I remember sixth grade like it was 20 years ago. Every boy in my school got weirdly into corduroy pants for three months, I got glasses, corduroy pants stopped being cool the very same weekend I got them, and Titanic came out.
If you came of mainstream-pop-culture-consuming age in the 21st century, you might not fully grasp what a seminal, all-encompassing media event the release of Titanic was. Blockbusters have been a thing for half a century, but nowadays, every movie is treated like a blockbuster. Production studios can’t afford not to anymore in the bloated, IP-saturated market they have to release movies into. The strategy today seems to be “pour everything we have into everything we do in the hopes that at least one of them makes up the staggering losses of the ones that don’t.”
But back in 1997, movie releases were different. Drumming up hype for a blockbuster meant something, and Paramount Pictures bet it all on Jack. Girls in my class had ~*Leo*~ taped up in their lockers, Celine Dion was on Z100 constantly, and every single human being on Planet Earth went to go see Titanic in theaters, breaking every single applicable box office record at the time.
I’ve never seen Titanic.
But I have lived for twenty years in a society where everyone can safely assume 99.999% of the people within earshot have seen Titanic at one point or another, because literally everyone on Earth has seen this movie except for me. With all this exposure, I’ve cobbled together a pretty good idea of what the movie is about, and I’d like to share it with you.
Full disclosure: I’m aware I’m wrong, but again (and I feel like this has been made abundantly clear at this point), I’ve never seen the movie. Never let it be said that “being wrong” has stopped me from expressing my opinion, loudly.
Anyway, here’s what I think Titanic is about.
Kate Winslet plays Rose, an Irish woman from a well-off family who has more or less coasted through life fulfilling her role as a woman in a rich family. She’s engaged to Billy Zane, who plays Billy Zane, another rich jerk. It’s a marriage of formality, not passion or romance, but as she’s never really experienced passion or romance in her socially-regulated life, she’s content with this. She’s not happy, and she secretly longs for more, but she’s generally content. Billy Zane is rich and handsome and will probably hire a super hot poolboy for her to have an affair with later in life.
Billy Zane books a room for them on the ultra-luxurious, state of the art HMS Titanic, a boat wisely named not for its deftness upon the sea, but for being Bigger Than Large.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jack, a poor Irish artist who has also somehow booked passage aboard this grand ballroom of a ship but has to live in the hull, because he’s poor and Irish and likely covered in dirt all the time.
Sidebar: Does he wear a Newsies cap at some point? I bet he wears a Newsies cap at some point. I bet he’s standing on the dock with a bag slung over his shoulder surrounded by all the other poors waiting for the rich people to finish boarding so they can hook the plank up to the refuse port to allow all the poors on, and he’s wearing a Newsies cap. Do you need to communicate that your character is Irish and poor? Put a Newsies cap on him and have him stand on a dock.
Jack, Rose, and Billy Zane get on the boat and the boat takes off. There’s a day or two of the 1912 version of what people do on cruise ships (they still throw up Coca Cola, but it has actual cocaine in it), and then Jack and Rose meet somehow. I’m pretty sure that they meet because Rose is bored at a Rich People Party and wanders off. She finds a much better Irish Poors Party happening below deck, but if I’m being totally honest, I’m basing this 100% off a Family Guy episode that tells the story of how Peter and Lois meet, and I’m pretty sure they were trying to parody Titanic in that episode. This is probably wrong.
However they meet, either via happenstance Irish Poors Party or if he just comes up behind her while she’s doing her morning stretches on the prow, Jack and Rose meet and fall in love. At some point, Jack sketches her naked, and I know this because I was 12 years old at the time and the idea of a woman being naked in a movie and no one getting angry at me for liking it was revolutionary to me. It seared itself into my brain the first time I heard about it.
Sidebar: The HMS* Titanic set sail April 10, 1912, and sank April 15, 1912. It took less than five days for Jack to meet, woo, and seduce an engaged woman seven levels above his societal weight class. Every male friend of mine who complains about meeting women in the age of dating apps in a city that is 52% women officially has zero excuses. Jack can do it on a sinking ship, you can buy a woman a drink.
Anyway, Billy Zane presumably figures out Rose has been seeing someone else on the side (“We’ve been on this boat for less than 72 hours and you’ve been gone for 36 of them, Rose. I booked this trip for us.”) and gets Rich Asshole Mad. I’m assuming this happens right before the ship breaks, which brings us to (spoiler alert!) the ship breaking.
Billy Zane looks for Rose, but Rose looks for Jack. Billy Zane realizes he’s lost his woman to another man and gets even Rich Asshole Madder, but hey, whaddaya gonna do? He kicks some women and kids off a lifeboat because he is a Rich Asshole, and he probably even gets to live. Asshole.
A string quartet plays while the boat sinks, which is dumb. The captain chooses to go down with the ship, which is awesome. Jack and Rose don’t make it to the boats in time and end up clinging to a door together (which Jack totally could have fit on).
Rose promises she’ll never let go.
Jack turns blue.
Rose lets go.
Decades later, Rose is old and rich and commissions an entire boat of people to go out into the ocean to find her expensive necklace, and while on the boat tells the story of how she met Jack. After she tells the story and is by herself, she takes out the very necklace they’ve been looking for, which she has had all along, and throws it into the water, for romance.
She is a terrible person who let Jack die and wasted a bunch of people’s time just so she could destroy a necklace.
James Cameron won a ton of awards and got to make Avatar later.
How’d I do?
*After writing this, I’ve come to the realization that the HMS Titanic was actually the RMS Titanic. That’s right, it wasn’t Her Majesty’s Ship, it was a Royal Mail Ship. The Titanic was delivering letters. Gee!