Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

At Oak Grove, we want to train students in biblical discernment in their lives. One of the practical ways we can do that is with media. When it comes to media, many people simply consume, unaware of the sub-messages being communicated, or they may decide to withhold from the “secular” realm altogether. I believe that there is a spectrum between secular and sacred, rather than separate black and white categories, which means that all media speaks to “supernatural” and our collective perspective of the human condition. In a sense, movies could be characterized as America’s storytellers. Not only do Hollywood films reflect certain commonly held attitudes and beliefs about what it means to be American, but they also portray contemporary trends, issues, and events, serving as records of the eras in which they were produced. Do we pay attention to what is communicated in media and the influence that it has on our lives?

We want to create an environment where students will be trained to interact with media constructively and critically. Instead of running away – engaging it, while being careful to filter what needs to be filtered. As a Pastor, I cannot make a list of what is allowed and disallowed for students and have them honor it. As parents, we could make rules, but they may break them without understanding the why behind the rules. Instead, students need to learn how to make those boundaries themselves. If we do not model that for them at church, at home, and at youth group, how are they going to learn it? For this reason, we schedule nights of “film and theology” whereas a group, we will watch a movie, then spend 30 minutes after discussing the sub-messages found within. Conversations about media, consumption, holiness, and Christianity will be a continual thread through Oak Grove Student Ministry.   

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) – Here’s What You Need to Know


As Governor Weatherby Swann and his twelve-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, sail to Port Royal, Jamaica, their vessel, HMS Dauntless encounters a shipwreck with a sole survivor, the young Will Turner, floating among the wreckage. Elizabeth finds and hides a gold medallion she found around the unconscious Will’s neck, fearing he would be accused of piracy. She then glimpses a ghostly pirate ship (the Black Pearl), disappearing into the mist.

Eight years later Captain James Norrington of the British Royal Navy is promoted to Commodore. At his ceremony, he proposes to Elizabeth. Before she is able to answer, her over-tightened corset causes her to faint and fall off the rampart, tumbling into the bay. The medallion she is wearing emits a mysterious pulse through the water.

Meanwhile, pirate Captain Jack Sparrow has arrived in Port Royal to commandeer a ship. Seeing Elizabeth fall, he rescues her, but Norrington recognizes him as the notorious pirate and he is arrested. He escapes and ducks into a blacksmith shop where he encounters Will Turner, now a blacksmith’s apprentice and self-taught expert swordsman. Following a sword fight with Turner, Sparrow is knocked unconscious and jailed, set to be hanged the next day. That night, Port Royal is besieged by the Pearl, answering the medallion’s mysterious call. Elizabeth is captured and invokes parley an agreement ensuring one’s safety until meeting and negotiating with the opposing side. Not wishing to reveal that she’s the Governor’s daughter, Elizabeth tells Captain Barbossa her surname is Turner. She negotiates for the pirates to cease the attack on Port Royal in exchange for the medallion. Barbossa agrees but, employing a loophole in their agreement, keeps Elizabeth prisoner, believing she is the key to breaking an ancient curse they are under.

When Commodore Norrington refuses to take immediate action, Will, who loves Elizabeth, persuades Captain Jack Sparrow to help him rescue her in exchange for freeing him from jail. Jack agrees only after learning Will’s last name is Turner. After commandeering the HMS Interceptor Jack and Will recruit a crew in Tortuga with help from Jack’s old friend, Gibbs, a former boatswain in the Royal Navy. They set sail for Isla de Muerta, a mysterious island Jack knows the pirates will go to in order to break the curse.

While on route, Will learns about Jack’s past. He was once the captain of the Pearl, but when he shared the bearings to a hidden chest of Aztec gold coins, First Mate Barbossa instigated a mutiny and marooned Jack on an island. Jack escaped three days later. The pirates found and spent the treasure, but soon learned it was cursed and had turned them into near-immortal skeletal beings whose true forms are only revealed in moonlight. The curse can only be lifted when every coin and each pirate’s blood is returned to the chest. William “Bootstrap Bill” Turner, Jack’s only supporter, sent a coin to his son, Will, believing the crew should remain cursed for what they did to Jack. Barbossa had Bootstrap tied to a cannon and thrown overboard, only to realize later that his blood is also needed to break the curse; a Turner relative must now take his place.

In a cave full of treasure on Isla de Muerta, Barbossa, believing Elizabeth is Bootstrap’s child, anoints the last coin with her blood and drops it into the chest, unsurprisingly, the curse remains unbroken.

Reaching the island, Will suspects Sparrow may betray him and knocks him out. He rescues Elizabeth, and they escape to the Interceptor. Jack barters with Barbossa saying he will reveal Bootstrap’s real child in exchange for the Pearl. Jack’s negotiations come to naught, however, when the Pearl pursues the Interceptor, sinking her and taking the crew captive. Will reveals that he is Bootstrap Bill’s son and demands that Elizabeth and the crew be freed, or he will shoot himself and fall overboard, lost forever. Barbossa agrees but craftily applies another loophole and maroons Elizabeth and Jack on a deserted island (the same island Jack was on ten years before) and throws Jack’s crew into the brig. Will is taken to Isla de Muerta for the ritual. On the island, Elizabeth discovers the truth behind how Jack really got off the island. The island that Jack was imprisoned on was used as a cache by rum runners, who are long since out of business.

