The Titanic tragedy was one of the worst tragedies in the shipping industry, since its inception. Consequently, several movies have been produced documenting this disastrous event in an attempt to depict events that transpired prior to the disaster, as well as during the disaster. However, this research shall base its analysis on James Cameron’s Titanic movie which was produced in 1997. This is a classic movie that avidly describes the people, events and context surrounding the Titanic in 1912. It has remained an all-time favorite amongst audiences and persons who cherish romantic movies. However, its wide receivership has not been without criticism. The tragedy is contextualized into a love story which revolves around Jack Dawson (Leonardo Di Caprio) and Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet). Rose and Jack, who are from entirely different social classes, meet in the ship’s maiden voyage and fall in love. They decide to stick together and abandon their former lives, as soon as the ship docks. Despite all odds, two lovers manage to fight for their lives. However, as fate has it, Jack succumbs to hypothermia when the ship sinks. Encounters of these two lovebirds are quite intriguing and keep the audience glued to the screen. Nonetheless, this movie exceeds the perception that it is a mere love story conceived in a sinking ship. Rather, it provides an insight into the society and its insistent treatment of people based on their social classes. It represents struggles that lovers went through to cement their love, more so, if partners were from divergent social classes. Class, power and influence were the most vital attributes, while genuine love and trust were disregarded. A detailed review of the society, the class-divide and perceptions held against women in the early 20th century shall be presented here-in based on struggles faced by Rose. In addition, this research shall seek to present an insight to human relationships versus their fate, as depicted in the movie.
I. Intimacy versus the Ultimate
Cameron’s Titanic movie is a near-accurate reconstruction of real events that took place on that fateful night on the 14th of April, 1912. He displays his artistic skills in juxtaposing various elements in the movie. For instance, his representation of the past versus the present reveals the link between the human intimacy and the ultimate universe, which entails advanced science and the need for a new, luxurious ship. The movie starts in the present, whereby Bodine informs Rose (who is an old woman) of how the ship sank based on scientific findings and advanced reconstruction. This is an entirely material point of view, and the movie, so far, is representative of a deep-sea search for treasure. However, Rose cuts him short and states that ‘the actual experience (of it) was somewhat less clinical.’ This presents the audience with the first insight beyond a casual, observatory approach to the disaster. Rose is representative of human emotions and ties that bind one to one’s experiences. As she stares at extensive probes to the cause and consequences of the tragedy, memories, as well as emotions, take their toll. These are intimate, heartfelt feelings which Brock and the rest of his crew are not interested in. To them, Rose is a source of information. Arguably, the early 20th century was based on social classes. In contrast, the late 20th century was based on economic power, as represented by the treasure hunt.
Intimacy versus the ultimate as a theme representative of a society based on class has also been revealed in various other scenarios. First, soon after the ship sets sail, Jack and Fabrizio set out for the ship’s bow where Jack is filmed shouting that he is the ‘king of the world.’ However, in one of the most tremendous shots, the camera zooms out depicting the stunning Titanic in its glory and splendor. On the other hand, all passengers aboard the ship are extremely minute. Thus, despite the passengers’ enthrallment, they are bound by invincible chains beyond their control. Secondly, Jack and Rose meet and make love aboard the Titanic. This signifies the crest of their short but dramatic relationship. Rose declares her undying love for Jack and that she will leave the ship with him, as soon as they reach the harbor. This is the first declaration that she has broken up with her fiancé. However, soon afterwards, as Jack and Rose kiss and caress on the ship’s deck, it hits an iceberg. This is a masterful clash of scenes by Cameron which is indicative of struggles that their young relationship will face. Hence, it is a juxtaposition of human emotions versus an abrupt tragedy which ends in the death of more than half of those onboard.
Thirdly, after the ship hits the iceberg, Jack and Rose garner courage to inform Ruth and Cal of the disaster that awaits them. As soon as they enter the suite, Rose informs them that ‘something serious has happened.’ However, this is an ingenious statement that has a double meaning and pays tribute to Cameron’s work. Whereas the audience sees this as referring to the collision, Cal thinks that it refers to the apparent threat posed on their relationship by Jack. This mastery of double-meaning statements has also been applied when Jack is caught stealing a coat. At the same time, Lovejoy, under Cal’s instructions, stealthily slips a magnificent necklace into Jack’s pocket. When Jack is caught, Cal rushes out into the hallway where a steward notices his deep concern and informs him that ‘there is no emergency.’ Whereas the audience perceives this statement as relating to the fact that the ship’s engines have stopped, Cal thinks that it is in relation to the theft and demands for the Master-at-Arms. These statements represent the contrast between intimate human feelings and the ultimate enveloping environment. Whereas statements were meant to inform Cal of the state of the tragedy, he totally misses this in pursuit of his own emotion-driven goals. However, the best illustration of human intimacy versus the struggle against fate is best depicted when the ship finally sinks and Rose desperately calls out for her newly-found lover, Jack, as she struggles to survive in the icy water. The camera then zooms out to reveal that hundreds of other people are also struggling to stay afloat. More than half of passengers eventually succumbed to cold-related illnesses. In conclusion, Cameron twists the plot to illustrate man’s emotional ties and how these ties are torn apart, as he struggles against an exceedingly overwhelming force beyond his control.
