Please, Please, Go Watch Titanic

The famous bow scene, depicted above, has become iconic in pop culture. To capture the film’s sunset, it took 8 days to shoot— while any other director would’ve called in CGI artists.

Art/Photo by "Titanic" by knolleary is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The famous bow scene, depicted above, has become iconic in pop culture. To capture the film’s sunset, it took 8 days to shoot— while any other director would’ve called in CGI artists.

   There are no Titanic spoilers. You know how the movie ends. The ship sinks. 

   But it’s difficult to say why you know that— is it because of the tragedy, or the film itself? 

   The 1912 disaster was not the deadliest shipwreck in history (9,000 passengers died in Germany’s Wilhelm Gustloff shipwreck), it was not the costliest (The Costa Concordia capsized and lost Carnival $2 billion), and it wasn’t even the most consequential (The RMS Lusitania decided WWI). And yet, James Cameron’s epic— the 4th highest grossing film of all time— is interwoven into the fabric of American culture. Even if you haven’t watched the movie, you’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio hold Kate Winslet on the bow of the 1997 Titanic replica. You’ve heard DiCaprio’s character Jack Dawson shout “I’m the king of the world!” You can probably belt the lyrics to “My Heart Will Go On.” You don’t just know how Titanic ends, you know its soundtrack and its big scenes and the jist of its romantic subplot. And you know them for a reason: this movie is awesome.

   For years, I wrote Titanic off. It seemed like there was nothing for me — I roll my eyes at most romance films and watch historical fiction half-asleep; I don’t even like Avatar, arguably the more popular James Cameron movie. Still, when 20th Century Studios announced it was airing upscaled reruns of the original film for its 25th anniversary, I decided to go and see it. Walking into the theater, I had already written off its 3-hour runtime as a loss. Somehow, the only time I lost was preemptively drafting a bad review. 

   For the first 90 minutes of its runtime, Titanic tells the story of star-crossed lovers Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) and Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they grapple with the social realities of the early 20th century. Rose, a prissy young girl born to “old money,” feels trapped in an arranged engagement with a man she doesn’t love. Jack, a free-spirited artist and good-natured trouble maker, makes it his mission to liberate her. The two romp around the Titanic, sharing bits of their life with each other: Rose takes Jack to a stuffy dinner with her aristocratic parents and Jack takes Rose to a rager “below deck.” It’s all textbook forbidden love.

   Then the ship hits the iceberg. In an instant, the Romeo and Juliet romance turns into a blockbuster action movie; as the ship floods with water and the two race to escape their flooding prison (and Rose’s fuming fiance). The post-iceberg 90 minutes is what cements Titanic’s legendary status— even by modern standards— with beautiful visuals. James Cameron paid $200 million in attention to detail, and it shows; you are not in a theater, you are on that ship with Jack and Rose, fighting for your life. It’s so heartbreaking and so much fun.

   Many critics charge Titanic with dressing up a basic romance plot in a big-budget suit. My rebuttal: yes, and? This isn’t Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind— you aren’t meant to think through this movie, this is a movie you feel on a visceral level; let its stellar acting and mind boggling VFX sweep you into those frigid North-Atlantic waters. Like spicy curry over rice, sometimes you need a neutral base to accentuate a main dish. 

   That being said, Titanic is not a perfect movie. Ethan Cantorna (11), who saw the film for the first time this weekend, sang its praises— though he argued it “didn’t need to be 3 hours [long].” I completely agree. Call it the “Gen Z attention span,” but the 196 minute runtime wears you down; it’s hard to sit still for that long no matter how engaging the movie. Kobichidi Enyekwe (11) also pointed out that the decision to only rerelease the movie’s 3D iteration leaves out the headache-prone and Cantorna claimed he would’ve preferred to “watch [the movie] normally.” And yet, 2D or 3D, laptop or IMAX screen, spoiler-free or fifth viewing, Titanic remains a great watch.