Last weekend I went and saw Titanic 3D. Ever since I heard about the re-release, I was pumped. I was counting days to watch the movie. That it was in 3D made it even better. Finally, my wait was over and I watched the movie. It was an incredible experience. People often wonder why I am so excited about the Titanic. Titanic is a romance and drama film. Usually, I'm not one for romance or drama. I prefer comedy, action or thrillers instead. I'm the last one to go gaga over a romantic love story. Even though, I swooned over Jack Dawson when I was a teenager, there is a lot more to the Titanic.
To me it is the Greatest Movie ever made. Period.
My own fascination dates back to the days I was a child. One of the books my parents bought was 'Great Disasters'. It featured natural disasters all through history from Herculaneum and Pompeii to the Great San Francisco earthquake. Of all the disasters in the book, the one that struck out to me was the Titanic. There were tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and all that. Rome burned, Nero fiddled, the Black Death traveled the world, Typhoid Mary crossed the seas - but the one that captivated me was the sinking of the Titanic. So fascinated was I, that as a thirteen year old I painted my one and only one canvas, an embarrassment of artwork hung in my parent's room, depicting the sinking of the Titanic. The story of the Titanic moved me because it wasn't natural. It wasn't like the others. It didn't get carried away by a tidal wave, it didn't get buried in ashes and the sea didn't part to swallow it. It struck an iceberg. It struck an iceberg it could have easily avoided. People died who could have easily been saved. The natural phenomenon that sunk the Titanic was not an iceberg in the Atlantic but human nature. Human nature and its ego so vast and undefined that it was Sigmund Freud's iceberg.
While James Cameron's Titanic is a cinematic masterpiece in terms of acting and technical mastery in recreating such rich, lush, vivid imagery on screen and bringing an era begone alive - his greatest accomplishment in the movie is depicting the iceberg that is human nature. There are no heroes or villains in the story. There are no monsters or aliens. There are no superheroes saving humanity. However, there is circumstance and circumstance that gives us our villains, heroes and even superheroes if you think about it. It is a journey that takes us to the depths of human nature, our hidden heroism or villainy well below the tip of the iceberg.
If "Occupy Wall Street" is the mantra of today's 99%, then we ought to think of our 99% peers in eras well gone by. What Titanic portrays best is the harsh and stunning class divide of 1912. Today on a Cruise ship, the budget ticket travelers are not so disdainfully looked down by the passengers in first class. Today if a cruise ship is sinking everyone's life is weighed equally, everyone has the same probability of life and death. The steerage back in the day did not even have the right to live. Life was a luxury they couldn't afford.
Jack and Rose are not just star crossed lovers. They personify this divide and the challenges that come with it. Life at the top maybe luxurious and lavish. They have their multi course dinners in exquisite restaurants. They have their ballrooms and cigar rooms. They have brandy and parlor games. The have servants and aides. But their life is hollow and meaningless. Rose finds herself entrapped in an unhappy betrothal. Her mother Ruth DeWitt Bukater desperately clings onto wealth and lifestyles of the rich and famous completely in denial of their sinking fortunes. Cal Hockley is rich, but that cannot buy him love, respect or affection and he often needs to resort to power to command it from people.
But Jack is a happier and carefree person. Hailing from the small town of Chippewa Falls in Wisconsin, he lives his life as a vagabond flitting from port to port. He sketched prostitutes in Paris and lands on the Titanic through a Lucky game of Poker. Even though poor with barely pennies to their name Jack and his companion Fabrizio have more joy and enthusiasm than the entire first class of the Titanic. The steerage maybe terrible accommodations, with cheap food, drinks and plenty of rats. But that does not make their journey miserable in anyway. Who needs first class luxuries when you can have nightly parties with alcohol, music, dancing, good times and good friends. Yes, they are the few on board who actually have friends. Makes one wonder, what is better - a happier life or a better chance to live? Rose's choice to abandon a life of riches even after losing Jack, might give us the answer.
The 1943 German propaganda film portrayed the Titanic as a consequence of British capitalism showing German peasants as heroes. While German socialist propaganda against class warfare and the capitalist mentality of the British is not exactly ideal, considering the Nazis, the story of the Titanic is one of such dichotomy. James Cameron tells it to us masterfully.
