Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is not a great movie but has some entertaining bits. But it’s also very long and at stretches boring, especially since it rehashes so many elements of the first movie which gets tired fast, including Jack Sparrow. Which is surprising since his character basically carried the first movie. I was also frustrated with the depiction of the Keira Knightley character who is supposed to have grown tough but a for a long scene just acts like a pouty girl while the men are fighting.That was annoying. On the other hand, I loved the design of Davey Jones and his crew so much that it almost saved the rest of the movie for me. No, to be clear, these characters are so well designed, produced and played that it’s worth seeing the movie for. The rest, not so much, since it’s mostly action set pieces that feel like action set pieces.

But there is one sequence that stands out, which is the cannibal sequence. I know there have been protests, but after seeing it again, I was struck just how awful and racist this part of the movie is. There are three issues here:

  1. Portraying an indigenous tribe as cannibalistic is problematic to me because it implies that all indigenous tribes are cannibals. The implication comes from the fact that not many indigenous tribes are ever depicted anywhere but when they are, chances are high that cannibalism is involved. Yes, there has been cannibalism among some indigenous tribes but to make it a general thing is like saying that all Europeans are homosexual or that all Asians like to commit suicide. There have been thousands of different tribes in the world and there are still many left (where our culture hasn’t made them extinct) but the existence of cannibalism has only been proven for a handful of them.
  2. The other problem is the way cannibalism is presented. It’s not shown as something ritualistic that is done on special occasions (sacrifice for religious reasons or to celebrate victory over a won battle) as it has been in those tribes that practiced it, but instead as simply people who love eating others. All the time. They can’t wait, really. You don’t have to think about that for longer than a second to realize that it makes no sense. Cannibalism cannot be part of any tribe’s daily life because how would that work? Nevertheless, the movie makes it clear that those people are just starving for human flesh.
  3. The tribe is also portrayed as essentially stupid. They are not civilized so they must be stupid. Jack Sparrow can tell them anything and they will do it.

When Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) lands on the island, he meets a parrot who says: “Don’t eat me.” Because, you know, the people on this island eat anything obviously, which further misrepresents any notion about cannibalism that is known. They are therefore (as also seen in their last shot with the dog) not just cannibals but just people who eat… ‘innocent things’? I don’t know, it’s so weird that the movie even throws animals in their appetite but only animals that our culture wouldn’t eat.

Jack Sparrow then, as I said, orders them around in, of course, a very silly sounding language (shup shup, bo liki liki) that he obviously acquired without a problem because, according to this movie’s stereotype, the language of savages must be so simple that any idiot can learn it (and abuse it). Which makes no sense again, if you know anything about indigenous languages, but there you go. Don’t even think about the fact that is simple language obviously has a word for ‘eunuch’ because, well, because it’s so outrageously funny. Oh, and of course they make Jack Sparrow their god because what else would savages willingly do with a white man? It’s not like they have thousands of years of cultural heritage.

The rest of the crew sits in cages made of bones, so they really must have a lot of people to eat on this remote island (and, no, don’t think about how they got into those cages hanging in a canyon, your head will start to hurt). Sparrow is handed a necklace of toes and fingers. This must be the first indigenous tribe in history to be taught what sustainability is. As excessive as they are they make themselves extinct very soon. When he tries to escape, they plan on eating him as it seems as a punishment although it is explained earlier that they wanted to eat him anyway. They then leave him alone but drop the torch next to him because, again, they are obviously stupid as hell. At one point you see an indigenous boy holding a metal fork and knife and, you know, what else do you need to know?

dead man's chest - necklace
dead man's chest - cutlery

Well, in the end the crew barely escapes the clutches of the savage cannibals so all that’s left for them to do is… to chase a dog? Why? Is he their new god now? Will he feed hundreds of people? Or are they again just so idiotic that they follow anything that looks edible? The answer is more or less given in the post-credits scene in which we see that the dog has become their new god. You have to imagine how many people thought that this is worth putting it in the end as the last scene before the last audience members leave. That’s their money shot in the end. A dog governing over a tribe of idiot savages. Compare it to the quite cool post-credits scene in the first movie and you’ll cry.

dead man's chest - dog

Thinking about that whole sequence, the ignorance the filmmakers display, the stereotypes they reinforce just for ‘”fun’” (double quotation marks deemed necessary here), the damage they do, makes me aware how much I hate that part and that it’s almost unforgivable. When rating this movie I try to be objective, just looking at the entertainment value, but I have to pretend this scene doesn’t exist to say in good conscience that the movie is okay. You can argue that it's just a silly Hollywood movie and that I'm overthinking it but that's exactly my point. A silly Hollywood movie that earns hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide transferring such an image to its audience is probably more harmful to the image of indigenous people as anything else. Imagine any movie would use the same portrayal for black people or Jews or even Arabs. But, hey, it’s just some savages, so who gives a fuck. We almost made them all extinct anyway.