This is not a review of Titanic. Titanic doesn't need yet another review, at least not from me. I can sum up in a few phrases my feelings about the film: spectacular special effects and attention to detail, awesome contemporary underwater photography, stupid romantic sub-plot, and manipulative heart-tugging present-day scenes with Rose. Far less than the sum of its parts, unfortunately. It could have been so much more, but it opted for the easy route, completely missing what could have been a truly wonderful story.
Recommend this product?
And that's what I'm here to talk about, my biggest problem with the film. Everyone seemed to accept at face value the older Rose's statement, "He saved me, in every way a person could be saved." But that's not right, you see. Jack may have shown Rose the way, but Rose saved herself. If every adolescent girl in America who saw this film and swooned over Leonardo DeCaprio came away with the message that your life is what you make it, that would be a good thing. But alas, no; they all believe that Jack saved Rose. *sigh*
Let's take a look at the setup of the romantic story, which got very little coverage in the contemporary reviews. The impoverished Mrs Bukater has prostituted her daughter out to the slimy but wealthy Billy Zane character, and Rose is not happy about it. Still, she sleeps with him when he demands it. Never mind how scandalous such behavior would have been, back at the turn of the century. Rose is resigned to the life her mother has arranged for her, until she meets Jack. Jack can do whatever he wants, and that freedom is so appealing to Rose that she comes to believe that she can, too.
Of course, the ship sinking gives her a perfect opportunity to escape the trap that was to be her life. Alas, Jack dies, leaving her all alone in the frigid sea.
So, does Rose just give up and die? Of course not, otherwise there would be no movie. Spotting the circling lifeboat, she makes a last-ditch effort to reach the crewman with the whistle, and saves her life in the process. Step One in the Rose Salvation process has been achieved.
Next, we see her on board the vessel, huddled with the other survivors. She has not sought out her mother or her loathsome fiance. She makes a considerable effort to remain concealed from him. Finally, we are given concrete evidence of her decision regarding her life-to-be when she gives her name as "Rose Dawson." Step Two in the Rose Salvation process.
There are many more steps in the Rose Salvation process that we don't get to see. We do see photos of young Rose riding horses on the beach, and doing similar fun, free-spirited things. She worked as an actress, and we all know it doesn't get much more free-spirited. Basically, every day that she didn't break down and call her mother, crying to come home again, was another Step in the Rose Salvation process. She built her own life.
She saved herself.
Of course, in the process, she abandoned her mother, but here's hoping that Mom had life insurance on her lovely daughter, her one remaining asset. At first I thought it was pretty harsh of Rose to just let her Mom think she was dead, but upon reflection, her mother was so odious that anything Rose did to escape her was justified. What mother sells her daughter into a marriage just to maintain her own lifestyle? Wait, don't answer, I know -- too many. But I didn't particularly enjoy having that fact rubbed in our faces. In faking her own death, Rose did the right thing.
And none of it had anything to do with Jack. He may have been her inspiration, but she came up with the plan, she implemented it, and she succeeded. Kudos to Rose. Sorry about that premature demise, Jack, but frankly I think you did Rose a favor.
Finally, a word on the nature of true love. Jack and Rose obviously connected on several levels, not the least of which was physical. And no doubt, if this story were true, Rose would always have a special place in her heart for Jack (hence the inane lyric), and life-long daydream fodder in the form of "what if." Rose had a very full life, she married, she had children, she has grown grandchildren. In the fullness of that experience, the passion she felt during a two-day fling nearly a century ago would gradually fade away, until the memory is but a warm glow. Real love requires a huge time investment, surviving the big crises and enduring the petty annoyances.
Raising children together is one of the best ways to build love. Rose had the experience of being a mother. She raised her children with her husband, and so I must reject that romantic reunion that closes out the film. Cameron's manipulation of his audience was masterful, but it just doesn't stand up to examination. My guess is he never intended it to; this film is such a visceral experience he probably figured "Why bother?"
The answer to that question is, it could have transformed this story, essentially a story of death, into one of life. We could have seen Rose as having re-created herself, a phoenix rising from the ashes, glorious and transformed. Instead we're left with a pathetic and impractical obsession with the past: Do you really think she would have held on to that necklace all these years? Do you have any idea what college tuition is running these days? But no. Rose wanting only to be with Jack again after all she had accomplished renders all those achievements meaningless. She is not a role model for young women, striking out on her own, becoming who she wants to be. She's trapped in the fantasy of a could-have-been, and willingly trades in all of her subsequent experiences.
Bah. After three years it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
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