It's Time To Talk About THAT Pirates of the Caribbean Wedding
The most informal of informal essays. For the purpose of this piece, the fourth and fifth Pirates of the Caribbean films do not exist.
Although the films are beloved, the general consensus is that the third installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, At World's End (2007), is...questionable at best. Despite the litany of reasons one could argue that this film was Not That Good, the iconic rain-soaked wedding of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner is not one of them. Quite the opposite, it's one of the few aspects of the movie that most viewers can't complain about.
At first glance, these two crazy kids getting married in the midst of a hurricane while they fight undead fish people in an epic battle is both incredibly fitting, and incredibly "awwww" inducing. After surviving begrudging partnerships with pirates, various imprisonments, a crashed wedding, a few proposals from Elizabeth's many suitors, travelling to an afterlife ruled by an angsty organ playing squid-person and back, AND an undead monkey, Will and Elizabeth finally get to make their love official. Surely this isn't anything but a beautifully pirate-y tale of devotion and love.....until you think about its context and implications, and then it's terrible writing and meaningless spectacle. Oops.
Let's unpack that last, terribly flippant statement I made. Why shouldn't Will and Elizabeth have gotten married?
To start, this "couple" have spent 2/3 movies apart, hardly speaking, and keeping secrets from each other (Elizabeth killing our favourite pirate Captain, Will's borderline obsessive plans to free his father, his scheming with Beckett and Sao Feng, Elizabeth's lust, love, newfound feelings for Jack) They've grown apart or, I think, have always been vastly different without realizing it, and it's made quite clear that they want different things by the third movie.
Does "Curiosity" ring a bell for anyone??
Elizabeth is curious about the world, she wants to do what she wants to do because she wants it. A landlocked life of being the governor's daughter and being doted upon by Will while constricted by a corset (and society) just won't work for her anymore. And Will, he never wanted to be a pirate, the only reason he ever set foot on a ship in these movies was for Elizabeth, and then for his father. Will is not world-hungry, he does not long for freedom or adventure. He is not the person who can give her these things she so badly wants, and needs. Elizabeth Swann is the only person who can truly give her what she wants, but I happen to think that a little help and companionship from a certain Captain Jack Sparrow wouldn't hurt!
Will is, above all else, a Good Man. While he is willing to cut moral corners and play in the grey, he only does this if it's a means to his morally sound end. What Will wants is to save his father, and settle down. He's not particularly selfish, he has moral codes and a sense of honour, he's not a Pirate. Although the first movie tried to convince us that he was, Will is not the pirate, Elizabeth is.
Elizabeth is FULL of longing and desire, she wants to be free to be selfish, to cast off the societal customs she's spent her life burdened by, and she was willing to make the hard choice to save herself when no one else was, (manipulating Jack and leaving him to die with the Pearl), not even Will. These movies all start with Elizabeth, this is not Will's journey to becoming a pirate or the story of Captain Jack Sparrow's adventures, this is Elizabeth Swann's story, and she and Jack are the titular Pirates of the Caribbean, not Will. Will is a Good Man who loves a Pirate, and that story cannot end well for either of them. By the second movie, their young love has already started to turn sour.
Over the course of Dead Man's Chest, Elizabeth has had a huge romantic, and though they're restricted by technically being family movies, I would argue a sexual development with Jack. A lot of this is easy to miss when you're watching as a kid, but as an adult it's almost impossible not to clock Jack and Elizabeth's banter as innuendo and flirting. That curiosity scene?? Elizabeth in the depths of despair because she's "so ready to be married", and Jack subsequently proposing to her?
In case it wasn't clear enough, let me break it down. In the time period these movies take place in, women get married young and remain pure and untouched until then. So basically, getting married = having sex. Elizabeth is horny on main and Jack shoots his shot. If the proposal wasn't enough, then we get:
"Will taught me how to handle a sword"
"You're going to want to know what it tastes like"
I MEAN, there's more chemistry and sexual tension in these scenes between Liz and Jack than every scene between her and Will, and they don't even touch each other! Not to mention the romance of it all, Norrington teases Elizabeth for grinning like a smitten schoolgirl after a conversation with Jack, and the compass that shows "what you want most in this world" points to Jack when Elizabeth holds it. TWICE. Many fans have tried to concoct reasons why this doesn't actually mean that Elizabeth has feelings for Jack, and you can go looking for these explanations if you'd like, but all of them require a ridiculous amount of conjecture and probably a cork-board with yarn to maybe create some semblance of a valid point. Too harsh??
All that aside, during Dead Man's Chest, Jack is overtly attracted to and vexed by Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Elizabeth begrudgingly realizes that she has the hots for Jack and that they're kindred spirits, "You and I are alike, and there will come a moment when you'll have the chance to show it" annnnndddd then Will and the Kraken appear and throw a spanner in the works.
