Pirates reminds us why we love British comedies. The film, one of the best stop-action animation films I’ve seen, is absurd in all the best ways. Just imagine the best of Monty Python in a stop-action animated film minus the dirty jokes.
The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) sets out to win the Pirate of the Year Award. All he wants is some recognition from his peers that he is good at what he does. This sets him out to find the largest booty (insert PG jokes here), but always landing on the wrong ships; a ghost ship, a ship of school children on a field trip, a ship of lepers, and a ship of nudist. Finally, he attacks the ship carrying Charles Darwin (David Tennant), yep you read that correctly. Charles Darwin.
Darwin is journalling about his ship-filled scientific discoveries. Upon meeting Pirate Captain and his Polly, which is really the only surviving dodo bird, Darwin (whom Pirate Captain starts calling Chuck) convinces the pirate to go to London to present the bird at a scientific gathering to win the prize money. Darwin is seeking not so much recognition by his peers, but recognition by Queen Victoria. Pirate Captain is blinded by the deceit because of his own ambition to receive recognition from his peers.
Seeking approval from our peers is not something that ends with adolescence. It is a struggle that continues well into adulthood. Paul writes to the Galatians: “Am I trying to win over human beings or God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I wouldn’t be Christ’s slave.” (1:10, Common English Bible)
What Paul wants the church to know is that what he is preaching is not to be popular among humans, but it is to be right with God. At the same time, Paul calls all of those who hear/read these words to consider the same question in their own lives. Are we doing what we are doing for the sake of our relationship with God or “to win over human beings?” And at times we will do anything to meet that recognition. The Pirate Captain is motivated to seek the largest treasure to receive recognition from his peers as a great pirate. Pirate Captain sells his beloved Polly to Queen Victoria for a boat-load of gold. In the process, he loses the faith of his trusted crew, is stripped of his title as a pirate, and banned from the community, left out in the rain.
It is through the faithfulness of his crew and in particular Number Two (also called the Pirate with a Scarf voiced by Martin Freeman) that Pirate Captain learns that he is a good pirate when he is himself. He tells Pirate Captain as the film ends, “It’s never been about the trophy or the treasure. It’s about who you are on the inside.”
What’s on the inside is important to God as well. When God sends Samuel out to find a new king, Samuel is sent to the home of Jesse. As he looks at the eldest son, Samuel is told: “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”(1 Samuel 16:7, Common English Bible) Samuel goes down the line, looking at each son, and each time God says the same thing. It is not until Samuel reaches the youngest son, that we learn that this son is a man after God’s own heart. The son was David, the greatest king of Israel.
The matter of the heart is one that repeats itself throughout the scriptures. From the prophets to Jesus to Paul, we read how it is not what we do, but rather the attitude of the heart. Pirate Captain is not a pirate because he brings in the largest booty, he is a pirate because his heart’s in it. A lesson for all of us striving to live a holy life.