Titanic (1997) Film Review

definitely enough spaceJames Cameron’s Titanic (1997)

I would hardly be the first person to point this out but before anything else, I would just like to say…there was definitely enough space for two on that floating piece of wreckage that Rose had stayed on. Maybe if she had spent less time being as dense as the iceberg that had sunk them, she would have figured that one out. But if the Heart of the Ocean was in any way meant to serve as a historical parallelism, we would understand that like the diamond’s previous owner, King Louis XVI, Rose didn’t have a good head on her shoulders…

Anyway the classic story of love across social classes embodied by the typical rich girl, tired of dull, aristocratic life meeting poor boy living on the edge, free of any social obligations was pretty much utilized here. That’s not to say it felt cliche or rehashed in any way. Sometimes classic storylines work especially when they have a fresh new element to it like, let’s say, facing imminent death, a grim element that somehow add to the romance of it all.

Going to the characters, Jack Dawson, the poor, “uncouth,” third class passenger, meanwhile also offered something new to the classic plot with his artist background. The poor boy wasn’t unrefined as those snooty, rich bastards perceived him to be. If involvement in the  arts, is the ultimate expression of sophistication then Jack would have outclassed all of them. Indeed, the irony was successfully utilized by James Cameron. The penniless drifter was a master artist, Rose’s pompous fiancé, Cal Hockley, had no eye for such fine things — proudly asserting that the then young Picasso would “amount to nothing” based on his early paintings. The contrast was further driven home by the two rivals’ treatment of Rose. As Cal tried training Rose to be his future, submissive and obedient wife, Jack drew her like one of his French girls, liberating her from the prison of her social status. This even led Rose to remark that she’d rather be Jack’s whore than Cal’s wife. There was more love and freedom in being one of Jack’s prostitute muses than being Cal’s well-pampered missus.

titanic-sinking

The beauty of Titanic, however, can be found in the utilization of the infamous ship itself to underscore the film’s theme and message. The grandeur, sophistication, and superiority of the cruiser was reduced to an unrecognizable heap of wreckage several leagues under the ocean by the end of the film. The pinnacle of humanity’s civilization destroyed in an instant. The “unsinkable” ship was, at its core, a highly vulnerable vessel at the mercy of nature’s calamities. Strip away its impressive façade, in the face o destruction, the Titanic was nothing but a really big floating piece of metal. The same can be applied to the ship’s passengers, take away all their wealth, the names the made for themselves, their place and status in society, and who were they exactly? In the face of death, what value can we attribute to these characters and what precisely were they left with? What did they choose to give importance to at the very end, when all other things were put aside. This brings us to the theme of the film: The essence of a human being’s nature, their core driving force. What drives us exactly? The film excellently probed into this by showing the variety of responses of different people to their imminent death aboard the sinking ship. In short, the film posed a simple question. In the face of death, what did the characters give priority to?  Survival? Like Cal Hockley and all those who decided to do away with “women and children first” rule. The safety of their loved ones? Like the selfless husbands and fathers who lifted their family onto the lifeboats. Art? Like the defiant violinists. There’s nothing like incoming demise when it comes to showing us what a person values most.

This, in no way, veers away from the romantic element of Titanic. In fact it is meant to highlight it. What made Jack and Rose’s love so great and genuine was the fact that it was the only thing they had left when all was to come to an end. Love, and nothing but love, dictated the course of their actions in those final moments. It conquered their primal instinct to survive. This highlights the message of the film: The ability to love is the apex of human nature. As the alleged greatest feat of humanity catastrophically sank to the bottom of the ocean, the only people to survive were the ones saved by their loved ones and by complete strangers. Love for family, love for friends, and love for humanity in general — displayed by the men who sacrificed themselves to save the women and children. It was this love that salvaged those passengers. It was the only thing that endured, amidst the tragedy. It was the unsinkable one.

titanic lifeboat

Of course the question that should now be asked is, how about those passengers that survived by taking care of themselves, even at the cost of other lives? Can it be argued that it was a love for self or love for life in general that was the driving force behind that? I would like to think it was survival instinct that moved passengers like Cal Hockley — his decision to initially pass off the chance at riding the lifeboat to chase after Rose was motivated by the desire to secure his wife not out of love, but as a piece of property no different from the Heart of the Ocean he possessed. Survival instinct, cannot be said to be a love for life simply because there are people who have ceased to find any wonder in their lives that don’t commit suicide. It is simply human nature, the most basic element of it, in contrast to love, as the apex. It is human to want to survive, only in terms of our shared nature with other animals. Survival instincts are nothing unique, something even the simplest of insects have. That is not to pass judgment on the passengers aboard the Titanic who struggled desperately for their lives. They were no lesser than the those who chose to die defiantly — like the gentlemen who dressed in their finest suits in preparation for their imminent death. What Titanic, in fact, did there was to display the complexity of human nature through the different and opposite responses of the passengers facing their demise. The theme of the film examined these diverse responses and unearthed the driving forces behind them. Its message simply was that love was the superior driving force because it perpetually lived on. The characters who safely got off the ship through their survival instincts — like Cal Hockley and Rose’s mother — eventually encountered overwhelming misery. Cal, after several years. committed suicide, and we can only presume what happened to Rose’s mother . We never hear of her after the sinking. In any case, her story was not deemed important enough to be discussed in the film.

It is safe to say that Titanic honored the lasting power of love through Rose’s memories. The film was not simply a typical love story with shallow romantic elements. It tackled the depths of love as the only part of human nature that transcends itself, immortalized long after physical demise, like Jack’s brief few days of love treasured by Rose 84 years later. Their love was bigger than the biggest ship there ever was. Unsinkable by any force of nature.

As Jack and Rose were floating in the icy cold depths of the Atlantic, he confessed that winning the ticket to Titanic was the best thing that happened to him because he was able to meet her. This drove the film’s message home. Their love was more important than the tragedy that befell them. The Titanic sinking was not the final word. As Rose remarked after the incident, “a woman’s heart is an ocean full of deep secrets.” At the end of the film, we are not reminded of how the waters came to destroy the giant ship, but how a love as deep, and vast, and intimate as an ocean full of secrets came to conquer the tragedy of it all.

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