A blog about general entertainment, fashion, and movies. And some random stuff too.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Titanic Reflection: Why Does it Work?

So, Titanic has just been rereleased into theaters after fifteen years. It was one of the most successful movies in history and began the careers of what we can now say are two of the most accomplished and talented actors of our time. Yet, despite all of that, plus the enormous fan base this film still has, there are tons of detractors who claim this movie is terrible. Are they right? Actually, they're onto something. Despite its success and the big name actors that are involved, there is a lot wrong with this movie. Which begs the question, then: why does it work? 

Why I Love It 

I watched Titanic for the first time as an 11-year-old, was deeply affected by the tragedy/story, became fascinated with the history, and fell in love with Leonoardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet. I think a huge amount of the people my age (mostly the girls) probably had similar experiences with this movie, and so it played a huge part in our adolescence. Nostalgia is most likely the reason why 99.8% of people are paying $14 to wear stupid 3D glasses and sit for three hours to see a movie they probably own on DVD. I know when the movie began in my theater, I clapped my hand over my heart and I was in 6th grade again. Same heart pangs and everything.

The movie gets me every time, even when I start out completely convinced I'm not in the right mind-set to cry. It's no use. The following is a glimpse into my mind as I relive watching the movie:
Basically from beginning to the middle of Titanic my heart is exploding with rainbows because I love Jack and Rose SO much, and there is all this sexual and romantic tension and … LEO’S BEAUTIFUL PERFECT FACE BEING ALL IN LOVE AND STUFF...
..but THEN they hit the iceberg and immediately I’m all, “I REGRET THIS DECISION. MISTAKE MISTAKE. ABORT MISSION.” And by the end…I'm weeping for the remainder of the week day. 

Obviously, I adore Titanic. However, while I adore this movie and have no resistance to it's inexplicable charms, there is no way you'll ever hear me describe it as "genius" or "masterful" or "spectacular" in terms of film making.

What's Wrong With It?

James Cameron loves to plaster his name all over this film and make sure to remind everyone that he invented the Titanic -er, that he made the movie Titanic. As the credits began to roll, the first thing that flashed across the screen is "Written and Directed by James Cameron." He's really proud of what he's accomplished, and I guess he's earned it because, as I said, it's ridiculously successful. But I am under the impression that Cameron thinks it's because of him and his writing, which I have to proclaim to be false

He writes in circular symbolism and irony that is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. It's not hard to get it upon first viewing, let alone multiple viewings. It’s not “genius” or deep in any way. It’s just… obvious. The characters are all flat, two-dimensional beings and only a fraction of them are dynamic.  It's nothing that another writer couldn't produce with his/her eyes closed. It's not earth-shattering by any means.

I love this movie in spite of how shallow the characters and dialogue are. The love story is done well, but I think it has a lot to do with the arrangement of events created and how they’re acted, not how the events and dialogue are written. 
The dialogue can sometimes be so self-indulgent and cheesy that, if it weren’t Kate and Leo saying the words, I’d roll my eyes. But then there are moments that are meant to pander to the audience, yet they still work for me and make me smile. Blast James Cameron, because some of his cheap tricks still work on me, even though I acknowledge that a trick is what it is. But, again, that doesn't mean it's good film making. It just means Cameron knows the tricks to manipulate.
I had this poster hanging in my room when I was 11. Srsly.
Why It Works

The reasons Titanic works, in my opinion, are these things:

Firstly, the history it’s based on is tragic, fascinating, and unique; naturally people are going to be drawn in by it. If I refuse to give James Cameron credit for most of the things he did with this film, one credit I cannot withhold is how much research he did to make it as real as possible. He immersed himself in the history, studied picture after picture of life on Titanic, even recreated some of the most iconic images in the movie. The sinking of the ship was well-thought out and wonderfully executed. When it comes to film making, Cameron excels in special effects and details. 

He also showed forensic details as well as emotional details of the disaster. What would it look like from a technical standpoint when "A" happens to the ship? What would it feel like from a victim's standpoint? etc... We see horrifying images of the lights blinking on and off, strange groaning as the ship is bent by the pressure of the water. We see haunting images of unused China shattering in piles, an old couple holding one another in bed, knowing they can't make it to a life boat. In that way, Cameron didn't miss a beat. Watching the the last 45 minutes of this movie is enthralling because Cameron has recreated something only the actual people on that ship had seen up until this movie was released, and however morbid that might be, it is also fascinating.

Another reason it works is because the characters are archetypal so it makes them easy to relate to. There are no characters in the movie that are multi-dimensional (unless you want to argue in favor of Rose which would be a skimpy argument, overall). They are mostly vague versions of people and therefore it's easy for many viewers (rather than a small specific group) to latch onto the good guys and abhor the bad guys. 

And lastly, it works because the love story is something many, many people root for. They want to believe a love like that of Jack and Rose can really exist. I was reading some movie responses for Titanic and many said they don't believe that a love like this can exist anymore, which was rather sad to me. One in particular spoke about how materialistic and selfish current day culture is and that it doesn't foster this kind of devotion, claiming that the time in which a love like this maybe could have occurred is gone forever. 

That perspective just drives my point home further that people really want to believe in this kind of love, and if they don't believe they can find it in real life, then where will they go? Maybe... to a movie, where they can cling to the hope they feel when they watch a girl give up her millions to be with a penniless artist who wants nothing more than to make sure she's going to be okay, because nothing is more important to either of them than the other person.   


  1. Great overview! All of these points make complete sense to me. I still love it even if it's cheesy and by James Cameron. :p

  2. The characters are all flat, like you said, but I can't help but love Jack and Rose. And you are right about the technical parts of the movie. So realistic and horrifying.

  3. I cried reading your review, therefore cementing that I'm in no way emotionally prepared to see this on the big screen again.

  4. There is no doubt the movie may have been even better if the writing was better, but the reason the movie is so great is exactly for the reason you state of why it works. It works because of all the good things Cameron did and to note the positives would make a list even longer than your blog, and there will always be negatives where critics can find the areas to enhance and make it better, but to make this much better you would have to make a Long movie LONGER. I agree with most of what you say, and it is history and making a movie about a true story that makes the movie easier to connect to audiences even if there is average writing. I think Cameron takes advantage of that aspect, but wouldn't we all!

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