Celebrating 25 Years of ‘Titanic’
By Emily Rosenberg
About 370 nautical miles south-southeast of the coast of Newfoundland and 12,500 feet below the surface, deep sea creatures nest in a rusted and discolored first-class walking deck with long lost floorboards of a ship.
On this deck, the first passengers of the famous RMS Titanic played games of croquet, smoked cigarettes and cigars, lounged on chairs to read books, and met new friends.
On this deck, the first and only passengers of the “unsinkable” Titanic, became heroes as it sank from underneath them and they fought in the below-freezing ocean with every final moment to keep carrying on.
Twenty-five years ago, film director James Cameron fascinated the minds of billions with real in-depth footage of the sunken ship, which sailed for only five days and took the lives of more than 1,500 people in the ill-fated romance “Titanic.”
In 1997 when “Titanic” was released in theaters, Cameron, who believed his $200 million project was the end of his career, became the highest grossing blockbuster of all time, eventually surpassing $2 billion in the box office. Since, “Titanic” continues to intrigue generations of the historical disaster, inspires multiple facets of pop culture, and is still drawing in audiences new and old to cinema as the anniversary came with a re-release of the movie in 3D.
For those who have not seen the film, it focuses on the story of Rose Dewitt Bukater - a troubled rich girl who feels trapped in an abusive relationship because her mother is forcing her to marry for money. She meets Jack Dawson by chance, a free-spirited orphan and artist who wins a third class ticket in a lucky game of poker.
Throughout the film, the two fall in love. However, only seconds after Rose announces she wants to get off the ship with Jack as it docks, large chunks of an iceberg rain onto the deck where they are kissing, nearly clocking Jack in the head.
The story is told by Rose, now a 101-year-old widow, 85 years after she knew Jack and survived the sinking. Although her memory is not quick enough to remember introducing a man to her daughter five minutes ago, her recollection of Jack Dawson is as sharp as if she knew him all of her life.
Of course there is no secret that a film about the sinking will end in tragedy. Jack’s death is perhaps one of the most debated topics of all films. Whether or not you have seen it, you’ve likely been part of a discussion regarding the amount of space required to keep the door they clung to buoyant and Jack safely out of the water.
However, Cameron recently performed multiple tests in a National Geographic special “Titanic: 25 Years Later with James Cameron” to conclude that Jack in fact would not have survived. Still, science aside, Old Rose’s vivid memory of the man who made her promise to survive is symbolic to the message overall - the Titanic may have only sailed for five days, but the stories of the people who sailed on it were far from meaningless.
When Rose and Jack are hanging onto the back of the stern as the ship sinks, Rose reminds Jack “this is where we first met.” Which can sound slightly out of place considering the situation that there are thousands falling into the water around them.
This is another tragic reminder that their romance was star-crossed. But as Rose hangs onto the ship taking a shot at survival, the single line, nodding to her suicide attempt when they first met reminds us once not long ago, she felt she had no way out but now is fighting for every bit of life she can have.
This leads to the promise Jack asks her to make to “never let go.” He says, “You’re going to go on. You’re going to go, and you’re going to make lots of babies and you’re going to die an old woman, warm in her bed. Not here. Not tonight.”
Jack, whose life we only learn a snippet of, did not die in vain as he lived on in Rose’s heart every day and she keeps her promise to survive through hardship and lives a fulfilling life until the end.
This promise, 25 years later, also serves as a reminder to viewers, especially young ones, not to give in to adversity.
After my “Titanic” 3D experience, I could easily further discuss the haunting Oscar-winning score, cinematography, or costumes. However, this is overdone, and after years of contemplating the film, I want to call attention to incredible details I noticed which make it more immersive, terrifyingly heartbreaking, and understandably so successful.
For example, as Rose and Jack are kissing at the front of the ship, Rose’s shoulder wrap swiftly transitions into a load of floating seaweed on the wreck of the Titanic, snapping the audience out of the dreamy sunset makeout sequence and reminding us the clock is ticking.
Then, at the end of the film, Rose walks up the grand staircase to reunite with Jack in what is often thought of as Rose’s heavenly wedding. She is also surrounded by all of her friends who sank with the ship, including the ship’s architect Thomas Andrews, who provides honesty and wisdom to her throughout the film. Andrews smiles and gestures toward Jack as if he is her father-figure giving his blessing for her to be with him because Rose herself never had a true father.
However, who is not at the wedding is Rose’s mother, Ruth, whom she presumably never spoke to following the wreck. Ruth never approved of Jack, and would have been sickened by the mixing of poor and rich people in the scene.
Class is an ongoing theme throughout the film. While Andrews, who designed the luxury liner himself, comes to accept a poor man, and as everyone gathers to celebrate Rose and Jack’s reunion, “Titanic” concludes that there are no class divisions between love and grit. This is something Ruth never understood even as she was being shuttled away on a lifeboat and asked if they would be seated according to class.
Another exquisite detail is the contrast between the dialects of the bounty hunters searching for the Heart of the Ocean diamond, and Old Rose who grew up at the start of the century establishing Rose’s wisdom.
Though the start of the film when bounty hunter Brock Lovett can be a tedious watch, even this pays off.
After listening to the entirety of Rose’s story, Lovett says for three years he had been searching for the Titanic, but the problem was he “never let it in,” meaning he was too focused on the monetary value of the artifacts over sentiment.
He realizes the memories of Jack which Rose shared with him are far more valuable than any diamond, and thus he halts his expedition.
In recent years, I wondered why the world and I were so fascinated with this beautiful, tragic love story and the ship it took place on. Similarly for Brock Lovett, it attaches a compelling story of resilience, faith, and humanity to a disaster that would otherwise become lost in oblivion and serves as a reminder that human life is precious.
It reminds us that tomorrow is not certain, but we can still, as Jack Dawson said, “make each day count.”