I love Titanic. I really do. I don’t care how cheesy it might be to some people, or how mainstream it is, or how many internet memes have been made about it:
I treat all memes and all parody videos of “I’m flying Jack, I’m flying!” as affectionate. Like telling the boy you like “You’re so annoying!” or the girl you’re in love with “You’re so stupid, Rose, you’re so stupid!” because she got off the lifeboat for you. NOTHING CAN SINK MY LOVE FOR TITANIC. NOT EVEN AN ICEBERG.
Now that we have established that, let us move on.
After this I-can’t-really-remember-what-number-it-is-but-I-think-fourth rewatch of Titanic, this time in the cinema, the thing that was apparent to me was: Titanic sets out to show how “the experience of it was somewhat different”. As dude-in-charge-of-submarine (or Brock Lovett, according to Google) says,
“Three years, I’ve thought of nothing except Titanic; but I never got it… I never let it in.”
You have all these facts about its dimensions, the number of people it carried, the lifeboats and their capacity, and of course how many people died from the shipwreck. You know roughly the stories that might be in there: lost relations, deaths because of the grief from these losses, basically a lot of sob-filled sad stories. Titanic has that, but it doesn’t only have that. It has the responsibility carried by the ship captains, it has the courage of the crew and passengers, it has a very human panic (although, according to the Titanic exhibition I went to (yes I am a total Titanic fan. Shut up.), the evacuation was very orderly, but just because it might not have been the case in this situation, doesn’t make it any less real), it has the tensions and contradictions inherent in every relationship, and I speak of course not only of romantic, but of familial and class.
But you don’t ignore the romantic part of Titanic– you can’t, because the whole story is centred on that. Why? Because, I like to think, the best way of making Titanic, or any other traumatic incident, “an experience”– an experience being something you live through, open your heart to– is through love.
Forgive me for sounding, if I did, cheesy. I can’t help it. I try not to let that somewhat laughable romantic in me peek out in public. It’s like having white granny underpants or something– comfortable but not exactly something you let people see. At least I presume they are comfortable. BUT: I insist it should not sound cheesy. I said it in all sincerity, and if you just let go of that tight hold you keep on yourself, I invite you to feel what I am saying.
Titanic might be centred on love, but that does not make it one of those sixty thousand romances/romantic-comedies/chick-flicks/whatever Hollywood churns out every year. Well at least I don’t think so because I told you I am in love with Titanic and they say love is blind. This is why I think so: more than the romance, I think the point it emphasises is– life is worth living. It ties in nicely with what it sets out to do (re: the experience). What makes Rose a terrific character is the appetite she has for life– that even if the man she loves dies next to her, dies because of her, she will go on. She will deal with it and go on, not without the sadness that comes from it, but with a wisdom that takes it in, and grows because of it.
If you don’t feel Titanic, you might brush it off and accuse it of having one of those anti-feminist storylines where guy saves girl. But here I will quote another thing from the movie:
Rose: It’s not up to you to save me, Jack.
Jack: You’re right. Only you can do that.
Rose is not passive. In fact she is so forward, she initiates most of the interactions between her and Jack. Jack gives her an opportunity, yes. What distinguishes Rose is that she doesn’t just absorb what Jack gives, she steps forward to take it. In the movie you never get the feeling that Rose is just going along with it; what you do get is she recognises the preciousness of this chance, and rises to the occasion.
Perhaps you might demand more: why can’t she do it without Jack? Maybe she could have. But perhaps you would do better if you take another lesson away from it: the depth of that impact of reaching out and caring, of a belief in a person. It is generally accepted that one’s life will inevitably intersect with many others’, and is constitutive of some of these influences. It is not something to be ashamed of to have received someone’s offering and become a better person by it.
And of course, finally, Rose is not ungrateful. She acknowledges Jack’s impact, she loves him for it, and, ultimately, repeatedly gives as much as she can back. And I don’t mean just emotionally. How many people, after all, can wade through knee-length level of freezing water, braving flickering lights (one of the scariest thing about the collision is the loss of light that accentuates the fear), after rejecting the opportunity of being safe on a lifeboat just to go back to save the person you love, instead of psyching yourself that hey, he must be safe somewhere, he can take care of himself? And then, after doing that and getting onto a lifeboat with all the blessing and assurance of said person, jumping back into the ship again as the lifeboat is being lowered, because you know that his assurances are just for your benefit?
Rose is utterly a character worthy of being loved, for her generosity, her unreserved feeling, her ability to take in and learn, and, definitely not least, her courage.
A couple more minor things about the movie: I love how Cameron thinks of all those little details, like the crashing of the plates, the floating porcelain, the people sliding down the tilted and later perfectly vertical ship and brutally colliding with the ship’s propeller. I love the magnificence and power of the furiously spinning turbines and the grittiness of the work of shoveling coal into the boilers. I feel sorry for the disregard of lives when, at the time of the collision, those men who are operating the boilers are not informed that the watertight compartments were going to be shut, and of course I feel for the men, the third class people, the captain and designer of the ship with the full responsibility of all these 2200 lives. I love that Cameron shows a sympathy to everyone, even Rose’s mother, even Cal Hockley– I came away from this rewatch with a realisation that he must have felt something for Rose, even as what he felt was distorted by his ego, his warped view of the world. I mean of course you could always say that he thought of Rose as his property, that his rage was because he can’t stand losing. I don’t have anything strong against that. But I don’t know, he puts the coat on Rose, he tries to look for her on Carpathia. He doesn’t respect her, because he can’t respect anyone with his mercenary world view, but in his own way maybe he did feel for her. That, in no way, excuses his behaviour; I am saying that Cameron lets you understand his motivations, even as you don’t forgive him.
And finally, THE LAST SCENE: what it could have been. This one I have no excuses; I am an absolute sucker for this. Take any sad-ish thing, show me a different possibility had people made other decisions, and I am more than half likely to love it.
TITANIC: MY HEART WILL GO ON.