“When they face desperation... human beings become animals.” ― Dan Brown, Inferno
Paul Greengrass' new movie, Captain Phillips, features Tom Hanks as a captain and hero, Barkhad Abdi plays the lead pirate and villain. The movie is based on Captain Richard Phillips' 2009 survival after his ship was hijacked by a group of pirates. It is easy to root for the captain in this movie, a family man and hardworking American. But what if this movie were told from the perspective of the main villain? What causes someone to become a pirate off the coast of the horn of Africa?
Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse is the captain of one of two pirate boats chosen by a gang lord to hijack a solitary shipping vessel, the Maersk Alabama. Muse refuses to turn back like the second boat of pirates when Captain Phillips announces that his ship is armed and ready to return fire if they should attack. Muse was undaunted and moved steadily towards his prize. His boat was later dead in the water when the engine quit. The 17 year old however would not. He returned to Somalia even more determined to conquer the Maersk Alabama, a ship at least fifty times the size of his boat.
Captain Phillips is a cinematic masterpiece as well as an exploration into the human condition, even though it does not tell us much about the analysand's daily life in Somalia. We see only briefly the struggle Muse and his crew had to endure to be chosen pirates in a very competitive job market. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, they chew on khat to suppress their appetites.
After Muse successfully boards the ship, he professes his love for America and appeases the distressed Phillips, “Relax, Captain, relax." “No Al Qaeda, no Al Qaeda”. He then explained that this was “Business, just business”, after declaring himself the new captain. Muse's calm demeanor reveals more about his circumstances than we realize. For him, this was as much as about job survival as it was about surviving. His emaciated appearance is telling, that life had been brutal. His seventeen short years had not been kind to him.
Muse justifies his gun touting ways by explaining that he was basically forced into piracy. Illegal fishing by foreign vessels and ships that dumped their toxic waste in the Somalian waters had disrupted the ebb and flow of their livelihood as fishermen. His demand for millions makes it easy for him to turn down Captain Phillips' offer to leave the ship with $30, 000. Muse responds with "I've got bosses." He needed to prove his self worth and later elaborated on his dreams of living in America.
Throughout the film Muse makes an effort to comfort Captain Phillips, who he nicknamed 'Irish', by telling him, “Everything gonna be all right”. It turns out that this was his own way of reassuring himself as well. Later on, Captain Phillips reasons with him that, “There’s got to be something more than being a fisherman and kidnapping people.” Muse only replies, “Maybe in America.” He has endured more in his years than we could ever fathom. We must never underestimate the effect of our actions on others. Depression, destitution and desperation drove Muse and his cronies to the tides of the Arabian Sea. This is the making of a modern day pirate.