A Genuine Story of Love and Tragedy
Ever since first grade, I have had a growing interest in the sinking of the Titanic. Originally, my passion for Titanic was associated with all aspects that had to do with the sinking. I was interested in the iceberg, the weather conditions, and of course, the ship itself. I did not consider any other notable facts, regarding the disaster. When I was eight years old, I was introduced to the movie, Titanic (1997). It was the first and only motion picture about the calamity I had seen. I must have watched the movie five times, in just one week. I would fast-forward the entire beginning, up to the iceberg collision, just to sneak in enough time to watch the sinking. Every time I watched James Cameron’s brilliant re-creation of the disaster, I found a new detail that I had not noticed before. I must have watched the movie more than one-hundred times, before completely stopping. As I got older, my interest in Titanic diminished, as I developed new passions in air travel, weather, space, and politics. I had left the movie in the dark for quite some time, maybe even a few years.
Just a few months ago, I decided to watch Titanic again. Instead of skipping through the beginning, I watched the entire movie through. I found myself taking interest to other aspects of the movie, other scenes, apart from the iceberg collision and subsequent sinking. I focused on many cultural elements of 1912, like the clothing and customs of the passengers aboard the ship. I also took more interest in the details of the ship, like the decorations of the rooms and the Grand Staircase. It was not until I got older that I began to appreciate James Cameron’s close attention to detail.
As I bean adding new interests into the cluster of intriguing ideas in my head, I found the plot of Titanic to be quite alluring. Many find the movie to be sad or depressing; however, I take a different approach. Although the movie depicts a disaster that killed over 1,500 people, it imbeds happiness, whimsy, perseverance and love all throughout tragedy. When scientists study the Titanic, they neglect to acknowledge the fact that there were real people, with real lives that perished on the ship. Titanic opens the audience up to this kind of analysis; at least, for me.
The movie begins with an expedition to the Titanic wreck site. James Cameron included real footage from his own under-sea trip to the ship. The bow of the great ship emerged from the absolute darkness of the North Atlantic. The rusted steel edges of the ship see light once more, as the submersibles pass by the empty decks. Windows, some still intact lie ajar, along the portside rooms. The once impeccably clean hull lies underneath barnacles of all colors; red, yellow, brown and green. While some areas of the ship are almost completely intact, others have been ripped apart, as if the ship had endured a great explosion. The Grand Staircase, once decorated with word carvings accompanied by marble finishes lies empty. The structural beams were all that was left behind from the corrosive sea water. Fish that have never been touched by light roam the decks and corridors. Opening the movie with this spectacular, heart-wrenching scene, James Cameron intended to truly bestow a feeling of loss, disappointment, and tragedy upon the audience. However, he did much more for me. I found my eyes wondering to the corners of the television screen, not knowing where to focus. My throat felt as if it were in my stomach, my heart pumping like a locomotive racing through the countryside. Surprised is an understatement, as I truly do not have the word to describe what I was feeling the first time I watched the opening scene. Obviously, I was excited to finally see real footage of the doomed ship; but this zeal was met with pain, with a question — how did this happen. I believe that this was one of James Cameron’s brilliant embellishments to the movie. It established a sense of tragedy and despair, but also intrigued me. It was the ultimate hook with which to begin the film. This brilliant opening became a scene that I must have watched at least thirty times. It felt as if I was connected to the sinking of Titanic, after watching this scene. The sinking felt like a part of my life. The somewhat-obscured image of the bow, the mere shadow of the monstrous ship casted on the sea floor never left my mind. The child’s mask, the pair of boots, the set of clothing, the pair of glasses all felt as if they belonged to someone I had known. Recalling all the other films about Titanic, I have yet to feel such a connection to the disaster.
In the first ten minutes of the film, it was as if I had traveled to a different world, yet I was just below the surface of the Atlantic. A deep darkens in the distance was brilliantly juxtaposed to gleaming piles of vibrant algae glued to the hull. The indestructible, the unsinkable was decaying right in front of my eyes. The Titanic had come to the mercy of mother nature. Now a graveyard, a memorial, a resting place for the greatest ship to ever sail the waters of Earth lies at the bottom of the Atlantic. As the submersible reached the surface, leaving the world of Titanic below, it felt as if I had touched fifteen-hundred people’s lives. I had uncovered eighty-seven years of loss, tragedy and wonder.
As the film progressed, James Cameron did a brilliant job of intertwining a complex plot with such a suspenseful calamity. It is so easy for screenwriters to distance themselves from the plot, and focus solely on action, in these circumstances. However, Cameron balanced both aspects of the movie terrifically. This is what really drove the film home, for me. While many watchers think the sole conflict in the plot was the sinking, I believe that James Cameron purposefully created a more powerful conflict — the classical character versus society. Rose, a wealthy, miserable women living in an era that provided women with almost no freedom, is met with a choice; to pursue an evil wealthy man or a generous, but poor selfless passenger. While her heart wants to seek Jack, the kind, poor passenger, her mother pushes her to marry Calvin, the wealthy selfish man. While the movie revolves around Rose’s inner conflict, the sinking was used as an instrumental tool, merely to help move along the plot.
Ultimately, Rose decided to stay with Jack until the end. Although she was offered a seat in a lifeboat when the ship was sinking, Rose sided with love over life. In this fundamental shift, James Cameron’s methodology became abundantly clear. The sinking ship, the overarching mother and Rose’s terrible faience all contributed to Rose’s ultimate character-changing moment. Most movies, books and plays include exterior sources that impact one, sole conflict. However, in James Cameron’s film, he was able to include multiple different sub-plots that all impacted one another, each comprised of multiple different conflicts. Despite the many focal points in the film, Cameron focused on each, with great attention. The complex characters, conflicts and circumstances in Titanic set the stage for a genuine and realistic story of romance — all embedded in a true tragedy. While watching the movie, it felt as if I was living the characters’ lives beside them. In times of excitement and in times of devastation, I felt the rush of blood through my veins, the pain in my stomach, the incidental tear fall from my eye. Brought on by the incredibly realistic aspects of the plot, emotions traveled through my mind as if they were genuine. They all stayed with me beyond the final scene of the movie, establishing a permanent place to reside in my mind.