II. Trust versus Fate
There are numerous examples that depict human trust and utter commitment throughout the movie. However, this analysis shall be limited to only those relationships involving Rose. First, Rose and Jack meet in the ship and fall in love. Not only do they defy obvious differences, such as divergent social classes, but also have to face a tragedy that separates them forever. Slightly before the ship hits the iceberg, she declares her undying love for Jack and states that she will leave Cal for Jack, as soon as the ship docks. Although, both are of the opinion that this does not make sense and it is quite reckless, Rose takes an unwavering stand and states that ‘that is why I trust it.’ She has complete faith in their young relationship. In addition, as soon as the ship starts sinking, Rose struggles to break Jack’s chains in an effort to save him from drowning. However, she does not succeed. Before being finally enveloped by water, Jack states that they will make it alive and that Rose should trust him. She quickly replies that she trusts him. Despite this strong bond of trust between these two lovebirds, Jack eventually succumbs to hypothermia in the ocean’s freezing water. Evidently, in spite of sharing such a strong bond, fate tears them apart eternally.
Secondly, after Rose unwillingly dismisses Jack from her life, he is cast as having a peaceful time on the ship’s bow. Rose finds him there and decides to greet him half-heartedly. However, Jack has other plans for them and immediately asks her to take his hand and close her eyes. He then asks her whether she trusts him to which she replies she does. With her eyes closed, he leads her high above the ship’s bow where she then opens her eyes to her utter amazement. It is at that particular moment that she feels free of all responsibilities and restrictions imposed on her social life. However, this feeling of total control is short-lived, since moments later, the ship hits an iceberg. Cameron illustrates that it is virtually impossible to be free of fate’s shackles and that people are eternally bound to their fate.
Finally, their relationship is tested, when Jack is found guilty of stealing a magnificent necklace. Ignoring all other people in the room, he shouts explaining that he did not do it, as he is led away to the ship’s prison. She is not in a position to help him, since she has no authority over such matters. In scenes that follow, the audience deciphers that Rose believed him as evidenced by the fact that she puts her life on the line in an attempt to save him from drowning. However, her attempts are futile. Therefore, Rose’s attempts to save Jack from apparent danger fail twice. This is indicative of an encompassing force beyond their control.
III. Naivety, Irrationality and Absurdness
At the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century, it was believed that the world would make large and successful steps towards a highly advanced society. All sectors would only get better. However, the Titanic disaster was a vital checkpoint that kept such high optimism at bay. The ‘unsinkable’ Titanic was a representation of the people’s optimism. Such were views of arrogant people, such as Cal. When Cal learns that Jack managed to pay for his trip via ‘a lucky hand in poker,’ he disdainfully replies that ‘a real man makes his own luck.’ This arrogance was well manifested by Cal’s comments that even God Himself could not sink the RMS Titanic. In addition, he regards the smoking room as a remarkable place where ‘men of class’ such as him go to ‘congratulate each other for being masters of the universe.’ These perceptions are absurd, naïve and irrational. The people were utterly ignorant of the world yonder and nature’s temperament. Therefore, the tragedy is a reminder of powers held by fate, and happens to people who felt that they were invincible (most passengers on the Titanic were the mighty and powerful). Naivety and irrationality are also evident in Ismay’s and Andrews comments about the ship’s size and design. Ismay comments that RMS Titanic is the ‘largest moving object ever made by man in all history.’ Andrews then replies that the ship is supreme and ‘grand in scale’ beyond any doubt. In fact, Ismay confides that his choice of the name Titanic was determined by its sheer size, luxury and stability. These comments are indicative of an inherent male fascination with large objects. This prompts Rose to make a humorous joke. She is not only naïve, but also rebellious. Cameron uses Rose to illustrate the male-dominated world and the representation of progress as increase in size, which contrasts logic, coherence and precision. These perceptions and fascinations with size culminate in the construction of the Titanic. However, as fate would have it, the ‘most adorable ship ever built by man’ sinks on its maiden voyage.
