This week I’ve had many friends tell me how excited and inspired they are by my new adventure. While I appreciate the support, I do feel a little sheepish. If only they knew how many items on my “new experiences” list are embarrassingly shallow and not at all life-changing. So I thought I should make it clear from the get-go just what to expect. Nothing noble or elevated here – this week I decided to finally watch Titanic.
Why I avoided it in the first place
I wasn’t interested in seeing Titanic initially because of who was cast as leads. I was (and remain) not that into Leonardo DiCaprio, and I only knew Kate Winslet as the annoying Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. (I still haven’t seen a Marianne I do like, so I think it’s just that I’m more of an Elinor kind of gal.) Also, I can’t be the only one to have thought that, at least in the trailers, Kate looked old enough to be Leo’s mother.
In 1997, I was in grad school, pregnant with my first child, teaching a gazillion piano lessons, practicing for a concerto performance, and preparing to move cross-country for my husband’s schooling. I was busy. I had also aged out of the film’s target demographic of adolescent girls, so I wasn’t in a rush to get to the theater. Then, the more popular the movie became, of course the more certain I was that I would never, ever see it.
Also, the song. THE SONG. Sure, it was overplayed on the radio, and we all lived through that, but I suffered as only a piano teacher can suffer. Do you know how many students over the years came to me clutching that sheet music? So, so many.Then, just as its popularity began to fade (after about 10 years) son #3 discovered the preset songs on our electronic keyboard, and what button did he love to push over and over, on and on?
And so I’ve gone this long without seen Titanic, but this week I decided to give it a try. I watched it. The whole thing. And here are my thoughts, which I realize are probably nothing new, but after all, I am 16 years late to this conversation.
Why I will avoid it in the future
First, it was so hard to watch. The dialogue is awkward and often downright dopey. There seem to be longer than necessary gaps between lines, and it also feels like the actors are shouting at each other, so the whole viewing experience felt like a choppy Skype session. The movie is also excruciatingly long. I pushed pause after 1:30 thinking it was almost over, only to have Netflix tell me I had another 1:45!! I’m no stranger to long movies – I have no problem sitting through all four hours of North and South or Far From the Madding Crowd, but after taking a quick break to run to the grocery store, it actually took another four days before I could work up the energy to return to Titanic.
As I watched it, I had so many questions. What’s with the dance scene, specifically the spinning? I felt like I was watching a parody. And superimposing the past and present with the floating ship fading into the sunken ship, the young eye fading into the wrinkly eye? That wasn’t supposed to be funny, was it? That was accidental, right? Also, is Jack supposed to be a good artist? I couldn’t tell from Rose’s portrait. And that song! Why must I hear it again? My husband walked in the room in time to hear the music swell and said, “I just can’t hear this song as anything other than a punchline.”
I was traumatized by the floating mannequins (which didn’t actually look like people, but somehow the effect was creepier than if they had looked realistic), and even more so by the sound of Rose detaching her live frozen hand from Jack’s dead frozen hand. The sound of someone chewing ice is worse than fingernails on a chalkboard for me, so even thinking about that scene now is sending me into spasms.
But the film is so deep! There are so many layers! Remember the part where Rose’s mother is saying, “Sure it’s unfair you have to marry Guyliner, but you’re a woman, so it sucks to be you,” and then she tightens Rose’s corset? It’s a metaphor! Rose is trapped in her life just like she is trapped in the corset, get it? Also, the use of foreshadowing is so subtle – we all thought that the scene where Jack coaches Rose on how to properly hock a loogie was just part of their playful courting ritual. Who would have thought that she would later use that skill to escape the evil Guyliner’s clutches? Genius.
Perhaps all the annoying stuff wouldn’t have bugged me so much if I cared even a little bit about the characters. Jack seemed way too perky and his folksy, “I’m just a tumbleweed blowin’ in the wind,” didn’t exactly roll off DiCaprio’s tongue. And I couldn’t tell if her situation in life was supposed to make it believable that Rose was really that brazen, or if it was just more convenient for James Cameron for her to be so forward so he could cram a whole lot of luvin’ into just a few days’ time.
And sure, Rose is only 17 (again, do they really expect us to believe that?), and teenagers make bad choices and lack foresight, but she’s a special kind of wackadoo. She has one chance to swing an ax and either free Jack from his handcuffs or chop his arm off and she closes her eyes as she does it? She has one last chance to be rescued and instead of calling out for help, she cries softly for like three minutes straight and almost misses the boat? I tried to like her, really I did. But all hope was lost in the scene where she tells Jack that she will run away with him when they reach land and she admits it’s a crazy idea: “It doesn’t make any sense. That’s why I trust it.” What the what? That may possibly be the dumbest thing anyone has ever said ever. And millions of teenage girls saw this movie and were probably just lapping it up. Super great role model you’ve got there.
There were some good moments. I have to say that it was interesting to see how many small decisions by the owner, captain, and crew members all piled up to contribute to the catastrophe, and I thought the special effects as the ship sank were pretty cool (I think I enjoyed those parts the most, but that might have been because there was no dialogue). It also got me thinking, if I were in that situation, what kind of drowner would I be? The kind to sit in the ballroom and wait to die, or the kind to fight and claw to safety only to either die a more violent death or turn into a floating mannequin later? I’m pretty sure I’d be a sitter and waiter, although I choose to believe it’s because I’m practical and at peace with my mortality, and not just because I’m a wimp.
So I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone repeats my experience. I don’t regret giving it a shot (maybe I do regret it a little) – since it holds such a place in pop culture, maybe it was good for me to see (if not understand) what all the hoopla was about. And for those of you who love Titanic, and have seen it multiple times and truly buy into the Jack and Rose love story, I apologize for so cruelly tearing it down. As a peace offering, I give you this, because, as the string quartet (you know musicians – always with their head in the clouds) who kept playing on deck instead of climbing onto a life boat would tell you, music can heal all wounds. I promise, your heart will go on.