So I went to see Captain Phillips last night, with Tom Hanks, whom I quite like, and the movie’s quite good, and all that, maybe not his best, like, say, Beethoven’s 8th. What I was most enjoying about it was the strange bond that seemed to develop between his character and the character of the pirate captain/kidnapper.
“Irish,” the pirate called him, and they were clearly at odds, but sort of in the way that lead characters are at odds at the beginning of some buddy movie (the by-the-book cop and the rebel, that sort of thing), and by the end they’re close. East is East, and West is West, but they do meet …
Or like in Catch Me If You Can, where the Hanks character in effect bonds with Leonardo di Caprio, even though one is the cop and one is the criminal.
But okay in this case it’s a nefarious pirate; you shouldn’t sympathize with him, I suppose, and if I did, then I suppose that’s the Stockholm Syndrome at work. Or maybe the film set things up that way, only at the end to … [Spoiler Alert] pull the plug on the poor pirate. They should have just sailed their separate ways, tipping their caps, but no …
Maybe I’m just too suggestible or susceptible. I always take the side of whoever’s story I’m reading. I remember reading The Johnny Unitas Story as a kid and wanting Baltimore to win that game, though when I put the book down I thought, I don’t cheer for Baltimore.
It’s possible, of course, for an author to write from a certain character’s point of view and make you distrust or even dislike that character. It even became popular in critical circles a few decades back to see this everywhere. The Unreliable Narrator was all the rage, and there are certainly examples: the Duke in My Last Duchess and so forth. But really I think it’s a bit rare. If you’re with a character, then you’re with a character. It’s hard to be against the one you’re with: maybe that is the Stockholm Syndrome in a nutshell. In confined space with your captor, even if he is your captor, well, you’re close to him, you identify with him, you become his Patty Hearst.
So I liked the pirate leader in Captain Phillips and was sad to see what happened to him and his buddies, even though of course piracy is wrong, blah blah blah. The movie itself seemed to me to go downhill at the end when deprived of the interesting Hanks-Pirate Chief chemistry.
Just before the end there’s an interesting bonding scene when, in explaining why he can’t just let Hanks go or take the small amount being offered, the Pirate Chief (his name is Muse) says, “I’ve got bosses.” To which Hanks replies, “We’ve all got bosses.” “In America it’s different,” says Muse.
It’s touching, but then it is snatched away. Is there something especially touching about connecting with an enemy? Maybe that’s the appeal of the whole John Le Carre Tinker, Tailor series.
In any case it all seems to connect to the notion that if you can’t be with the one you love, you’ll love the one you’re with. Even if it’s your enemy.