Titanic: A Modern Classic

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Carmen Porter, Writer

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In an age where “event” films keep costing more and more, it’s not surprising that Hollywood manages to top itself every once in a while with a new “most expensive film.” What’s most surprising with Titanic, (at over $200 million) is the fact that writer/director James Cameron has crafted a disaster film that’s not a disaster; a tale overflowing with emotion, symbolism, and depth. At over three hours, it’s a feat in itself. There are hardly any dull moments. The film follows modern-day crew as they plunder the sunken ship in search of a precious necklace (worth more than the Hope Diamond). Instead they find only a sketch of a naked beauty wearing the necklace. 

After showing the drawing on television, a woman calls in, claiming that she is that woman. The salvage crew brings her over in hopes that she can shed some light on where the necklace disappeared to. She does so by telling the tragedy of the Titanic, and on its most bare-bones level, that tale is simply the story of a pretty and proper young first-class passenger named Rose (Kate Winslet) who starts to fall in love with the good-looking and freedom-loving third-class passenger, Jack (the oh-so-hot Leonardo DiCaprio), even though she’s engaged to marry a very controlling and conniving elitist (Billy Zane).

While the plot is simple, it’s so richly textured that it comes alive. Cameron makes his Titanic a microcosm of society, giving us a glimpse in the lives of the rich, the poor, and the crew members of the ship. Occasionally, his presentation is so overt, and the dialogue and events so trite that they make you cringe. But for the most part, everything is done with such persistence and panache.

 From the marvelous doors, the airy dining rooms, the intricate workings of gears, to the boiler room where men shovel coal, everything is presented with a nice elegance. All this splendor ultimately serves to emphasize the fact that it’s a ship of dreams. 

The love story here is reminiscent of Casablanca, or The Bridges of Madison County, being in strictest terms more of a love affair, than true everlasting love. But this tale differs from those earlier classics because it doesn’t wallow in its own remorse; it revels in the bittersweet  memories of it. Rose doesn’t just fall in love with Jack because he’s good looking or a talented artist, she falls in love with him because he gives her something no one else has: self confidence and the chance at freedom. It is one of the most delicate and brilliant love scenes staged in a long time, and it doesn’t even involve sex. Rose poses with the gorgeous heart shaped diamond around her neck. 

The performances are just as good as the visual effects. Billy Zane makes you wonder if he’s acting out of love or out of power, some could even argue both. Kate Winslet’s changes from brooding unhappiness to joy emphasize her unfortunate, yet privileged state. Leonardo DiCaprio gives an equally engaging performance. He’s more soulful and fun-loving than he was in Romeo and Juliet, yet is showing the same die-hard devotion to his maiden. 

One of the most brilliant touches by Cameron is showing in the film, to show a computer simulation of the step by step process of the sinking of the ship. When the ship hits the iceberg, as warning signs are ignored the tale takes its downward spiral into chaos,  the ship begins its actual descent into the ocean, we know exactly what is happening, and what is going to happen next. 

The final act is dark, cold, terrifying, and full of disturbing scenes. When the ship finally sinks, so do the lives and dreams of many of the passengers and crew, falling into an unforgiving, freezing ocean. The film’s final scene is imaginative and touching at the same time. It finds good in the bad, shows the past with the present, and treasures the voyage of the human spirit. Even today, 98 years later, the Titanic remains at the bottom of the ocean. The film, over 20 years old, also remains. I have a deep love for this movie and would recommend it to anyone interested in disaster or love stories.

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