Elizabeth burns an abandoned cache of rum to create a signal fire that is spotted by Norrington. She convinces Norrington to rescue Will by accepting his earlier marriage proposal. Returning to Isla de Muerta, Norrington sets an ambush outside the cave while Jack goes inside and persuades Barbossa to form an alliance. He tells him to delay breaking the curse until after they have taken the Dauntless and killed the crew. Jack then removes a coin from the chest, rendering himself immortal. But whatever Jack’s actual intent is, his plan goes awry when Barbossa orders his crew to infiltrate the Dauntless from underwater. Elizabeth infiltrates the Pearl, frees Jack’s crew and destroys the two pirates guarding it. She tries to enlist the crew’s help, but they refuse and make off with the Pearl while Elizabeth heads to the island to aid Will. Elizabeth saves Will and together they destroy the three cursed pirate guards while Jack, immortal, reveals his true allegiance and battles Barbossa. Jack tosses his bloodied coin to Will, who returns the last two medallions to the chest, adding his own blood to his, breaking the curse. Jack then shoots Barbossa in the heart with the shot he had saved for ten years. No longer immortal, the wounded Barbossa falls dead. Realizing they are no longer cursed, the now-mortal pirates surrender to the navy.

Back in Port Royal, Jack is about to be executed. Believing Jack deserves to live, Will rescues him. Both are quickly captured, but Elizabeth lends her support and declares her love for Will. Will is granted yet another pardon (having been previously cleared of stealing the Interceptor) and is allowed to marry Elizabeth with the blessing of Norrington and Governor Swann. Jack escapes by leaping (falling) from the fort and into the bay. His crew, who escaped with the Pearl, rescues him and makes him Captain. Norrington is impressed enough to allow him one day’s head start before giving pursuit.

Parental Guidance:

Rated PG-13 for action/adventure violence.

2 hours 23 mintues

Positive Elements

The pirate “code of parlez” (French for “speak”) gives otherwise merciless pirates the opportunity to show grace to their captives. Elizabeth first invokes it when she’s captured by leering, jeering riff-raff fresh off the Black Pearl and is given an audience with its captain (going from the proverbial frying pan into the fire).

Although a bit sappy and doting, Gov. Swann is obviously a loving, caring (and inexplicably single) dad who places his daughter’s happiness high on the priority scale.

When asked by Sparrow how far he’s willing to go to save the kidnapped Elizabeth, Turner unhesitatingly replies, “I’d die for her.” He proves himself a man of his word as he repeatedly puts his life on the line for the woman he loves.

Spiritual Elements

A great deal of superstitious fear surrounds the Black Pearl, described by one sailor in hushed whispers as, “a ship with black sails, crewed by the damned and captained by a man so evil hell itself spit him back out.” Except, in the context of the story, it’s not superstition. Captain Barbossa tells the captive Elizabeth about how angry heathen gods hexed a stolen chest of Aztec gold: Any mortal that removed more than a single piece would be punished for eternity. He and his greedy crew have brought the curse down on themselves by spending all the coins but one, and now are imprisoned in the realm of the undead until every coin is returned to the chest and blood from a certain pirate’s line is spilt upon it.

Christian families looking for modern-day parables will find a parallel between the pagan gods’ requirement of blood to lift the curse of the Black Pearl to God’s requirement for His own Son’s blood sacrifice to lift the curse of sin and death from mankind. But these waters get muddy pretty quickly, and that lesson is mostly obscured by the symbols of evil that surround it.

Sexual Content

There’s a whole lot of skirt-chasing going on at the pirates’ hideout. Pirates cavort with busty ladies, prompting Sparrow to remark, “If every town in the world were like this one, no man would ever feel unwanted.” A rum-sodden sailor, though, doesn’t even notice when a woman repeatedly lifts her skirts behind his head. A romantically unattached man is asked if he’s a eunuch. Barbossa speaks of frittering treasure away on women, and the curse that’s left him and his men with lust so strong that “all the pleasurable company in the world cannot slake it.” He later longs for the “warmth of a woman’s flesh.”

Both society women and pirate playthings reveal lots of cleavage common to that period’s apparel. Elizabeth is forced to remove her dress (revealing modest undergarments) in front of the pirate crew. A woman is rescued from drowning by a pirate who rips her dress and corset off to allow her to breathe, but the scene is more sensational than sexual. Elizabeth pulls Turner’s hand to her breast before placing it on his medallion that she’s been wearing around her neck.

