Gender Roles - Women
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 3 Stars
Elizabeth is a confident woman with a stifled taste for adventure. She developed a curiosity about pirates as a young girl which she’s nurtured and kept hidden over the years. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s growth is fairly constrained by the time period of the film. She's forced into stiff dresses with corsets and her father is encouraging her to marry an older man whom she doesn’t love. It’s clear that she has a choice in the matter, but she is also practical enough to understand the implications of marrying below her status. She has her moments of rebellion and independence, and balances them as well as she can against the reality of her circumstances.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
The men in this film are frequently engaged in war and conflict. From the Commodore who aims to enforce the laws of Port Royale, to Captain Jack Sparrow who is seeking revenge against his traitorous first mate, to Will Turner who hopes to prove himself worthy of a woman who is clearly above his social class. Captain Barbosa is the only one among them who shows any signs of pain or remorse – and only due to the curse that’s befallen him. Will in particular is given a number of opportunities to express some form of sorrow or fear, such as when Elizabeth is captured or when he learns the true identity of his father. In both instances he reacts with stereotypical anger, rather than a more subtle, complicated mix of emotions.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2 Stars
Elizabeth is, of course, a beautiful woman costumed in fancy hats and dresses. Even after she’s captured, she’s given a long purple gown and her hair stays well in place. It’s noteworthy that the film touches upon the barbarity of corsets and even includes a scene in which Elizabeth gives into her hunger, abandoning the practice of dainty eating and digging into a hearty meal. Towards the end, she even forces herself into a pair of pants and a suitcoat to head off in search of Will. All of this helps to chip away at the myth of the impossibly flawless leading lady, but it doesn’t go far enough. Elizabeth simply isn’t given enough empowering personality traits to create the impression that she’s much more than a pretty face in need of rescue.
The film does contain one other woman, another pirate by the name of Anna Marie. Anna Marie seems confident and bullish enough to be Jack’s second in command, and might have been an impressive addition to the plot if she had been given more screen time.
Plot: 2.5 Stars (Spoilers)
Pirates of the Caribbean is largely focused on Captain Jack Sparrow’s quest to reclaim his ship, and unraveling the mystery of the curse of the Black Pearl. Elizabeth only comes into the fray be being captured - and even her captivity is based on the fact that Captain Barbosa mistakenly thinks that she’s the key to breaking the curse. She’s given some small opportunities to be heroic, such as signaling the ships when her and Jack become stranded and rushing to Will’s aid during the final battle with Captain Barbosa’s crew - but she is kept a prisoner for a large part of the film. She is, of course, brash and defiant when she’s held captive, but this is hardly enough to turn a damsel in distress into a hero.
To be fair, Elizabeth does what she can without stretching the bounds of believability for her social status and the time period. But hers is still a supporting role more than a heroic role. In the end, Jack reclaims his ship, Captain Barbosa is freed from his curse, and Will learns the truth about his identity and his past. Elizabeth’s only victory is in turning down a marriage proposal.
Character Development: 2 Stars
Elizabeth isn't given much background or history. She has a strange fascination with pirates that might have been used to develop her into a more intriguing character. But we’re never told where she hears her pirate stories and songs, or what it is about their adventures that piques her interest. Perhaps it’s the sense of freedom that Captain Jack Sparrow shares with her on the deserted island. Or the idea of seeing new worlds and meeting new people. But all we can do is guess. We know nothing about what kind of life Elizabeth envisioned for herself before the pirates came, or how Will Turner fits into her dreams. We know nothing about her missing mother or what makes her hurt and afraid. Action movies rarely develop their characters beyond basic plot points - and since Elizabeth’s role in the plot is fairly limited, so is her character.
Love: 2.5 Stars
The love story between Elizabeth and Will is more fairy tale than substance. They’re brought together over the course of their adventures with Captain Jack Sparrow, but there’s little opportunity for intimate moments in the midst of sword fights and cannon fire. As a result, we’re forced to fill in the gaps that the writers have left open and read some substance into the sparse details that we’ve been given.
We know, for example, that Will and Elizabeth met when they were children, and that they've kept up a loose relationship since then. We can see that there’s an obvious attraction between them, but it’s unclear what that attraction is based on. The film manages to make a rather unbelievable love story a bit more believable by simply suggesting that the characters have a rich history that pre-dates the adventure.
Unfortunately there’s little in the film itself that creates much of a foundation for romance.