DVD Review: ‘Titanic’
Some of you may or may not know that the hundred year anniversary of the sinking of the passenger liner, the RMS Titanic, has been and gone. The Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean late at night on April 14th, 1912 and sank in the early hours of the morning on April 15th, on her maiden voyage, a crossing from the UK to the United States. It was a tragedy, and over a thousand people died as the ship sank, and over the years, the human race has looked at the disaster as a lesson of the fragility of human constructions in the face of the forces of nature.
Unfortunately, I think it might be possible to say that more people today are more familiar with the story of James Cameron’s 1997 film, Titanic, than of the real-life disaster that happened a century ago. It won scores of awards, starred Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, and has been rereleased in 3D this year to commemorate the 100 years since the sinking of the real ship.
It’s a good movie. It really is. But I have one bone to pick with it, and it’s something that becomes painfully apparent when the hundred year anniversary of anything rolls around, and that is that I don’t think that Titanic was really about the sinking of the RMS Titanic. I think it was about Jack and Rose, and class divides and social status, and I think it was about a love story that could have taken place in any setting. But, in some ways, perhaps the subject matter was dealt with really well, and I will get to that later. But here is what I think the real plot of the film is, and I really think that is has little to do with a ship sinking.
Rose (Kate Winslet) feels trapped, suffocated, by her life as an upper-class woman in the early 1900’s. Jack (Leonardo Di Caprio) is the breath of fresh air that she needs to break free of her life. But their star crossed love story is interrupted by the ill-fated disaster that has their ship, the Titanic, sinking from under them. But they endeavour to keep their love alive, facing even more insurmountable odds, as the certainty of their survival becomes more and more questionable.
It occurs to me as I re-watch this film, that it is fifteen years old. Now, that’s not a big deal for some of you, but I’m twenty, so this movie is kind of old to me. And I can still remember the first time I saw it, and I was really young. And because of that, I actually don’t get why people love the love story of Titanic so much.
Most romantic movie of all time? Maybe. Maybe not. One of the most romantic movies of all time? Probably. Do I see it that way? Not really. Why? Well, the problem for me with this movie is that I first saw it when I was something like six years old. Yep. Six. I was a little too young for this movie, and any later viewing I have ever had of it has been forever tainted.
Why is this? Well, the thing is that there was a lot going on in this movie that my little, six year old mind just could not understand. For one, I never really got why the ship was taking so freaking long to sink. Later on I learned that the ship actually did take a couple of hours to sink, but as a kid, it just made no sense why something that heavy would take so long to go under water.
As a child, my favourite part of the movie was when the ship was basically vertical, and finally sinking, and this guy falls from pretty high up, bounces off a railing, and lands in the water. I thought it was hilarious! I don’t even know why anymore, but we’ll just chalk that down to deep psychological issues, I think. And I keep an eye out for that shot every time I watch this movie, just to make sure I didn’t make it up. But no. It’s definitely there.
And that most heartbreaking moment where Rose whispers, “I’ll never let go”
to Jack, and then lets go? I just could not understand how she couldn’t see the ridiculous irony in that! If a six year old could see that, how could any adult take it seriously? Well, it still kind of beats me. I get that the not letting go thing is a motif in the film, but still… Anyway, I’ll admit that I love this movie, but there’s still that childhood experience of it, eating away at me while I watch.
But that’s what you get for watching movies that you really shouldn’t when you’re a kid. Not that I shouldn’t have watched it back then, though. What I just wrote is a really unique perspective of one of the most romantic movies of all time.
Well, in reality, the plotline of Titanic is rather generic. It’s a story being told through flashbacks, and it’s about two people who have a connection, and despite their social differences, try to be together, no matter what. It’s been done before. Wikipedia calls Titanic an epic romantic historical disaster film, and that about sums it up. That’s a lot of genres for one movie, which might be why it’s so long, too. Over three hours, if you were wondering. Not quite bigger than Ben Hur, but definitely getting there.
The only thing that really makes this story truly compelling is the fact that we have the historical foreknowledge reminding us that many of the characters we meet in the beginning of the film will be dead by its end. It’s the same as any story set in Pompeii or during World War One, or any kind of disaster. We know that it is inevitable that something terrible is going to happen, and we just don’t know who is actually going to survive.
What I do appreciate, however, is the melding of history and fiction in this film. The story of Rose and Jack is completely made-up, of course. There are, however, many characters in the story who were based on real passengers on the Titanic. My particularly favourite would have to be “The Unsinkable Molly
Brown”, played by Kathy Bates. Although her characterisation is hardly based on fact, her character definitely feels really and gutsy and kind. Characters like the captain and the carpenter were obviously based on real people, as were several of the upper class characters, crew members, and the lookout men who spot iceberg. A clever move, I think, to intersperse the fictional characters with historical characters, to add realism to the film.
