One of my favorite jokes about Titanic (1997) is that you could predict the ending. Then again, if you know your history, you can do the same with any movie set in the past. Yet, there is something tragically inevitable James Cameron’s billions grossing passion project that makes the laughs a little more authentic when it comes to this one. I suppose I should not chuckle. After all, it is not a Christian thing to do to make light of an event that ended in the deaths of 1,504 people. By the way, my apologies ahead of time, but historical spoiler alert: Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Jack Dawson is fictional, so his dying of hypothermia does not bring the total to 1,505. At any rate, it is not simply the number of souls sent to a premature watery grave that got people like James Cameron to devote so much time and effort (and money) into making what many regard as a cinematic masterpiece to commemorate the 1912 event. What continues to fascinate many is the hubris surrounding the vessel. Man is fallible. God created us as such so that our Faith can be made that much richer. In this light, though it is described as unsinkable, the real-life luxury (death) liner that provides the dramatic background was billed as the “infallible” ship. God bless the poor souls that had to pay with their lives for this sin.
Of course, you know of the doom that awaits Titanic at the open, with a shot of the wreck. We then move to the surface where the ocean salvager (read as treasure hunter) Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) and his crew are floating above the infamous ship. They are there to find “The Heart of the Ocean,” a diamond necklace of incalculable value that purportedly went down with the vessel. When they find a clue to a possible last person to see it, Rose Dewitt Bukater (Gloria Stuart), they bring the aged lady out to their research boat to interview her. From there, the rest of the movie is told through her eyes. We then shift to a seedy dockside pub where Jack and his friend Fabrizio (Danny Nucci), thanks to Jack’s skill at cards, win passage aboard the latest and greatest ship to sail the seven seas, or more accurately, steam. Jack is going home, and Fabrizio is just along for the ride, and their enthusiastic dash to board the ship before it departs takes them past others making their way up more respectable gangways. Namely, these are the younger version of Rose (Kate Winslet), along with her fiancé Caledon “Cal” Hockley (Billy Zane), his valet Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner), and her mother Ruth Dewitt Bukater (Frances Fisher). They are going to the very top of the first-class, while Jack and Fabrizio head down to a cramped third-class cabin they share with people who are not expecting to see their faces. From here, we see Rose’s feelings of entrapment by the society her mother is forcing them to keep, the result of their family having lost a great deal of money. Cal is not kind, to say the least, and Rose is obviously being forced to marry against her will. During the first night’s dinner, the pressure of her position gets to be too much, and she decides that she would rather end her life than go through with the perceived lifetime of beatings and mental abuse by Cal to come. Before she can go through with her intention of leaping off the ship’s stern, Jack, who is luckily nearby, intervenes. Even though he convinces her not to jump, she slips and he has to suddenly reach out and grab her. Her screams bring much more attention, and Jack is heralded as a hero for his actions. The next day, Jack is allowed to spend some more time among the first-class passengers as a way of saying thank you for saving Rose’s life. As they stroll along, he can tell that she is not feeling right about her station in life, particularly when he talks about the freedom he has to go anywhere and do as he please. When he points this out, she is at first defensive. Still, his persistence pays off, and she sees his more sensitive side through his sketches he shows her. After a society dinner that has Jack in the unnatural costume of black tie and tails, he and Rose sneak off to the lower decks for a bit of the other half’s fun. The next day, after some more threats from Cal, and a little more convincing by Jack, Rose resolves to run away with Jack. Their evening culminates with Jack drawing Rose wearing nothing but the expensive jewelry mentioned earlier, and them making love in a car in the cargo hold. It is about this time that fate steps in the form of the ice berg that the ship is unable to avoid. Despite its impending sinking, Cal had Spicer lock Jack in the rapidly filling bottom of the ship. Rose is able to extricate herself from Cal once more, and goes to save Jack. With lifeboats being laboriously cranked into the frigid Northern Atlantic Ocean, Rose once more casts her lot with Jack and the two are basically the last ones on the ship before the last of the stern (where they first met, to boot) slips below the icy waves. And I do mean icy. They find some flotsam in the form of a wooden panel, but it is not big enough for both of them to remain on top. Jack does the gallant thing by staying in the water, but the cold overtakes him before a lifeboat returns to look for survivors. By this point, Brock’s crew had been sitting spell-bound listening to this tale, and they assume (like the audience), that the jewel is still down there somewhere. However, a cutaway reveals that it had been slipped into her coat pocket, and the elderly Rose later tosses it back into the ocean. Later that night, she dreams (or dies) and sees Jack and others of the fateful ship.
I think I might do better with longer movies than shorter ones in reigning in my descriptions of the plot. Titanic is over three hours long. Interestingly, unlike The Batman, you do not feel its length much of the time. And Titanic does have action, particularly in the scenes following when the boat hits the ice berg. There are a lot of films that attempt to do drama and action at once. Cameron is also arguably more well-known for the latter, which makes the drama parts perhaps a little schmaltzy. When it comes to presenting the sinking of the ship, his skills are on full display. Honestly, if you skipped this movie to when it is punctured by the ice, you would have a pretty solid movie by only watching the last act. Again, you already know what is going to happen. But, admit it: when you watch it you hope that maybe just this once, it will turn out differently. Thus, if you view the sinking as the villain, and ignore the individual characters, thinking of them as making one tragically heroic face, then you have quite the drama on your hands. A strong argument can be made that this is what Cameron was going for, needing only warm bodies and a basic love story on which to hang his yarn of peril on the seas. Either way, it works.
At the outset of this review of Titanic, I discussed the hubris involved with thinking a ship is unsinkable, only to be proved so spectacularly wrong. Before going any further, it must be noted that the sinking was not an act of God. I had an interesting conversation with my barber the other day along these same lines, though not specifically about the movie or the events on which it is based. She wanted to know why God could led such bad things happen. I had no good answers to offer her, but if she had asked about the Titanic, I would have told her that God did not sink it. What brought about its demise was hubris. Its definition is “excessive pride or self-confidence.” This describes the White Star Line’s managing director J. Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde). While Cal’s cruelty is focused on one person, Ismay’s misplaced trust in the works of man lead to a terrible loss of life. History has not been kind to Ismay, labeling him a coward for surviving when so many women and children died. The movie is no different. Their pride told them that they were on par with God, doing what only he could. They were not alone in men of that age and status. In St. Augustine, Florida, in the resort built by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler that is now home to a college that bears his name, the front entrance is an incredibly ornate foyer with a wonderful-to-behold domed ceiling. So amazing did Flagler think it that he requested one piece of the mosaic floor be done so as to not match the rest, thereby marring its perfection. Only God was perfect in their eyes, and this is true. At the same time, what is one little piece of tile, or saying that a boat cannot be sunk? The consequences are not always so stark, but the wages of sin are always the same in the end. God takes care of those who do not falsely put themselves on His level.
Titanic is another one of those movies that, if you have not seen it, then I would wonder what you are doing with your life to this point. If so, whatever it is, it has not been seeing this movie. See it. Fast forward through the scene when Jack sketches a nude Rose. For whatever reason, this did not earn the movie the R rating it deserves. If you are an adult and looking for something to watch, and probably fall asleep to, then you could do a lot worse.