In addition, Rose’s character presents the audience with a clear depiction of absurdness, recklessness and irrationality. At one point, before the occurrence of the tragedy, she decides to commit suicide by jumping off the ship. When Jack arrives and adamantly states that she will not jump, she tells him to ‘go away’ and that he was ‘distracting’ her. However, Jack manages to convince her otherwise. Nonetheless, Jack was not distracting her from committing suicide. Obviously, she did not have the courage to jump off the ship. This is one of the most descriptive scenes that illustrate absurdness and its interaction with fate. However, once the ship hit the iceberg and started sinking, she attempted to re-board the Titanic from a lifeboat in an effort to rescue Jack. This was pointless, contradictory and careless. Moreover, when she was engaged in frantic efforts to rescue the love of her life, Jack, from drowning in the rising water, a steward arrived and tried to direct her to safety. However, she adamantly refused to leave Jack behind and finally freed herself from the steward’s clutch by hitting him. Whereas the steward tried to calm her, her thoughts were purely engaged with Jack and his imminent death. She chose to risk her own life in order to save Jack. Her character represents the absurdity of love and the struggle against fate. Instead of scampering to safety when danger loomed, she chose to confront it. On the other hand, in calm situations, she invited trouble.
IV. The Heart of the Ocean
This is a necklace that Rose received from her fiancé, Cal. It has a large, heart-shaped diamond as its pendant. To Cal, it was a symbol of royalty. However, Rose regarded it as big, heavy and dreadful. The audience identifies the diamond as representing the divide amongst social classes, as well as the perception that women are a weaker sex, in comparison to men. It is as if the diamond is the source of all pain, grandeur or desire. The viewer is left wondering why Rose did not sell the diamond and become instantly rich after surviving the Titanic tragedy. However, a keen analysis of her emotions reveals that the diamond represents all events that took place aboard the Titanic. Therefore, it belongs to the ocean and not amidst people.
In addition, the necklace is directly linked to Rose’s struggles to live a rich and happy life, despite having lost the love of her life. For instance, Rose had to marry Cal, in order to save her family from poverty. Love was never the driving force. In fact, she is disinterested in marrying Cal. However, Ruth encouraged her by telling her that she is a woman and that ‘women’s choices are never easy.’ Soon afterwards, Rose, having decided to break their engagement as soon as the ship docks, stealthily entered their suite in Cal’s absence and left a break-up note as well as Jack’s drawing of her nude self. In the note, she stated that Cal can ‘safely keep them locked in the safe.’ This statement is in direct reference to the Heart of the Ocean, a necklace that represents a ‘binding lock.’ It was Cal’s gift to Rose which signified her engagement to him. Therefore, the necklace objectifies her as a trophy or doll which men admire, hold or play with.
As Rose’s tale comes to an end, she states that ‘a woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.’ Obviously, Cameron intends that the audience should connect Rose’s experiences to this ‘large, heavy and dreadful’ necklace. After Jack convinced her not to commit suicide, she promised him that she would live a rich and enchanting life. The diamond represents her promise to Jack that she would never consider committing suicide ever again. As her story comes to an end, she drops the necklace into the ocean and it swirls away into the depth of the ocean. This symbolizes the fact that she chose never to reveal her secrets, as well as the mystery of what transpired aboard the Titanic.
V. Fate: Light versus Darkness
The Titanic represented man’s greatest accomplishment during that time. However, once the ship sunk, it represented man’s worst disaster in the shipping industry. The movie uses contrasting scenes of light and darkness to depict man’s preemptive struggles to control his destiny. The first word in the movie’s script is ‘blackness.’ As soon as the movie starts, lights emerge softly and their intensity increases gradually, until they are glaring. From start to the end, Cameron manipulates the light to represent man’s thoughts as having achieved the greatest advancement in the shipping industry. The light signifies the majestic glory, pomp and luxury afforded by the RMS Titanic, and the arrogance of the mighty and powerful. However, after the tragedy, it is all dark and wild, signifying that, despite man’s remarkable efforts at negating their fate, it shall always be fulfilled.
In addition, there are various vivid scenes in the movie that depict the ship sailing alone and full of light yet surrounded by a dark, vast ocean. Moreover, the Titanic sunk in a moonless night. Thus, its illumination was immensely crucial, if the passengers were to squeeze into the lifeboats and survive. In the end, lights go out and the ship succumbs to the pressure, thus, breaking into two parts. The wreckage and survivors are silhouetted in the vast ocean. This symbolizes that fate has finally taken over.
The movie is a love story based on tragic events that occurred in 1912. A young couple’s desire to survive against all odds drives them towards various acts of absurdness and irrationality, as the case normally is between two lovebirds. However, their struggles do not bear fruit, since fate has a different objective in the store. Jack succumbs to hypothermia in ocean’s freezing waters, whereas Rose survives and lives a long and fruitful life. Two vital lessons can be learnt from this incredible love story. First, the movie illustrates that it is impossible to contravene one’s destiny. Despite how strong one’s willpower is, or how remarkable one forges relationships with others, there are always factors beyond one’s control. Secondly, man’s ingenious inventions are his downfall. In the recent past, man has made significant advancements in various fields, more so in technology. However, inventions and innovations are not being used for the betterment of the society. Obviously, man’s arrogance has led to the formulation of assumptions which cannot hold over time.