Collage by Chloe
In my experience, when it comes to selecting favourite films, it is not unusual for many people to choose ‘Titanic ‘as one of them. It was once, of course, the highest grossing movie of all time; overtaken only by another of James Cameron’s cinematic spectacles in the shape of ‘Avatar’, a film that I feel is vastly overrated and is entirely uninteresting and unoriginal without those incredible visual effects. The number of times that Titanic has been shown on television is almost countless and the amount of times that it presents itself in conversations about modern classics is close to infinite. In some aspects, it has become something of a novelty. There are, however, so many features of this film that make it what it truly is; a poignant retelling of one of the most haunting tragedies of recent times. Moreover, it also a striking portrayal of both the destruction and defiance that social divide can inspire. If we begin to deconstruct the story, what we find is not only the grief of disaster but the wondrous heights that a connection between two people can bring. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack could have easily become a two-dimensional character, a young adult from the supposed ‘wrong’ side of the tracks; a tired archetype that has been used too many times for it seem original, but he breaks through this by refusing to allow his social position to define him. He is, of course, the ultimate poster boy of the late nineties but he is also the intriguing antithesis to Kate Winslet’s Rose, a supposedly ‘privileged’ woman of the early 20th century. Just as Jack defies the societal chains which bound him, Rose struggles with an internal battle against the various expectations of her. Their fated meeting upon the ocean liner could so easily have fallen into the bear-trap of clichés by leading them on a melodramatic romance with little substance or realism to make it truly believable. Instead, James Cameron’s sublime script effectively conveys the turmoil and joy of a tender relationship during youth, a move that was hardly expected nor anticipated from the man that so successfully re-imagined science fiction with The Terminator and Aliens. While the poor boy paired with the rich girl trope has been repeatedly explored in media, as it can be traced as far back as the Victorian period with the somewhat uneasy relationship that forms between Pip and Estelle in Dickens’ Great Expectations, it has never been unearthed and examined in the way that Jack and Rose’s story is presented to us.
Rather than allowing Rose to be portrayed as a young woman lost in the unfamiliarity of her generation whom must be saved by the first dashing ‘prince’ that comes along, Cameron does much more with this by making her and Jack equals to one another, by having them find and liberate one another from their respective conflicts. What many fail to pick up on is the way in which Rose provides an escape for Jack, as it can be argued that she is the first and only person to view him beyond the surface. It may be he that tells her that ‘I see you.’ but it is actually Rose that discovers the complexities of his character and his desires beyond the basic ones that he presents as a guard. Rose notes that Jack is talented, as many have told him before, but she explores this in greater detail than anyone else ever has. She observes that he has a gift and wonders what it is that permits him to be able to truly express a person through his art. In terms of creating a realistic connection, Cameron is highly successful, as the love that forms and is shared between the two feels far more genuine than any previous efforts to express a relationship between lovers separated by societal norms, perhaps because we feel as though Jack and Rose have found and held on to one another because of their subtle similarities, rather than their obvious differences.
Then, comes the infamous climax of their story arc. Titanic, as we all aware, begins to sink beneath the vastness of Atlantic Ocean during the early hours of the morning and, along with it, thousands of passengers fall. As the water floods rapidly into the unsinkable ship, the memory of those that lost their lives unnecessarily to the unpredictable power of nature drifts into our minds and the true sorrow of this event is felt by all. Just as quickly as their bond began, Jack is taken from Rose in the cruellest of manners, as he loses his life to hypothermia in an attempt to prevent hers from ending. It is a scene that many of us struggled to forget, littered with feeble, yet desperate, pleas made by Rose for him to wake from death and return to her, followed by a score made all the more delicate for its distressing faintness in the background as Jack is released from his hold on Earth and begins to descend into the water. As tragic as it is loving, the death of Jack in turn for the survival of Rose is made even more moving in the moments before his passing, as he nods and exhales softly when he realises there is not enough room for the two of them on the door that serves as a lifeboat, quietly accepting his looming demise. And as he slips beneath the surface of the ocean, we are left only to acknowledge the devastation that engulfs Rose, as she allows herself to let go of the one thing that brought her any happiness in life.
Titanic, then, has deservedly cemented its place as one of the greatest movies of all time, as it manages to capture the wretchedness of historical tragedy while also skilfully enrapturing us with the dedication shown by one person to another in the face of adversity.
By Hannah Ryan