Mermaids, messages, and musings on “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

After seeing it again recently, I have been considering the mermaids in Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides.  I have come up with two points.

1) This franchise continues to be obsessed with kisses.  I noted in the third movie how everyone who kissed Keira Knightley without her permission was pretty much about to die.  If she kissed them they survived.  Stranger Tides seems to have a similar thing going on with the mermaid host.  The sailors lure them by singing about abandoning everything for love.  When the first mermaid arrives she sings some of it back and asks a sailor if he’ll be her “jolly sailor bold.”  However, then the sailor goes on a rant about how he’ll have a kiss from a real, goddamn mermaid!  Clearly, in his head he wants his kiss to be something of his to possess, to control, and does not care for the consent or thoughts of the mermaid.  Therefore, when his kiss occurs it is immediately taken out of his control, drawing his blood and costing him his life.  This seems to be what the mermaids expect-to be taken as objects of lust, in which case they turn the tables (and the boats) on the sailor swains.  You do not kiss a woman without her consent in these films if you want to live.  Philip, of course, has no thoughts of gaining pleasures of the flesh from the encounter.  Hence, a mermaid finds his life worth saving.

2) Philip is actually a foil for Angelica.  Syrena is one for Blackbeard.  Angelica is constantly trying to control her father’s actions in an attempt to save his soul.  Even though she can’t materially change him, Angelica continues to try and turn Blackbeard into a different man through artificial means, hoping that it will take and make him the ‘safe’ father she wants.  Likewise, Philip is constantly taking control of Syrena when she’s on land, in order to turn her into simply what he wants her to be.  Physically, he literally takes charge of her body.  He pronounces judgement over her multiple times-first as a deadly mermaid who attacked him, then as a pure mermaid, and lastly as “surely one of God’s own creations.”   All of this is without the mermaid’s permission.  Because if he wants to love her, then of course she “must be” what he thinks he should love.  She must be ‘safe.’   He even gives her the name “Syrena”, for crying out loud.  Both Syrena and Blackbeard go along with their self-appointed helpers for reasons never fully plumbed.  On the surface, both are getting something out of it.  Blackbeard has someone to get him to the Fountain of Youth and Syrena has an ally among her captors.

At about the same time in the story, the two relationships gain complications in different ways.  Angelica realizes her father might not hold her as dear to his heart as she’d like.  One could argue that since she holds Blackbeard’s soul more dear to her than Blackbeard actually is, he is justified.  On the other hand, Philip realizes there is real affection in his relationship with Syrena.  Since Philip’s been fairly assuming with her, this just shows Syrena’s inner beauty and tolerance.  Both these instances show the real personality of the heretofore subordinate character coming out.  Blackbeard’s lack of heart directly mirrors Syrena’s emotional strength.  Both Angelica and Philip find themselves taken aback, less sure of where they stand in their relationships.

These couples’ endings also reflect one another.  Both Syrena and Blackbeard rise to complete power in these partnerships at the end of the movie.  However, while Blackbeard uses that power to try and manipulate Angelica into giving him what he wants, pretending it’s the way to get what she wants for him, Syrena offers Philip ‘salvation.’  Angelica allows herself to be tricked-by Blackbeard and Sparrow, and winds up alone and unhappy.  Philip, on the other hand, acknowledges that Syrena is now the one with true power, instead of lying to himself the way Angelica does.  Because he is willing to give in to that power and let Syrena take the lead in their partnership, he is awarded with a kiss…and a new world.  Given the Pirates of the Caribbean‘s rules of kissing, I believe that Philip lives.  After all, she kisses him.

 

If you try to force your perceptions of someone onto them, you will wind up at the mercy of their world.  Angelica can’t admit this and had a near miss.  She will need therapy about her family.  If you are willing to change your perceptions, to truly accept that other person, however…what mysteries might you uncover?  Philip makes the change.  As the ultimate message of On Stranger Tides, I like it.  After all, you cannot simply love yourself-even if you do get the opportunity to kiss someone dressed just like you.  But can you truly tolerate someone else’s differences?  Or will you simply refuse to see them?  The real Stranger Tides here are the personalities of people we want to love.  You have to be willing to sail them.

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