Violent Content

The movie is quite violent with a large body count, though there’s not a lot of blood. Much of the mayhem involves undead pirates who turn skeletal in the moonlight. People get shot at close range and run through with swords. There are hangings and a few slit throats. A pirate gets showered with glowing embers from a bed-warming pan. Another gets hit in the belly by a cannon ball. Yet another pulls out his wooden eye by the flying fork that’s pierced it. Ships fire cannons at each other and at a coastal town. Buildings and ships are seen burning.

Sparrow and Turner engage in a sword fight (no one gets hurt). Sparrow takes it in stride when his face gets slapped by two women scorned and another whose ship he stole. He holds a woman at gunpoint to make an escape. Both Elizabeth and Will, at separate times, are threatened with knives held to their throats. Three skeletons hang under the sign “Pirates Ye Beware” at a cove entrance.

Perhaps the most egregious violence is Barbossa’s rough treatment of Elizabeth. He slaps her unconscious when she won’t answer his question, and makes her walk the plank. In turn, she shoots him and stabs him in the chest, but no harm’s done since he’s undead.

A pirate explains the custom of offering a marooned pirate a gun with a single bullet: “That won’t be much good for huntin’ or to be rescued. After three weeks of starvin’ and thirst, that pistol starts to look real friendly,” then demonstrates by holding fingers to his temple.

Crude or Profane Language

The British profanity “bloody” is uttered frequently, even by the “refined” Miss Swann. God’s name is used lightly in a couple of spots, as is “Mary, mother of god.” The noun hell and the adjective damned are used properly several times; “d–n” is also used improperly once. The words “bastard” and “bejesus” pepper pirate language.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Pirates engage in typical rum swilling. Marooned with Elizabeth, Sparrow unearths a cache of rum and drinks lavishly; Elizabeth dupes him into thinking she’s matching him drink for drink until he passes out. She also rebuffs his flirtations by telling him they “haven’t drank enough yet for that kind of talk.” Elizabeth accepts a glass of wine from Barbossa. A drunken man is seen passed out from his boozing.

Other Negative Components

When Elizabeth refuses to don a gown of Barbossa’s choice and dine with him, he threatens to make her eat dinner with the crew … naked. (She hastily acquiesces and puts on the contested dress.)

Unlike “parlez,” another pirate code is much less gentlemanly, calling for them to abandon crewmates who fall behind in battle.

Sparrow, Will and Elizabeth make liberal use of situation ethics: the end justifies the often questionable and downright unacceptable means. When all is said and done, crime goes unpunished and the main characters sail off into the sunset (some literally; others figuratively).

Leader Notes

What looks like an easy moral relativism in Curse of the Black Pearl (dir. Verbinkski 2003), with the bad guys actually the good guys, and the possibility that a character can be “a scallywag” and “a good man” at the same time, is made possible by the film’s upending of dominant value systems, built, I think quite intentionally, on a Christian model. A bridge too far? Perhaps. But imagine how incredulous a pitch this movie must once have been. It’s a feature-length film from a children’s water-park attraction that opened in the 1960s, and to make it, they wanted huge financing, A-list actors, and boats-full of special effects. Every producer, financier, director, or editor who heard the pitch must’ve stared with the same look of disbelief and then some version of “yes, it sounds fun, but what will it be about?” In the end, they made it about that look of incredulity, and therefore about belief. And to do that, they made Pirates a supernatural story set in the “real world” that helps us to grasp the spiritual realities that those drowning in the real tend to deny.

Legalism & Lawlessness. In Pirates, Law, Class, and Expectations are a huge theme. Today, as Christians, we know that God’s law is there to guide us to Christ, a mirror to show us to God. It shows our sinfulness. As Christians, we often fall to legalism, but with Christ the law is fulfilled. That does not mean that we are under the law, nor are we without law, but we are under the law of Christ. Often the intent of “the law” is more important than the law itself.

The governor says that Elizabeth shouldn’t talk about Pirates because it will not be good for her. But yet, parents ought to talk to kids about issues that they will be introduced to. To jump on Elizabeth when she says the word “pirate” does not keep her from her interest in pirates.


We’re all under the curse of sin, and the only sacrifice that will lift it is the blood of Jesus Christ.

Questions for Discussion

  • How did the pirates came under the curse in the first place?
  • How eager were the pirates to have their curse lifted? How do you know?
  • What was required to lift the curse the pirates were under?
  • Why didn’t the pirates’ plan work? What was wrong with their sacrifice of Elizabeth’s blood?
  • Enough of make-believe pirate stories for a moment. We’re all under a very real curse in this life. Do you know what it is and the punishment it carries with it? (Gen 3, Rom 3)
  • How did we become cursed?
  • Read Galatians 3:1-13
  • Why does Paul call the Galatian church people “fools”?
  • According to verses 10, why are we under a curse?
  • In the movie, the pirates went about lifting the curse in the wrong way and failed. How does Paul say that you and I try to lift the curse in the wrong way and fail?
  • Why is it that Jesus is the only One who can lift the curse of sin and death from us?