I would think most everyone has heard of this movie, as well as the historical disaster. This was the big blockbuster of the late-nineties; it was nominated for fourteen Academy Awards and won eleven, including Best Picture. And a fairly long movie; when it released on VHS, it had to be on two tapes; and as of 2019, the third highest-grossing movie of all time. Directed by James Cameron (Avatar), who did a lot of detailed research, and a full “hey, I know that guy!” Stars Leonardo DiCaprio (who finally won an Oscar) as Jack Dawson, Kate Winslet as Rose Dewitt Bukater. Billy Zane (did not realize this until looking him up, but he was the voice of John Rolfe in Disney’s second Pocahontas movie, as well as appearing in a few episodes of Charmed) is fiancé Cal Hockley; historical character Molly Brown [there’s a movie about her from the sixties staring Debbie Reynolds] is played by Kathy Bates (who has shown up as Amy’s mother in Big Bang Theory, and was Miss Hannigan when Wonderful World of Disney re-did Annie in 1999). Rose’s mother is played by Frances Fisher (who has appeared in Hallmark movies, an episode of Castle, among other TV spots), Captain Smith is Bernard Hill (later to be King Theoden in Lord of the Rings), Victor Garber (lead in Alias, Professor Callahan in Legally Blonde, Oliver Warbucks in 1999’s Annie, and King Maximillian in 1997’s Cinderella with Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, Brandy, and Whitney Houston) is the architect Thomas Andrews. Jonathan Hyde (Prince John in Princess of Thieves) is Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star Line (the company that built and maintained Titanic and its sister ships), and the one I always enjoy seeing for the few minutes in the film, Ioan Gruffudd (Amazing Grace, Fantastic Four) as Fifth Office Lowe.
The film opens with an underwater exploration of the wreck [Dr. Robert Ballard, retired U.S. Naval officer and professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, famously discovered the wreck in 1985, and later found the wreck of the Bismarck in 1989 and the Yorktown in 1998; he was also one of my brother’s heroes when we were growing up; he was very interested in the Titanic, so he was very interested in spying the White Star Line shipyards when we were in Belfast, Northern Ireland…I have a picture of that somewhere]. They find a safe and bring it to the surface, looking for a famous blue-diamond necklace from Louis XVI that would be worth more than the Hope Diamond. Instead, they find a drawing that includes the necklace. A news report brings it to the attention of an old woman, Rose Calvert, who then informs the crew she is the woman in the picture. There’s some speculation that she could be lying, but she knows details about the necklace and the ship that only someone there could have known. Most of the film is her flashback memories (totaling the amount of time it took the actual ship to sink).
Rose and her family were returning to America for her wedding to Cal Hockley, but she is unhappy. At the same time, Jack Dawson wins his tickets in a poker game. He and his friend excitedly race to the ship and explore a bit once its underway. They make it to the bow, where they climb up and Jack yells “I’m the king of the world!” He encounters Rose later that evening at the stern of the ship, when she flees dinner and is ready to jump overboard. He talks her down and when Cal arrives to collect his fiancée, Rose puts it straight that Jack saved her, though she was only looking at the propellers. As a reward, Cal invites Jack to dine with them the next evening. Hoping to cheer his fiancée up, Cal presents her with the “Heart of the Ocean,” a 56 carat blue diamond. Rose is impressed, but not with her intended. She seeks Jack out later, to thank him for his help and discretion, but they get stuck on the point whether she loves Cal or not. Rose is upset that no one notices she is not happy with the role she is made to play, but Jack gives her another outlook on life; one of adventure, never knowing what the day will bring or where you will end up.
Meanwhile, Captain Smith wants to ensure a smooth voyage to America, while Ismay wants headlines. Smith orders the ship to speed up (not wholly historically accurate). Molly Brown, part of the “new money” of the time, and thus frowned upon by the aristocracy, aids Jack in lending him a proper tux for the evening. He charms his way through the upper class, but later passes a note to Rose, inviting her to a real party, in third class. I adore this scene, and the accompanying music, which features Celtic band Gaelic Storm (a big breakthrough for them). Rose proves herself to be more than a pretty face, she drinks and to further prove herself, she goes en pointe (I took ballet for about ten years and never went on pointe, but I know what kind of strength someone needs to balance all their weight on the tip of their toes).
However, come morning, Cal confronts Rose about her below-deck antics; she was spotted. He throws the table, stating she is his wife, even if they’re not married yet (I have a feeling he has been pressuring her to sleep with him before their wedding; just my interpretation). Rose is startled and her mother speaking to her does not help matters. It spells out to the audience that Rose has been forced into this marriage to save face; they have the name, but Cal has the money. Ruth is a teeny bit sympathetic; she knows this is unfair for Rose, but it is a woman’s lot in life, their choices are never easy. Jack sneaks up to see Rose and she tries to send him away, but he’s worried about her. The fire he has seen in her will go out; but it is up to Rose to save herself. Later, Rose goes to Jack; she has changed her mind. He helps her up to the railing at the stern of the ship: “I’m flying!” Cue main theme. The couple shares a kiss. And we cut back to “present day.” That was the last time Titanic saw daylight. The scavenger comments that everything Captain Smith knows from his experience will not help him with Titanic.