What I think gets me every time I see this movie (and I have seen it several times, now), is that it is such a long movie. And you get to the halfway point, and they’re only just hinting that the ship might be heading for danger. That’s what tells me that too much significance was given to the love story than the story of the Titanic itself. This also tells me that the film wasn’t really appropriately named, much like many people say that Baz Luhrmann’s film, Australia, was not appropriately named either. It’s not actually about Australia, it’s about a love story, and Titanic, deep down, is not really about the ship.
But, the film is beautifully shot, and the effects were fantastic. My favourite shots from the film included an aerial shot of the sinking ship in the middle of the dead calm ocean with nothing around it for miles. A shot like that really portrays the hopelessness of the situation. Another is after the ship has sank, and the passengers are in the water. There is a slow zoom out from Rose calling out to Jack, and the further the camera moves out, the more people it reveals thrashing there in the water, showing the scale of the disaster for just a moment. As the film builds to its climax of the final sinking of the ship, the escalating tension of the film is handled deftly, as chase scenes and dramatic deaths are intercut with calm moments like the Picasso painting’s floating underwater, and the quieter deaths of the people who have chosen to stay below decks and accept their fates.
I also like the recurring motif of the china in the film. At the beginning, the older Rose talks about the china being new, and having never been used. Then there are moments later in the film where Jack needs help learning to use the cutlery at dinner.
And then, as the ship sinks, Jack and Rose run through the dining area where there is china and cutlery floating in the water, until the final moments of the sinking ship, where plates and dishes slide out of their cabinets, smashing onto the floor, breaking all that was new and luxurious about this ship, and indicating that that china will never be used again. The film is pretty big and in-your-face with the motifs (“You jump, I jump”, “I’ll never let go” etc.)
There are three more issues that I have with specific moments in this film, and they are kind of nit-picky, but they just bug me. Every single time. And here they are in the order that they appear.
- Jack was right. Rose is stupid. Why wouldn’t she just give her spot on the lifeboat to someone else, if she was just going to jump off it. That’s not romantic, it’s selfish.
- I know everyone says this, but why couldn’t they both have fit on the door? It really, really looked like they could have both fit. And thenmaybe Jack could have survived too. Lame move, Rose. Lame move.
- Why didn’t the old lady just give them the necklace? I get the symbolism, but still… Apparently in an alternate ending of the film, Rose lets Lovett
(the man in charge of searching the wreck of the Titanic for the Heart of the Ocean)hold the necklace, but then she still throws it into the water. What a bitch.
Those three moments always, no matter what, make me wonder about who wrote those things in. I kind of lose sympathy for Rose due to those moments, because they’re all kind of stupid things to have happen, really.
But, in conclusion, I think it’s really important, now, while the film studios are using this centenary to wring the last few dollars they can out of this movie, to remember that this isn’t just a movie. It was a real event. A lot of people died, and it was a hard learned lesson for humanity, and it was just terrible, terrible luck. The water was colder than it should have been at that time of year, and if the ship had hit the iceberg at just about any other angle, it probably would not have sunk, and that is a terrible reality. So many
lives were lost, and, while the film makes an effort to pay respect to that fact, I think that the love story became so consuming that it overshadowed the tragedy of all those deaths and replaced it with the tragedy of Jack’s death.
I think the most emotive line in the movie is this one line from the older version of Rose: “Fifteen hundred people went into the sea when Titanic sank from under us. There were twenty boats floating nearby, and only one came back. One. Six were saved from the water. Six. Out of fifteen hundred”. Those
are some heartbreakingly horrific odds. I don’t know if that’s what really happened, but they’re still some horrible numbers, and
probably very, very close to the truth.
For me, it’s not the love story, or the actors’ performances, or the costumes, or the special effects that make this movie special. It’s those little moments with those minor characters that show the different choices a human can make in a situation so hopeless. The string quartet as they just keep playing, and that mother singing her children to sleep so their deaths will be calm instead of frightening. The old couple lying together on their bed, rather than taking the chance on the decks, and the guilt of the captain and the ship’s carpenter as they choose to go down with the ship. Molly Brown’s desire to go back and help the people in the water, and the refusal of everyone else in her boat, for fear of being swamped. All these were moments that made you really think about what was actually happening, not just about Jack and Rose.