Nothing on earth could come between them.
Anyone who knows me knows that James Cameron’s Titanic is my favorite film of all time. I discovered Titanic properly when I was sixteen and it quite possibly saved my life. My abusive father had just left us, I was suffering from post-traumatic stress – my life was falling apart but Titanic taught me how to survive. It awoke this deep, hidden passion for film making and provided the perfect distraction from my crumbling personal life. No joke, I remember I once watched it five times in seven days [at this stage, I probably deserve an honorable mention in the credits]. Suffice to say, I became quite the Titanic historian.
Last week, I finally had the opportunity to see Titanic at the cinema and it was every bit as sweeping, glorious and epic as I’d imagined. Spoiler alert: I cried when the ship took its final plunge into the frigid North Atlantic. Anyway, I’m finally writing a review – something I’ve wanted to do since I was sixteen years old. I’ll be sharing my personal experience, taking a closer look at the themes and cinematography while flexing some behind the scenes trivia. So, let’s dive in, shall we?
Disclaimer: this is a seriously rambling, passionate post so strap in. Also, I’ll be spoiling literally everything so if you haven’t seen Titanic read at your own risk [and what the actual heck are you doing with your life???]. You have been warned.
Titanic is the epitome of a classic Hollywood epic – Romeo and Juliet aboard an ocean liner, doomed by man’s own hubris. It’s a sweeping, timeless love story about gender, class and survival against all odds.
But what makes Titanic so compelling is its broad, expansive scope. James Cameron is first and foremost an environmentalist. When he’s not making blockbusters he’s a deep sea explorer for National Geographic. Having dived the wreck himself, James Cameron uses his experience to blend genre and paint a hauntingly accurate depiction of modern history’s deadliest marine disaster.
Hidden deep beneath the frigid waves of the North Atlantic, looms the rusting wreckage of the RMS Titanic. They claimed she was unsinkable and yet there she lies, resting in the sediment of the seafloor, cast in eternal gloom. Brock Lovett, an egotistical treasure hunter complete with a pirate hoop, is savaging the wreck in his obsessive hunt for the Heart of the Ocean – a rare blue diamond.
Sitting there in the darkness with that first glimpse of Titanic’s bow, ghostly screams echoing from her hull, my scalp prickled with chills. Did you know that James Cameron shot actual footage of the wreck? Let me tell you – it took all of my willpower not to get up and tell the entire dang cinema [it’s pretty
freaking cool, okay?]. It creates such an emotional connection – it forces you to realize the very real human cost of Titanic. And, it works perfectly. I mean, within the very first scene, James Cameron explores new technology, addresses the integrity [or lack thereof] in salvaging the wreck while setting up the films emotional tone.
But that’s not all. Opening with this “modern” wrap-around narrative anchors Titanic to the real world, creating this sense of mystery. One that is weaved throughout. It also introduces Rose, now an elderly woman who returns to the wreck site to teach Brock a much needed lesson in humility. And so, with a sweeping transitional shot from the rusting wreck into Southampton, Rose takes us back to 1912.
Rose, now seventeen, is a feisty, upper-class woman suffocating underneath her controlling mother and the crushing weight of her father’s legacy. Jack Dawson is an artistic but penniless wanderer who saves her life and steals her heart. It’s a classic, cross-class love story – poor boy meets rich girl. Their romance is playful and passionate fleshed out with some very relevant commentary on class and the role of the woman.
Let’s take a moment to talk about Titanic’s iconic cinematography [*insert chef’s kiss here*]. Did you know James Cameron actually built the ship in all her original majesty? Titanic, or “Stage One”, was designed to scale, built as accurately as humanly possible – right down to the White Star Line silverware. [They even had Titanic’s original carpet manufacturers reproduce the weave]. And the camera sweeps across the set with some stunning, cinematic visuals. I mean, who could forget that dramatic swooping shot of Jack and Rose, arms outstretched “flying” as the camera soars over the bow? It’s the grandeur of the set and James Cameron’s elegant camera work that really sells the scope of Titanic’s story.
Oh and FYI, that gorgeous sunset was legit #nofilter.
But the film’s emotional impact comes from the fact that we know from the wreck exactly what’s going to happen – we know the ship is going to sink. The thing is, Jack and Rose don’t. When the doomed ocean liner finally collides with the iceberg, their passionate affair becomes an intense, high-stakes race for survival. The sweeping melodies dissipate into pulsing synths, dire horns and screeching, mournful string motifs. The camera work becomes ruff, almost nervous as we’re thrust into the building panic.
Actually, sitting there in surround sound, I quickly realized that these emotional, hysterical beats hit a lot harder in the cinema. You sort of get swept away into these breathtaking scenes of chaos as it all falls apart. But amidst the pandemonium, we also get those quiet, sombre beats; Thomas Andrews adjusting the clock in the first class smoking room. Ida and Isador Strauss holding each other as water pours into their cabin. The Irish mother in third class, tucking her children into bed. Second Officer Lightoller desperately sawing the ropes of collapsible lifeboat B. Captain Smith, resigned to his fate in the wheel house while the band plays on… You could have heard a pin drop.
And don’t even get me started on Titanic’s final plunge – that image of Jack and Rose clinging fiercely to back of the boat as the stern begins its final descent into the boiling sea. The score rises to a pulsing, wailing climax, Jack yells “this is it” and the Titanic herself lets out this mournful, agonized groan. I was on the edge of my seat. Actually, I think the entire cinema was holding its breath. It’s just… Wow.
Then we have the final scene – the promise.
Holy freaking shit did that scene smack me over the head. What I love most about Titanic is the fact that Rose saves herself. I always cry, not because Jack dies, but because Rose lives. I mean, Rose literary tried to throw herself of the back of the Titanic [oh the irony]. And yet, in the end she never gives up. She gets back into that icy water and she blows that whistle with everything she has left. She keeps her promise – she never lets go. That scene saved my life.
At this point, I think we’ve well and truly established that I have a deep and personal connection to Titanic. It’s a cinematic masterpiece, one of the greatest films ever made. Seeing it at the cinema felt surreal – it’s the way Titanic was intended to be experienced. By the time the camera panned back down to the wreck for that final transition shot I was in complete awe. I also wanted to take the journey again.
There’s so much more I could have explored with this post. I mean, I barely even touched on the characters [believe me – we’d be here longer than Titanic’s run time if I got into Jack Dawson]. Instead I’ll leave you with this: Titanic teaches us that life’s a gift and always unexpected – we have to live like Rose and make each moment truly count. Titanic teaches us to survive.
If you made it to the end of this post – congratulations! [Also thank you for sticking with me!]. Let’s chat in the comments below. What’s your favorite Titanic quote or scene? #neverletgo