to escape the Locker. (Duh.) The ship is overturned at sunset in an emerald light, where it’s discovered that the Kraken is, of course, dead. And although we saw it coming from a mile away, it’s spelled out that Sao Feng has betrayed Will to make a deal with Beckett, yet Beckett has, as we’ve noted earlier, already double-crossed Feng. In retaliation, Feng gives the Pearl to Barbossa in exchange for Elizabeth, while Jack is taken prisoner aboard the Endeavor where Beckett leads the fleet to shipwreck cove. Jack luckily escapes.
So at least we’re all on the same page.
Aboard the Empress, Feng informs Elizabeth that the first Brethren Court entrapped Calypso in human form to control the seven seas. When the Brethren Court rejected Barbossa’s proposal to free Calypso, Admiral James Norrington and company agree to elect a “Pirate King” during “parlay”. However, and here’s where it gets a little confusing even for those of us who haven’t been hiding under a rock, the crew finds themselves in a really big sea storm, which greatly complicates matters.
But hang in there. We’re almost done.
As the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman clash head on, Davy Jones mortally wounds Bootstrap Bill. Jack grabs the heart, Will dies, and the crew carve his heart and put it in the Dead Man’s Chest. Although Will has been saved, the Dutchman crew have regained their humanity, yet must spend ten years in the netherworld ferrying souls to the other side. Will and Elizabeth have twenty-four hours to consummate their love, after which Will entrusts her with his heart and returns to his task at hand. As Barbossa commandeers the Black Pearl to search for the Fountain of Youth using Feng’s chart, Jack’s in a dinghy getting the last laugh with the chart’s center, and is now on his own personal quest for immortality.
So, as you can see, it really couldn’t be simpler after we sort out a few details. First, there’s the hundred souls we use as our starting point, which, when you take the square root of that, leaves us with ten. And if you think about it, it was ten years before the trilogy began that the original Black Pearl mutiny occurred, as well as the length of time the Dutchman crew must ferry souls in the netherworld. So we take our ten, minus the one captain (or one heart, take your pick), leaving us with nine, as in the Nine Pirate Lords. Subtract the two lovers, and we’re sailing the seven seas. Seven squared is obviously forty-nine, and forty-nine minus the Nine Pirate Lords gives us the forty years that the Flying Dutchman Crew is cursed to sail with Davy Jones. Now that we’re at forty, we divide that by the Pieces of Eight, giving us an even five. Five divided by the three films in the trilogy is one, carry the two.
And the two minutes of screen time they gave Keith Richards alone was worth the price of admission.