Unless we time-travel back to me being 17 and breaking curfew, I’m not an actor. I can’t look at a script and devise a perfect line reading. But I have another gift: I can watch a movie and get a certain line-reading stuck in my head for all of eternity, in this life and the next. I have written previously on one such line that I can’t get out of my head, from Marriage Story. There, Adam Driver, biggest boy, confronts his wife’s allegation of infidelity with a frown and the words “You shouldn’t be upset that I fucked her, you should be upset that I had a laugh with her!” That Marriage Story line is obtuse and vexing and hilarious, the most unrealistic moment of a hyperrealistic romance. I have returned with another line that twerks around this noggin of mine. In Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, there exists a line that feels distinctly opposite: It’s the most realistic moment in a high-seas fantasy. “You best start believin’ in ghost stories, Miss Turner,” Geoffrey Rush snarls. “Yer in one!”
I am brave enough to admit that we don’t give this line enough credit. Even if it were printed on every American dollar bill, like the words “In God We Trust,” which I think are printed on dollar bills, it would not be enough. Add this line to our Constitution, stitch it onto a pillow, go as this line for Halloween! I don’t think I’m being dramatic when I borrow a quote from another good Keira Knightley period piece and say: This line from Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl has bewitched me, body and soul!
In Black Pearl, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) plays Port Royal, Jamaica’s first daughter. Like many a Disney ingenue, she is wealthy and privileged and a habitual line-stepper. At ten years old, she’s onboard a ship that picks up Will Turner (another 10-year-old who will, in about ten minutes, turn into Orlando Bloom), at which point she pockets a pirate medallion around his neck, worried that her father will arrest her new crush for his criminal associations. For years, Elizabeth has kept this medallion tucked away, forgotten, until she dreams about it one night and decides to wear it around her own neck.
A decade after Will’s arrival, in what seems like a total coincidence, pirates raid Port Royal. Elizabeth is kidnapped by the titular pirates on the titular Black Pearl, and its captain, Barbossa (Rush), explains to her the titular curse. (Because Elizabeth stole the medallion from Will Turner, she uses his surname as her own.) “[This medallion is] one of 882 identical pieces [the Aztecs] delivered in a stone chest to Cortés himself,” Barbossa explains over dinner. “Blood money paid to stem the slaughter he wreaked upon them with his armies. But the greed of Cortés was insatiable. So the heathen gods placed upon the gold a terrible curse. Any mortal that removes but a single piece from that stone chest shall be punished for eternity.” Elizabeth almost guffaws in disbelief. Of course she does! This is nuts! “I hardly believe in ghost stories anymore, Captain Barbossa,” she says. To this, his pockmarked skin grins.
“Aye,” he begins. “That’s exactly what I thought when we were first told the tale.” The pirates aboard the Pearl found the island, found the chest, and found the gold. Like the Bling Ring, they robbed it of every gold piece. “The more we gave ’em away, the more we came to realize the drink would not satisfy, food turned to ash in our mouths, and all the pleasurable company in the world could not slake our lust. We are cursed men, Miss Turner!” Like every woman who has ever had to endure the monologue of a man, Elizabeth Swann looks on, rather nonplussed by this information. They are cursed men, but we are cursed by men, so it’s hard to muster up a lot of empathy whether you are being held captive, as she is, or just a woman living in New York City, as I am.
And here is when it happens: Elizabeth makes a botched attempt to stab Barbossa with a steak knife and escape, but upon exiting the captain’s quarters, she finds herself among a skeletal crew. Not skeleton crew, like, understaffed. Skeletal crew, like, where there once were human men, there are now sentient skeletons dressed in tattered rags. Captain Barbossa points his index finger and walks out of the shadows into the moonlight, his body transforming to bones before our very eyes. “You best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Turner,” he tells her. “Yer in one!”
What’s nutty is that Pirates of the Carribean has many quotable lines: The way Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, relatively pre-controversy) twists his braided beard and whines, “But why is the rum gone?!” The way an amber-eyed pirate peers into a hiding spot and says, “Hello, puppet,” the words twisted and mangled so that they come out: “Ehlow, Pop-ette!” Barbossa declines Elizabeth’s plea to return her to Port Royal, sneering, “I’m disinclined to acquiesce to your request.” But it’s been 17 years since Curse of the Black Pearl was released — enough time for these lines to learn to drive a car and apply to college and fight with their moms over how short prom dresses can be — and it’s the “ghost stories” delivery that I just cannot get out of my worms-for-brains head.
Around 300 days ago, on April 10, 2019: I went public with a truth I hold to be self-evident: “dont avada kedavra my ass,” I wrote, “but last night i came to the conclusion that ‘u best start believin in ghost stories miss turner ……… YER in one’ is better than ‘YER a wizard harry’ i would make a poll but i know that im right and also it’s too many characters.” Was it unwise to pit two powerful women — a Pirates line and a Harry Potter line — against one another? Perhaps! But I did it, and I was right to do it.
Did a former crush suddenly start watching your IG story again? Girl. You? Best start believin’ in ghost stories, Miss Turner. Because you’re? In one! Did you just confidently lie to your local Apple Genius Bar technician, nodding your head and insisting that yes of course you’ve backed up your computer, and no you don’t know how all that water got in there. You! Best! Start! Believin’ in ghost stories, Miss Turner! Because! Congratulations, there’s a good chance you’re about to be in one! If, on Christmas Eve, as is his tradition, Kevin Spacey releases another unhinged home video? We all better start believin’ in ghost stories, Miss Turner ……… we’re in one!
Perhaps this line appeals to me so much because, at present, we are living in a parallel universe that feels a little like a ghost story. Children are in cages. Our planet is dying. The Renegade dance is too hard for my brittle bones. Joker earned more Oscar nominations than The Farewell. Victoria never got a Jellicle name. Olive Garden has changed its motto from “When you’re here, you’re family” to “We’re all family here.” Who will answer for all the raw chicken in the streets of Boerum Hill that one time? Why has it felt like Halloween since Christmas 2017? What I’m saying is this: We are walking around in dark and uncertain times of political and personal turmoil. A ghost story this might be! I can only hope that somewhere, Rooney Mara is placing an order for pie.