I recently watched Titanic (you may have heard of it) for the first time ever. OK, that’s not entirely true … I first saw the movie when it came out on VHS; I was 4, details are foggy. I remember women wearing hats, Leonardo DiCaprio clutching to the edge of what I then thought was a raft, and later, a brightly lit Leo standing at the top of a flight of stairs—the highlights, essentially.
Since the 1997 film might be the most referenced pop culture artifact of the last century or so, I’ve filled in a lot of the details over the years: Kate Winslet gets naked, Leo (king of the world) draws her like one of his French girls, Billy Zane is a douchebag, an old lady drops a heart-shaped diamond into the ocean in the end (Thanks, “Oops I Did It Again”), etc. …
Knowing the basic outline of the film, I somehow thought I could live without actually watching it, though its three-hour and 15-minute runtime may have exerted some influence over this decision.
Before I continue, you should know that avoiding a romantic drama (of any kind) is incredibly out of character for me. My favorite movies are Dirty Dancing, Say Anything, and Moonstruck, closely followed by Clueless. I live for chick flicks, and unlike most genres, I’m not wary of quality (i.e. this weekend I voluntarily watched The Christmas Prince; also, I own a copy of Something Borrowed).
Somehow, Titanic fell in a different category than the rest—it was almost sacred, an experience I was undeserving of due to the years of missed references, and my familiarity with Kate Winslet stemming from her performance in Finding Neverland. Could such a seasoned romantic film buff truly buck all reservations and self-made pop culture etiquette and finally watch the iconic blockbuster she’d avoided for nearly 20 years??
On Dec. 17, 2017, I took the plunge (no pun intended) and began the movie that (like Celine Dion’s heart) goes on and on. I had a lot of thoughts—here are a few of them:
1. First off, the plausibility of Rose’s story is feeble at best. In a scene from the present-day, she says that she never told anyone about Jack (DiCaprio), not even her husband. Here’s the thing, though: she took his name. Didn’t her husband and children wonder about Rose’s family? How did she manage to avoid the “Oh, Dawson is the last name of my deceased lover” conversation for 84 years?
2. On a similar note, I feel really bad for Rose’s mom. Granted, they didn’t have a great relationship, but were things really so bad that she, at 17, not only ended their relationship but left her mom to pore over the details of how her daughter slowly froze to death for the rest of her life? Rose takes teenage angst to new and truly savage levels.
3. Jack and Rose knew each other for, at most, five days—can this really be the greatest love story ever told? C’mon, how many conversations did we actually see them have? If the circumstances had been different, I’d give it a couple months, tops.
It’s funny, because despite the obvious ties of the movie to the world famous 1912 shipwreck of the same name, I always regarded Titanic as a romance, not a disaster movie. Less than halfway through, however, I realized my mistake.
If you’ve somehow made it to the year 2017 without watching Titanic, don’t be fooled by the film’s romantic aesthetic. This is a TERRIFYING movie. Speaking as someone with an acute fear of flying (and really all travel, for that matter), the last two hours of Titanic are absolutely harrowing. The “unsinkable” ship doesn’t go down quickly. Frantic hours of attempted escape follow, water slowly filling each chamber of the boat as passengers vie for the limited seats in each lifeboat, or otherwise solemnly accept their imminent death.
As much as I loved the fluffy teen romance of Titanic’s early moments, the latter half was almost painful to watch. Still, this is one of the highest grossing films of all-time. I realize that “painful” is nearly a genre of its own at this point, as is grotesque horror, but there’s something so achingly real about this film (historical facts aside) that I can’t imagine sitting through it a second time.
Perhaps Titanic is not the film for 2017. After living through 9/11, wartimes, and the reign of Donald Trump, a graphic reminder of the shipwreck responsible for taking the lives of more than 1,500 innocent passengers is maybe not what we need right now … ?
Titanic, I understand you, I do. Your cultural grandeur no longer eludes me. That being said, if I ever choose to watch you again, it will involve a very stiff round of drinks.