Six thoughts on ‘Titanic’

Cinema Sugar asked on Threads: “What movie do you refuse to watch?” It provoked some interesting responses, the most common by far being Titanic and Barbie.

I get the Barbie backlash since it’s new and somewhat (weirdly) politically charged. Titanic, though, is nearly 30 years old and one of the most awarded and highest-grossing movies of all time. Perhaps that stature is enough to continue repelling people decades later? I get that not everyone is interested in a tragic romance and/or disaster adventure, but those who proudly avoid it as if it’s a badge of honor ought to make like Rose and lighten up, let their hair down, and do a jig down in third-class.

Partially out of spite for those insecure dumdums, I recently rewatched it for the first time in a decade. Some thoughts:

1. It’s a masterpiece. There’s just no way around it. There are cringey elements, sure, but they’re drowned out by the sheer magnitude of the spectacle and drama.

2. Noted this quote from the TV interview Paxton’s Brock Lovett gives:

Everyone knows the familiar stories of Titanic—the nobility, the band playing till the very end and all that. But what I’m interested in are the untold stories, the secrets locked deep inside the hull of Titanic.

This is a key point when thinking about the value of history and historical fiction. Imagined characters like Jack and Rose serve as representatives of all those real people whose stories remain untold, giving us a personal way into grand historical moments that typically erase the everyday folks who don’t end up in history books.

3. I didn’t see it in theaters, so my only experience with it for a long time was with the two-cassette VHS. The first cassette ending with Captain Smith’s line “I believe you may get your headlines, Mr. Ismay” and then a cut to black was an all-time intermission cliffhanger. There were other long movies with similar break lines like The Sound of Music (“It will be my first party, father!”) and Gone With The Wind (“Tomorrow is another day!”), but they just don’t compare in dramatic effect. And since DVDs quickly took over around this time, it might be the last movie with such a built-in cliffhanger.

4. This time around I really felt the weight Mr. Andrews was carrying as he reckoned with the unfolding tragedy and wandered through the mingling first-class passengers who were oblivious to their fate.

5. There’s a stark contrast between the two times the flares were shot off: in the first, they’re up close and seen by the passengers like a brilliant firework display, but in the second they’re in a far-wide shot that frames the mighty ship and its flares as but small flickers of light in the vast darkness of the ocean. Brilliant move to show just how alone and doomed they really were.

6. You know what this would make a great double feature with? Once. A chance encounter of two strangers, one of which inspires the other to escape their melancholic funk and live their life to the fullest. There’s even a lyrical nod to Titanic in “Falling Slowly”: take this sinking boat and point it home, we’ve still got time…