Our favourite Pirate girl is forced to essentially murder the same man she's had all of these complicated revelations about, to ensure Jack is the only one who goes down with the ship and to save her own skin. Okay, and Will and the rest of the crew. She's not entirely selfish in her motivations.
Capitalizing on the sexual tension they've been dancing around for days on board the Pearl, Elizabeth kisses Jack and chains him to the mast, sealing his fate in a perfectly pirate-y fashion, and proving that Jack was right all along about her twisted little heart being the same as his. She's willing to put herself first and be manipulative like Jack predicted, and he was willing to return to the Pearl and die a good man instead of leaving his crew to be eaten by the Kraken that was sent for him. Elizabeth was right about Jack doing the right thing and being a good man, and Jack was right about Elizabeth being just as conniving and ruthless as any pirate.
So, after Elizabeth leaves her charming pirate Captain to die, she's naturally pretty broken up about it. It's important to note that Will catches a glimpse of his lady-love kissing Jack, but doesn't comment on it, and Elizabeth neglects to tell anyone that she's just left Jack to be devoured by a cephalopod. It's a very angsty boat ride away from the Pearl for Will and Liz, to say the least.
Flash forward to the third movie, we learn that Elizabeth and Will are barely speaking since Jack's death, and Will even believes that Elizabeth loves Jack. Not an unfair assumption, and when she and Will are talking it out in the hold of the Pearl after rescuing Jack from the locker, Elizabeth doesn't even bother to confirm or deny it. Instead she quite literally tries to flee the scene, until Will forcibly stops her from leaving. The exchange that follows is particularly grim, as Will asks if he can trust Elizabeth and she tells him point-blank that he can't. After this, the two are separated again for the majority of the movie, and Will is carrying out plans to free his father and schemes with Beckett that Elizabeth is entirely unaware of. They sure don't seem like the adorable childhood romance they were marketed as in the first movie anymore!
Anyway, schemes develop, coronations ensue, goddesses are released unto the world in all their fury, and a raging whirlpool is where we find Elizabeth and Will before their nuptials. So, let's get down to it.
When Will proposes in the midst of battling undead fish people, he honestly, truly, irrevocably, believes that he and Elizabeth might die at any moment. That mindset is what informs every decision they make in the scene, understandably. Despite the (terrible) state of their relationship, if we can call it that at this point, it's never in question that these two care about each other, and that Will's goal has always been to marry Elizabeth.
So, he proposes. Elizabeth's shock and response "I don't think now's the best time!" and Will's "Now may be the only time!" pretty much sums it all up. Elizabeth, rightly, was probably thinking "What the hell is wrong with this guy? I'm trying not to get stabbed and we've barely spoken in weeks, we're not getting married right now" But, when he reminds her of the imminent danger they're in, Elizabeth agrees to get married. And it makes sense, on a surface level, them delivering their vows while hacking at British soldiers is even cute. They would not have been thinking rationally AT ALL, and the added pressure of "It doesn't matter since I'm probably gonna die anyway" colours their decision, so of course Will and Elizabeth are going to think impulsively and say "Screw it, I care about you, let's do this" and not realize that it's a terrible idea, which they'd see if they stopped to consider it for more than 3 seconds.
However, if they weren't fighting a huge battle, and it wasn't used as a convenient plot device to add levity to the near-25 minute battle scene, it makes no sense for Will and Elizabeth to reconcile in this movie and be Perfect Childhood Sweethearts In Love again. There is absolutely no buildup to this scene or even an expression of love between them the entire movie, or throughout most of the previous one! The repressed desire, shared history, and puppy-love that brought this couple together in The Curse of the Black Pearl is not enough to sustain this relationship anymore. Elizabeth has drastically changed from the first movie to the third, with the loss of her father and Norrington, killing Jack, and the general pirate antics she's been up to hardening her. She is no longer the spirited, naive governor's daughter who talked her way onto a pirate ship and fell in love with a blacksmith below her station. Instead, she's an unapologetic, calculating, and courageous Pirate King who's fought and killed and had her eyes opened to the grim cruelty of her society, thanks to Lord Beckett and his mass execution of pirates and anyone associated with them. Will and Elizabeth haven't been communicating effectively or healthily for the entire film, a trend that started at the end of Dead Man's Chest when Liz killed Jack and didn't tell Will. Not to mention all the unfinished romantic sexual business between murderer and murdered....
All of this is to say that as an entire subplot of Dead Man's Chest showed us, Elizabeth should have ended up with Jack, or by herself living her best life as the Pirate King that she is, instead of waiting on an island doing nothing. Her final scene in the original trilogy makes all of her development useless as she ends up right back where she started, trapped on land in a dress, all for the sake of a childhood romance.