You do have the ruthless Cal Hockley and Ruth DeWitt Bukater. You have the uppity women who look at the steerage in disdain. But they were fictional. There were other people like Joseph Brue Ismay who could be the true culprit of the Titanic disaster. He represents the worst of the upper crust. Captain Smith was reluctant to push the boat at full speed as they were on schedule. However, Joseph Brue Ismay who was the Managing Director of White Star liner wanted headlines and pushes the captain to go full speed. A fateful decision. Had the Titanic not gone full steam ahead, it probably might have been able to turn in time. You also have Cosmo Duff-Gordon and Lady Duff Gordon. Two rich people who were of twelve in a boat made for forty and still forbid the boat to go back and rescue more.
But all is not bleak. In the last quarter of the film, James Cameron captures some of the most heroic people and moments of the real story of Titanic.
My favorite scene is the one with Benjamin Guggenheim. There is a sense of romanticism and humor in how Guggenheim chooses to go down. When offered the life jacket, he refuses saying "We've dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen". He and his valet Giglio don't care for making an escape or scrambling for survival. They dress in their finest, sit in the great hall sipping brandy, patiently awaiting certain death. I salute you Guggenheim.
There is also romanticism in Captain Edward Smith locking himself in his chambers, going down with his boat, his illustrious career marred by poor judgment that sank the Titanic or in Thomas Andrews the engineer who stares at the clock regretting that he failed to build a better ship.
The first officer's tale is like that of a Hamlet like tragedy. Initially lured by money, he soon realizes that money cannot save him. In a moment of panic he shoots a passenger violating the woman and children rule, then consumed with utter guilt commits suicide. Neither a hero or a villain he is a tragic human strong and weak at the same time.
In the film during the sinking sequence, for a few brief moments you see a couple embraced in bed, together. They are Isidor and Ida Strauss, the real love story of the Titanic. As an elderly gentleman Isidore was allowed to board the lifeboat, but a true gentleman he refused as long as there were women and children on board. Ida stayed behind with her husband to keep her wedding vows of never leaving her husband. They stayed on board and died in each others arms. Their maid Ellen would live to tell their story.
Most memorable of them all is "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" played by the flawless Kathy Bates. Margaret Brown was a new money socialite from the United States. She was a women who never lost her humble roots or small town hospitality. In real life and in film, Molly Brown is one of those magical people who bridges the class gap and shows us how society really ought to be. She is kind, compassionate and one of the few first class passengers who treats Jack with dignity and respect. The movie does not do her justice though. It is my one pet peeve with the movie. When quartermaster Robert Hitchens refused to go back and save victims, he real Molly Brown led a mutiny of the women on lifeboat six and rowed back to tray and see who they could save. It was this mutiny that earned her the nickname "Unsinkable"
Finally, the most incredible and moving scene of the Titanic is the band that played on. Their music is probably the most noble and heroic deed on the Titanic. They were modest musicians confined to a lifetime of entertaining the snobbish gentry. Who knows what motivated them. There were no hopes of fame, riches, or reputation. Most likely no one would be listening. But against all odds and with the hope to calm people and share the gift of music the band played on. They are not your conventional superheroes. They didn't save lives or kill any villains. They were just men, ordinary men, not knights or gentry. Armed with their instruments somehow they became the greatest noblest heroes in history.
Watching Titanic in 3D is a rich experience. You are instantaneously transported in time to the deck of the Titanic. You are mesmerized by the fine china, the oak finishings, the rich artwork and intricate details of the craftsmanship. You are awestruck by its size, the mammoth engines churning way. You feel the sweat and toil of the workers in the boiler room. You experience a first class voyage as well as stowaway in the steerage. The second half of the film with the sinking will grip you and move you. You will feel the anguish, hopelessness and frustration. You will feel hope and salvation. And of course you will be pouring tears through the tragedy of star crossed lovers Jack and Rose. But remember that the Titanic is not just about the dashing Leonardo di Caprio or Kate Winslet's 3d boobs. It is not just another big budget magnum opus by James Cameron. If you pay attention to the subtle stories and the expression of human nature. If you try and see how circumstance makes us strong and weak. If you see the unlikely superheroes becoming legends. Discover the magic of the band that played on and you will see that the greatest movie ever made.