Back to Rose’s memories: Jack returns to Rose’s room with her. She requests a drawing and shows him the Heart of the Ocean. “I want you to draw me like one of your French girls. Wearing this. Wearing only this.” She disrobes and lies on a couch, completely nude and Jack dutifully draws her (behind the scenes note: apparently, the hand that draws Rose is director’s James Cameron’s), and cue main theme. (This intrigues all of the present day crew). Rose leaves a note once they are finished for Cal and leaves again with Jack. They end up running from Cal’s valet, ending up in the cargo hold, in a car. It is there they sleep together, steaming up the window. [And it’s here that I always wonder how this movie is only rated PG-13; I distinctly remember not being thirteen and wondering how my classmates got in to see this movie.] Rose declares that when Titanic docks, she’s getting off with Jack. They are on deck when the iceberg is spotted by the lookouts (no wind makes them hard to spot). The crew try to maneuver the ship around the berg, but they’re too close. (Research has suggested that if Titanic had hit the iceberg head-on, it would not have suffered the same damage and would have remained afloat long enough to dock in New York; of course, that is hindsight). Captain Smith, Andrews, and Ismay are all wakened. Mr. Andrews declares that the ship will sink; five of the compartment are flooded, there was a chance with only four filled, but not five. The ship is iron, it will sink, despite Mr. Ismay’s insistence. Distress signals are started and passengers are told to dress warmly and put on their life vests.
Rose and Jack return to her room to warn her mother and Cal, where Jack is framed with stealing the blue diamond and arrested. Alone, Cal slaps Rose for her indiscretion. They receive word to report to the deck. Rose spies Mr. Andrews; she remembers from his tour that there are not enough lifeboats. Mr. Andrews confirms her thoughts. Women and children are ordered to the lifeboats first; but it is slow going. Most of the passengers do not know of the danger, or else do not believe it; Andrews has to order the crew to ensure lifeboats are filled to capacity. On captain’s orders, the band continues to play to calm the crowd. Ruth wonders blasé whether the lifeboats will be seated by class. Rose sternly tells her mother the truth, to which Cal remarks that the better half of the boat will not die. She then refuses to get on the lifeboat and runs to find Jack. Cal tries to stop her. She spits at him and proclaims she’d rather be Jack’s whore than Cal’s wife.
By now, the bow is underwater, the ship is starting to tilt and take on water in the halls. Rose does find Jack and has to use an axe to cut his handcuffs. They try to make their way back up, but the gates from third class are locked (historically inaccurate). There’s a riot and they break out. The ship is in utter chaos. We see Ismay get on a lifeboat when no one else comes forward. Cal goes back for Rose, putting his coat (which contains the blue diamond necklace) on her and he and Jack tag team to encourage Rose to get on a lifeboat. Partway down, she jumps off (a dumb move, yet terribly romantic). Jack asks when he finds her why she was so stupid; she couldn’t leave him: “you jump, I jump.” Well, this final defiance sets Cal off and he grabs a gun and starts shooting at the couple. He runs out of bullets as they go back into the ship and down several levels. And it’s then that he realizes the coat that has the diamond is on Rose. Cal finds a child lost and crying and takes her on a boat.
The final moments of the ship are approaching. Mr. Andrews and Captain Smith go down with the ship. The band continues playing, ending with the hymn Nearer My God to Thee. An old couple huddle together, not wanting to be parted. A mother in third class tucks her children in, telling them of the Irish land of Eternal Youth, Tír na NÓg. All remaining passengers on deck flee to the stern as the ship splits. The stern rises in the air, Rose ironically notes that she and Jack are back where they first met. As the stern gets sucked down, Jack and Rose and the others prepare to enter the water. It’s the North Atlantic; it’s freezing. Jack manages to find a door floating and pushes Rose on to it. Jack remains in the water. Only one life boat (helmed by Fifth Officer Lowe) returns to find survivors. Molly Brown speaks up, but those crew members overrule her. Contemplating their fate, Rose admits she loves Jack; he insists they will make it and makes Rose promise to survive. But the elements take their toll. Jack freezes in the water and Rose is forced to let him go in order to get a whistle to attract help. Old Rose summarizes that of the 2200 souls aboard the Titanic; 1500 went in the water. Only six were rescued. They and the 700 in the lifeboats had to wait for the Carpathia (of rival company Cunard) for rescue at dawn.
On board, Rose avoids Cal and when asked her name in New York, she gives Rose Dawson. That’s when she discovers the Heart of the Ocean in her pocket. She finishes her tale that Jack now only exists as her memory. But, she walks out to the edge of the ship that evening and drops the diamond into the ocean, to rest with Titanic. I view the final ending, as we pan over her pictures showcasing her adventures, proving she fulfilled her promise to Jack and lived her life, that Rose passes away and is greeted on the Titanic, returned to its glory by all her old friends, Jack waiting to kiss her.
As a result of the disaster, regulations were made enforcing enough lifeboats for all passengers and mandatory safety drills. When one takes the romantic storyline out of Titanic, one can get caught up in the sheer enormity of what happened. I think it was well done on Cameron’s part. There has been a lot of controversy however, on whether Jack and Rose could have shared the door and thus ensured Jack’s survival. The Mythbusters tested the theory that both could have fit on the board and they proved it plausible, though they had the idea to tie Rose’s life preserver to the bottom of the board to give it more buoyancy. Director James Cameron weighed in on the show; Jack was fated to die, so that is why he did not get on the door. The main theme, My Heart Will Go On, performed by Celine Dion, does not play until the ending credits, but it became a smash hit and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, though it became overplayed (just like Let It Go from Frozen). Personally, I prefer an instrumental arrangement of the piece; it’s still beautiful.
I am not as emotionally invested in this film as some others; probably because I am more invested in other films and just cannot bring myself to get too invovled. Again, it’s an extremely well done movie; the CG effects have withstood the test of time. Kate and Leo have excellent chemistry.
If so interested, there is a well done AU fanfiction story with the characters from Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast and Titanic; with Adam as the wealthy heir in a forced marriage and he meets poor Belle. My Heart Will Go On by DisnerdingAvenger can be found on AO3.
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