Titanic In Retrospect


Recently, I tried to rewatch an obscure art film from 1997 called Titanic.  From the time I was 12 until I was 16, I watched this movie a lot and, without fail, I cried and cried at the movie’s end.  (Admittedly, it was pretty easy to make me cry back then.)  I decided to rewatch it because I was curious as to whether or not Titanic could still make me cry. 

For those of you who aren’t into art films, here’s a quick synopsis and review of Titanic.

The film’s plot: Bill Paxton and an obnoxious fat guy are held hostage on a submarine by a senile old biddy who insists on telling them the story of how she lost her virginity 98 years ago.

Meanwhile, in London, Leonardo DiCaprio steals some poor kid’s sketch book and then sneaks onto a cruise ship where, pretending to be an artist, he seduces and murders lonely widows. 

Also on the cruise ship is Kate Winslet.  Kate’s engaged to Billy Zane but she’s unhappy about it because — well, there’s some men you fuck and there’s some men you marry and let’s just say that you don’t marry Billy Zane.  Once the boat sets sail, Kate decides to jump overboard.  However, just before she can jump, she’s spotted by Leo.  Leo quickly tosses a burlap sack containing the corpse of Lady Astor into the Atlantic and then rescues Kate.

Kate rewards him by taking him down to her cabin and showing him a painting by Someone Picasso.  (Early on in the film, Billy correctly says that Someone Picasso will never amount to anything and that’s true.  Someone was always overshadowed by his older brother Pablo.)  Leo looks at the painting and says, “Look at what he does with color here.”  As a former Art History major, that line made me smile.  That’s the type of statement that is regularly uttered by people who can’t think of anything else to say.  When a guy looks at a painting and says, “Look at what he does with color here,” what he’s actually saying is, “Look, babe, I went to the damn art museum with you so there better be a blow job in my immediate future.”

Leo has dinner with Billy and Kate.  Leo says, “I’m just a tumbleweed blowing in the wind.”  Over at the next table, a shifty young man named Bob Dylan overhears and thinks, “That would make a good song.  But the little man must die so nobody knows I stole that line from him…”

Anyway, Leo eventually slips Kate a rohypnol, convinces her to pose naked while he secretly tapes her for Youtube, and then proceeds  to have sex with her in the back seat of a car.  Afterward, Kate says, “Do you want to hang out tomorrow?”  Leo replies, “Uhmm…I might be busy.  I’ll call you.”  “My God,” I said as I watched all this, “it’s like reliving my freshman year of college all over again.”

Anyway, 8 more hours pass.  All the rich passengers on the ship do rich things while all the poor passengers get drunk and trash the lower levels of the boat.  Suddenly, without warning, the boat is besieged by the living dead.  Billy Zane insists that they would be safer in the basement.  Leo disagrees while Kate says, “So, you think you can just fuck me and leave!?  No way!”

12 more hours pass.  The living dead manage to rip a hole in the side of the boat.  Billy chases Leo and Kate around the Titanic as it sinks.  “I hope you’ll be very happy together!” he screams.  Meanwhile, up top, two rich guys put on tuxedos and one of them says something like, “We’re going to die like gentlemen.”  Which I guess is what they end up doing though, honestly, it sounds to me like the guy’s just being a smartass.

Eventually, Kate and Leo end up sitting on an iceberg together.  Kate wonders if this is a dream.  Leo proceeds to spin a top on the ice to find out.  Suddenly, Bob Dylan floats by in a rowboat.  “This machine kills fascists!” he shouts as he shoots Leo with a crossbow.  Leo sinks into the water.  Bob Dylan smirks.  “How does it feel to be on your own?” he asks.

The end.

A quick review: I guess the easiest way to review Titanic is to answer my original question.  Does the film still make me, at the age of 24, cry like it did when I was 12?  No, it does not.  To be honest, the only tears that I shed while rewatching Titanic were tears of shame and boredom.  This is the movie that I once thought was the greatest thing ever?  True, I was young and stupid but still…

On the plus side, Kate Winslet gives a good performance even if her character is basically just a sexist male fantasy.  Billy Zane is also a lot of fun as her jilted suitor.

On the negative side, there’s everything else.  The script — written by Someone Cameron — is full of laughably bad lines and plotwise, the film has all the depth of a lanced boil.  The romantic elements of the plot made me cry back when I was 12 because I didn’t have a whole lot of real world experience to compare Titanic’s fantasy against.  Now, at the age of 24, I’ve actually had to deal with my fair share of guys who say actually do make dumbfug statement about things like being a tumbleweed blowing in the wind (not to mention being king of the world).  I’m not saying that a good movie can’t present a romantic idealization of reality.  I’m just saying that a good movie can do that without insulting the viewer’s intelligence like Titanic does.

One last note — Leo DiCaprio has become a great actor.  But, in Titanic, he just comes across like a shrill poseur.

I Learned Something Today Conclusion: Just because you and a million others think that a movie is great today, that doesn’t mean that the movie’s going to be anywhere near as good 12 years later.  In this age of Avatar and the Social Network, that’s a lesson that I think many self-appointed film “gurus” would do well to consider before they throw a hissy fit just because a complete stranger on the Internet disagrees with them.

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