When Titanic came out in 1997, I was only 11 years old. I remember the buzz surrounding the film, especially how everyone just had to go watch a then-23-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio shine as Jack Dawson (including my older sister, who had a strong Leo obsession).
I never saw it in theaters, but as soon as it was released on video, I had to watch it. I needed to understand why most everyone was in love with this film. As soon as my sister got the movie on VHS (yes, VHS, and because Titanic is three hours and 14 minutes long, it was two tapes), I popped it in and started watching.
Seeing as I was still in elementary school, I was not allowed to watch the part where Jack painted Rose like one of his French girls or the two having heated sex in the jalopy. Minus those parts, I don’t really remember how I felt about the movie, but I know wasn’t head over heels in love with it. To me, it was just a movie. Plus, I was only 11, so I didn’t really understand everything that was happening on-screen or fully grasp every adult moment, including Jack and Rose’s romance.
But as I got older, I obviously watched it again and, well, I didn’t fall in love with it. One of the many thoughts that went through my mind was, “Why is this movie considered so great?” I really didn’t understand it then — and I still don’t.
Titanic seems to be one of those movies that everyone adores except me. I am not afraid to admit that I hate it. I don’t care that it starred DiCaprio as Jack Dawson and Kate Winslet as Rose Dewitt Bukater (what a mouthful!). They are not enough to get me to rave about it; Titanic is a terrible movie.
Let me preface my hate for the movie by saying that I understand this story takes place in 1912 and things were different over 100 years ago, including the fact that it was apparently totally normal to be engaged as a teenager (look at Rose and Cal), but that doesn’t mean the romance plot doesn’t have major issues.
First of all, let’s start with Jack. Why would I root for a male love interest who is a liar, a cheat, a schemer and a mansplainer (Jack, Rose knows what ice fishing is!) and who insults the supposed love of his life but expects her to take those insults as compliments?
For example, Jack says, “Rose, you’re no picnic, all right? You’re a spoiled little brat, even. But, under that, you’re the most amazingly, astounding, wonderful girl, woman, that I’ve ever known.” Really? He totally bashes her, and that’s supposed to be romantic? I don’t think so. Secondly, after Rose jumps off the lifeboat as the ship is sinking because she just can’t live without Jack (even though she knows they might very well die), he to her: “You’re so stupid. Why’d you do that? You’re so stupid, Rose.” Excuse me? Again with the insults, Jack? This has to be the worst line in the entire movie.
Oh, and he’s also kind of sleazy. As Rose flips through his art book, Jack says, “That’s the good thing about Paris: a lot of girls are willing to take their clothes off.” Ew, Jack. Ew.
On the other hand, I will say that Jack does have a positive effect on Rose. He helped her feel her actual age, have fun, be carefree and recognize what happiness is. When a guy makes you smile, not cry, well, that’s the kind of guy you want in your life. Although Jack certainly wasn’t without his flaws.
Then there is Rose. She’s a 17-year-old girl who has serious issues. You might find it hard to relate to this privileged white girl, but how can you not feel bad for her? It would be terrible to feel so trapped that you think the only way out is suicide. Speaking of just that, how is it that Rose killing herself is just kind of pushed to the side? This moment is played off as something romantic because Jack rushes in to save the day. This is their meet-cute — and it’s an awful one.
Rose is so unhappy that she’s willing to take her own life. She even described herself as screaming inside. So, I’m supposed to ignore that and be like, “Aw, Jack is such a hero saving her, and she’s 100 percent fine now”? Meeting a cute boy is the cure? Even Jack asks Rose, “What could’ve happened to this girl that made her think she had no way out?”
Let’s take a moment to take in these two quotes from Old Rose. First, she says at the very beginning, “It was the ship of dreams to everyone else. To me it was a slave ship, taking me back to America in chains. Outwardly, I was everything a well-brought-up girl should be. Inside, I was screaming.” Hello! This is very concerning. Also, calling the Titanic a “slave ship” is way too much. Really? It’s not even close.
Then, Old Rose continues, “I saw my whole life as if I’d already lived it. An endless parade of parties and cotillions, yachts and polo matches. Always the same narrow people, the same mindless chatter. I felt like I was standing at a great precipice, with no one to pull me back, no one who cared… or even noticed…” Yeah, she had some major problems as a young girl, and they get pushed to the back burner.
I know there are people who can come into your life to help you and show you that life is worth living. As Old Rose says, “But now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me… in every way that a person can be saved.” Of course Jack helped Rose, but I don’t like how it was portrayed.
Back then, mental health wasn’t as widely discussed it is today, so maybe that’s why what Rose was dealing with was hardly touched upon. However, this could’ve served as a teaching moment. It’s dangerous to present this idea that the way to feel better or to be happy is by having a man swoop in and get you to fall in love with him. And it almost seems like what Rose is feeling inside is there one moment and then gone the instant she meets Jack. That’s not how real life works. Granted, Titanic is a love story, but there are some heavy issues involving Rose that are used as a plot device to push the romance storyline further — and that’s not OK.
For me, after recognizing just how unhappy Rose is, well, it’s hard to enjoy the love story. They dance. They laugh. Jack draws Rose naked while she’s wearing the “Heart of the Ocean” necklace. The run around the ship. They have sex in a car. They end up in the water and Jack basically doesn’t even try to survive. Rose lets go and gets rescued. Then, 84 years later, she finally tells her story and throws the diamond necklace into the ocean (really?!). She apparently dies, and her soul makes it way back to the Titanic, where she reunites with Jack and everyone else who perished claps as they kiss.
That’s pretty much the storyline in a nutshell. Overall, Jack and Rose’s love story isn’t as epic as it’s typically described. What does this love story teach us? That you can fall in love in 20 minutes. That when a man insults you and mansplains things to you, that is true love. And if you’re unhappy and you have suicidal thoughts, just ignore them because romance is right around the corner and you’ll feel totally fine in a matter of seconds.
I can’t handle this ridiculousness. I am the embodiment of Rose giving Cal’s valet the middle finger.
Maybe I’m a bit of a cynic and reading way too into all of this because it’s only a movie, but what I’ve mentioned is hard to ignore. When a film as big as the Titanic has the power to captivate audiences across the world, then maybe it should take its storytelling a bit more seriously.
As a little girl first watching Titanic, I definitely didn’t pick up on any of the above subject matter. So, to learn as I got older that this is what’s being presented throughout the film is disappointing, to say the least.