' Cinema Romantico: I Want to be Captain Jack Sparrow

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I Want to be Captain Jack Sparrow

(This is an “unreleased” essay I wrote a few years ago. I was inspired to post it here after seeing someone dressed in the costume of the above-mentioned movie character at a Halloween costume wedding reception this past weekend. Can you say Greatest Costume Ever?)

I want to be Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s just that simple.

For those not in the so-called loop, Captain Jack Sparrow is the character portrayed by Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean”. And let me be as blunt as I can – Johnny Depp should win an Oscar for this performance. It’s cut and dried – no questions – I’m right and if you disagree you’re wrong. The cinema was invented to provide a place for things such as Johnny Depp’s creation here. The level of his acting is so high he is the first actor to seriously contend with the Olympus Mons of comedic feats – George C. Scott in “Dr. Strangelove”. In fact, it may be the finest turn by anyone, in any genre, of the last 10 years.

Captain Jack’s entrance to the film is the stuff of screen legend. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who may not have seen it but let’s just say it stands with the likes of Harry Lime appearing in the doorway in “The Third Man” and Henry Fonda emerging from the underbrush in “Once Upon a Time in the West”. It also signals the way Depp will be playing his character.

The fact is comic acting is much trickier and in many cases far more subtle than dramatic acting. You can’t afford to wink at yourself or at the movie when in a comedy. And never once does Depp wink. What his character is doing through the course of the entire film is – to the character – completely earnest. Or as the esteemed film critic Roger Ebert once wrote, “People trying to be funny are never as funny as people trying to serious and failing.” And Captain Jack Sparrow is trying hard to be serious though his clear indulgences with rum and too much time spent in the sun has left him a bit wobbly – and funny, though he doesn’t know it.

Let’s examine the scene in which Captain Jack Sparrow is on the verge of being hanged. Most actors would go overboard the wrong way – either they would get too morose or start tossing off nervous one-liners. But Depp keeps his character the way it’s been all along. They read off a list of the Captain’s misdeeds and when he is reminded of his impersonation of a clergyman what does the Captain do? He chuckles with delight at this remembrance – even though he’s about to be tied up in a noose. That’s brilliant, and that’s the key. Never betray your character.

But my yearning to be Captain Jack Sparrow goes above and beyond Johnny Depp’s acting abilities. No, Captain Jack Sparrow’s life is one we can all idolize. He just sails around in search of adventure, constantly clinging to a bottle of rum, and occasionally sleeping with a prostitute missing a few teeth.

I often desire the search for adventure. The dream of taking a road trip without purpose or aim is what helps to maintain my sanity. Captain Jack Sparrow’s entire life is that road trip. I also think anyone that knows me should be well aware of my fantasies to mince about all day with a bottle of rum. Who among us wouldn’t have that fantasy? And what of sleeping with a prostitute missing a few teeth? I can’t get a woman with teeth so what’s one without a few? It’s a woman, that’s what. I’ll take it, sir.

“Hey,” you’re saying right now, “he’s just a movie character. He's make-believe”. That’s precisely the point. Freedom is make-believe, as far as I'm concerned, and I yearn to have it – just like Captain Jack Sparrow. Ahead of him are sharks and, maybe, the gallows. Behind him is the pursuing British army. But as long as you remember to put the Captain before his name, he’ll be okay. Even when he’s stranded on the island and death is staring him in the face, what’s his response? “Ah, the hell with it. Let’s drink rum.”

So if a cool guy ever wants to rumble at the bar, I’ll dash to the bathroom, apply a smattering of eye-liner, and recite in my finest pirate dialect, “You forgot one important thing, mate. I’m Captain Jack Sparrow.” And then the cool guy will beat the snot out of me.

And then I’ll order a rum and Coke.


Elizabeth Swan: "So that's it? That's the secret? The grand adventurer, the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow, all he did was lay on a beach for three days drinking rum?"
Captain Jack Sparrow: "Welcome to the Caribbean, love."

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