I was 12 when Titanic was first released. I had to beg to be allowed to go. My mom had a talk with me about the infamous nude scene before I was granted permission. I went with my more-popular friend and her two also-more-popular guy friends.
It was a big friggin' deal. Before I even got in the theater.
And then the lights dimmed and the screen came into focus. It was 1912! The Victorian era high style of the society ladies! The incredibile granduer of the ship! Leonardo DiCaprio in his prime! The first half of the movie was a classic film high full of rushes of emotion and eye candy.
Courtesy of Zuma Press: Titanic 1997, PICTURED: LEONARDO DI CAPRIO, KATE WINSLET
Which made the second half of the movie all the more crushing. The captain going down with his ship! The string quartet playing on the deck! The heartbreaking shots of the lower class families accepting their fate (omg, those little children)! And oh, if only Rose had gone on the lifeboat! Why, why, why did Jack die? It ruined everything. It was crushing. Crush. Ing.
That was 1997. Fifteen years ago. And when I found out they were bringing it back in 3D, all I could think was, "Why???"
Titanic was by far the most overrated movie of my lifetime.
I saw Titanic a second time on TV sometime in college. I don't know if it was the wisdom of age or the smaller screen or just knowing what was going to happen, but it just wasn't the same. "Classic" was now "predictable." The dialogue was flat and cheesy. The characters were stiff archetypes.
And Jack died all over again. It was awful.
Where were the people in charge of protecting the integrity of historic disasters when the marketing department decided to make this unabashed dive for profit off the 100-year anniversary of the Titanic's crash?
It's shameless. Shameless promotion and nostalgia, wrapped in Celene Dion.
The strange immediate high Titanic provoked across society, followed by such extreme disenchantment, is something I have only ever experienced with one other movie ... Avatar. Both of these films pull you in with epic plots, classic characters, and mindblowing special effects. It's a hell of a ride that first time around. And then just as fast, it's gone, a cardboard cutout of what it once was.
I call it the James Cameron phenomenon. Blow it out of the park with a classic story and killer effects, then fade out under the protests of the disillusioned and unimpressed.
And yet there's something to all the hype these films generate. There's a reason Titanic struck such a strong chord.
I didn't know it then, and I didn't know when I saw it again years later. I didn't realize what it was about Titanic that hit me so hard until I started really thinking about the re-release.
And what I realized was this: Jack had to die. Because Titanic is not a love story. It's a feminist story.
It's not about Rose and Jack. It's about Rose. It's her awakening. Jack is just part of the story of how she got there. Rose already knows she doesn't want the future that's planned for her at the beginning of the movie. But she thinks she's trapped. She thinks the only way out is to die ... and she is willing to take that trade. But Jack shows her an alternative--make a new life. Make your own life.
And that's exactly why Jack has to die. If Jack lives, Rose is just trading one man's set of rules for another's (albeit a much more palatable set). For it to really matter, she has to do it on her own. It's not Sleeping Beauty, where the prince comes, awakens the sleeping princess, and saves her. It's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Rose saves herself.
How did I go 15 years without realizing this? I don't know. I blame my pre-teen self for not being a more sophisticated viewer.
So thank goodness this movie was just re-released, because now that I've had this epiphany, I'm dying to see it again.
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