Hard to believe it’s been 25 years since this gripping romance-disaster film lit up our screens. Visual Parables was into its 7th year when this great film was released. Here is what I thought of it then.
- James CameronJames Cameron
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
Rated PG-13. 3 hours 14 min.
Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 4; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 4.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor, than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Then they said, “Come, let us build a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…”
Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
If ever there was fuel for moralists and preachers, it is the story of the supposedly “unsinkable” R.M.S. Titanic. It was the epitome of the Industrial Age technology, fed by faith in humanity’s genius and ability to conquer nature. At 882 feet the ship was longer than the tallest of the skyscrapers rising above New York City’s skyline. Her giant engines could reach a top speed of 23 knots. The first class passengers, who paid up to $3,100 (the equivalent of $124,00 today) for suites, lived in opulent splendor, their lounge designed after the Palace of Versailles. The builders had designed 10 compartments that could be sealed off, supposedly making her unsinkable. So confident were they that they provided lifeboats that could accommodate only half of the 2223 people aboard — or I should say, the owners, as the designer originally intended to have more lifeboats provided but was over-ruled on the basis that the “extra” boats would be unsightly and crowd the deck too much.
As she steamed west the ship received numerous messages warning of icebergs ahead, but her captain, believing that his ship was unsinkable paid them little heed. Just five days later 1500 of the passengers and crew would be dead. It is the story of that short five days that filmmaker James Cameron brings magnificently to life in a film that will become a classic — and not just because it is the costliest movie ever to be made.
The long delayed James Cameron epic has finally sailed into our movie theaters, and its success seems to be as great as was the failure of the original White Star Line ship. Mr. Cameron delivered to us not just another monster disaster blockbuster like Airport or The Poseidon Adventure, but a film whose characters hold our attention as much as the spectacle itself. I agree with those who say that you have to go back to Gone With the Wind to find a spectacle and a love story as engrossing. Forget about The English Patient! And the director has used his special effects so well, the ghost like corridors of the sunken ship morphing into the glittering corridors and staterooms of the Titanic as she was in all her glory in 1912.
Even though we know the fate of the two lovers, we are drawn into their disparate worlds and hope against hope that some miracle will see them through the doom that awaits two thirds of the passengers. Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson are well matched in their ability to convey the hopes and dreams of society’s high and the low. She longs to break out of the gilded cage her socially prominent but financially strapped mother and her snobbish wealthy fiancé would confine her in. He, after seeing much of the world working his way on tramp steamers, wants to return to America to develop his art.
Jack believes he is the luckiest person in England when he wins a 3rd class ticket for himself and a friend on the fast new ship. The ship is built to keep the upper and the classes apart, but the two meet in an unusual way. Seeing no way out of her disastrous engagement, Rose is about to jump over board when Jack comes upon her. Rose’s fiancé Cal Hockley is induced to invite Jack to dinner as a reward for helping her. He does, thinking that Jack’s lack of social graces will be amusing. But Molly Brown (Kathy Bates playing the real life “Unsinkable Molly Brown”) comes to Jack’s aid, lending him a tuxedo and offering hints about table manners. Jack, far from being shown up, sails through the ordeal, and when the men retire to drink brandy and discuss business, Jack conducts Rose to the 3rd class deck where a lively round of folk dances are being enjoyed by all. She sees an exuberant part of life denied by her Philadelphia blue-blood circle. We also know that these two are meant for each other by their choice of art. When Cal looks at Rose’s paintings she has bought in Paris, he sneers at the Picasso and Braque, calling them “trash.” Jack, on the other hand, is delighted that she enjoys the new art.
The script and actors do a fine job of showing us an opulent world in which breeding and wealth are everything. This proves to be the case even in the sinking, the gates leading to the upper decks remaining locked and closed so that the third -class passengers faced great difficulty in escaping. Thus 60% of the first-class passengers were saved (199) compared to 25% of those in third-class (174). Some of the crew and passengers became so panicky that the lifeboats were not all filled to capacity — the first one to be launched could hold 65, but only 28 persons were aboard when it was lowered. And equally tragic was the fact that only one of the several boats with additional space turned back to rescue passengers from the icy waters.
There is more to the story of the sinking than that of pride and arrogance and cowardice, of course, and many acts of courage and devotion are also shown. The band plays music to calm the passengers; then, as the ship tilts more just before its final plunge, the members cease playing, deciding to tend to their own needs. However, the leader stays and begins to play the hymn, “Nearer My God to Thee.” The other musicians stop, take up their instruments and join him, the hymn of assurance swelling in volume.
As the stern rises higher and higher we see another scene of calmness in the midst of frightened passengers falling or jumping overboard — a group of Catholics kneel around a priest. As he leads them in praying the Rosary and reciting a passage from the Book of Revelation, he reaches out to touch as many of his little flock as possible. Husbands reassure wives in lifeboats that they will soon join them, even though they know otherwise. Thus the cowardice of several of the passengers is offset by the heroism of others. And especially there is the great love story of Rose and Jack that also offsets the spectacular sets and special effects. As powerful as the latter, showing that Cameron did spend his lavish budget well, they do not overwhelm the human story. Their story make this long film well worth watching, and the special effects make it almost imperative that you see this film in the theater if you are to fully appreciate how effective a large screen story can be.
Perhaps some unconscious symbolism: Cyber-friend Rev. Pam Abbey was taken aback by the way Jack Dawson is depicted. She wrote to our cyber group:
“…but what are we to do with a story in which the hero…
…comes from a podunk town — Chippewa falls/Nazareth
…hangs out with the lower classes and parties with them
…befriends prostitutes but apparently does not become their customer
…is arrested on trumped up charges
…dies so that others can live
…is said by the other main character “he saved my life in every way a person could be saved”
“I suspect one reason for the popularity of the film is that it’s hitting people on a very archetypal level, whether they’re aware of it or not.”