THE STORY – An epic, action-packed romance set against the ill-fated maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic; the pride and joy of the White Star Line and, at the time, the largest moving object ever built. She was the most luxurious liner of her era — the “ship of dreams” — which ultimately carried over 1,500 people to their death in the ice cold waters of the North Atlantic in the early hours of April 15, 1912.
THE CAST – Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Gloria Stuart, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Danny Nucci, David Warner & Bill Paxton
THE TEAM – James Cameron (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 195 Minutes
Let’s get one thing straight: art is subjective. We all know this; everyone will not agree on everything, which is the beauty of art in the first place. Two people can engage with a film and have two very different opinions. One can love it, while the other can hate it. Therefore, it is difficult to say whether a piece is good or not since there is bound to be someone on the planet who will not like it for one reason or another. But occasionally, the stars will align where a piece connects with almost everyone, claiming its space in history. Only a handful of films have asserted their spot as “one of the best,” where everyone can agree that it’s the best example of what the medium of film can achieve. Some films that come to mind are “Citizen Kane,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now.” And it is without a shadow of a doubt that James Cameron’s “Titanic” is part of that club.
Though the tragic event occurred in April of 1912, “Titanic” begins in the present day at the shipwreck where Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) and his crew recover a safe, hoping to find a necklace worth millions. Unfortunately for them, there is no diamond necklace, but there is a drawing of a young woman wearing it. After broadcasting the photo, a 100-year-old woman, Rose (Gloria Stuart), claims that the woman in the picture is her. Shocked and stunned, Brock invites Rose aboard and asks her to tell her story in the hope of locating the necklace. She willingly takes us back to her 17-year-old self (Kate Winslet) aboard the ship and has us experience the magic of the Titanic just as she did.
“Titanic” is James Cameron’s magnum opus. He is clearly fascinated by the tragic event and has a deep gratitude and respect for the people aboard the ship and the ship itself. The opening scenes alone of the wreck have an eerie beauty to them. There is a sense of tribute as it is so many people’s underwater graves, but Cameron still shows the beauty of Titanic. It is almost dreamlike as it is a graveyard, which makes the transformation from the present-day wreck to 1912 all the more magical. Combined with the stunning cinematography (featuring many grand swopping crane shots), a beautiful score by James Horner, and astounding visual and practical effects, the audience falls in love with Titanic herself as much as Cameron does. Titanic is its own character, a tragic character identical to most of the human characters in the film. A character full of light and hope, only to be extinguished prematurely due to mother nature and man’s arrogance. It’s clear that it is not the ship that is dangerous but the environment that Titanic finds herself in.
Cameron is a director that is driven by technological advancement. In 1997, he was known as the mind behind “The Terminator,” “Aliens,” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” which cemented him as a director who enjoys pushing the boundaries of filmmaking. And while “Titanic” is an immense technical achievement, the bulk of the success of the film is the love story between young Rose and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio at the height of his popularity), a third-class passenger she meets on board. Rose is suffocated in her high society world at the beginning of the film. She is engaged to a man she does not love, Cal (evilly played by Billy Zane), and feels she has no freedom to discover who she actually is. Whereas Jack lives his life to the fullest (he won his ticket in a poker game) and is the first person to see Rose’s fire, he supports it instead of trying to tame it like everyone else in her life. That instant chemistry is just too strong for both to ignore.
Jack and Rose is the love story to end all love stories. Loosely based on “Romeo and Juliet,” it is the story of forbidden and tragic love, which is only amplified by the fact that they are on a sinking ship. It is also the birthplace of Hollywood’s favorite friendship. At only 22 and 23 (at the end of filming), young Winslet and DiCaprio had the immense pressure of selling this ill-fated love story. The final spectacular act wouldn’t be effective if the audience didn’t fall in love with Rose and Jack as individuals and as a couple. Luckily, Winslet and DiCaprio have an immense amount of chemistry to the point that the audience gets so swept up in the love story they forget it is doomed from the start. It’s as if there is a handing-of-the-baton moment from Winslet and DiCaprio to Cameron between the second and third acts. And that transition would only work if the audience is invested in the characters. You won’t care about the disaster if you aren’t invested in the characters on board, and Cameron, Winslet, and DiCaprio are hyper-aware of that.
DiCaprio and Winslet have something special; it is beyond chemistry that just works. Call it magic or the inevitable bond destined to form from working so closely with one another for seven months in intense conditions in your early 20s. But one thing is for sure: they are one of Hollywood’s greatest duos and bring something special out in each other that no one else can. So by the time the ship begins to sink, you are afraid for Jack and Rose and in awe of Cameron’s ability to create something as massive and epic as Titanic and then sink it. It is just as great of a love story as a period piece as a disaster movie.
Albeit, if there is one notable aspect worthy of critiquing the film, it’s Cameron’s dialogue. He is known to be a simple storyteller, a positive skill when telling an epic story visually. But his dialogue is very surface level, particularly between Jack and Rose, which can result in stiff performances from the two performers. But it isn’t entirely a negative aspect since it also makes sense to be rigid and awkward in the early stages of falling in love. However, despite the stiffness, all of the conversations are necessary. The reason Jack saves Rose isn’t just the beginning of a love story or the beginning of Rose’s journey of claiming her own agency; it’s Rose (and therefore the audience) learning that the water is dangerously cold. Her conversation with Mr. Andrews (Victor Garber) doesn’t just prove that Rose is bright and destined to be more than a devoted wife; it tells the audience that there are only enough lifeboats for half the passengers. So, by the time the ship begins to sink, the audience truly knows the weight of the situation, and it only intensifies the experience.
As Cal says, “you can be blasé about some things…but not about Titanic.” The film had to overcome every movie-related disaster, from going over budget to accidents to extremely long night shoots and being the butt of every joke in the media. Everyone thought this film was as doomed as the ship itself. Therefore, it is a miracle that the film was completed and released in the first place. So, the fact that it is this amazing, moving, spellbinding, and has survived the test of time is ridiculous (in the best way). “Titanic” has no right to be this great. It has no right to be a perfect movie, but it is. It is a lighting-in-a-bottle moment in cinematic history where the stars aligned and came to represent what a perfect film could achieve when everything went exactly right. “Titanic” was considered the ship of dreams, and Cameron’s masterpiece is the movie of our dreams that will continue to inspire audiences for years to come.