Titanic (1997) – My First True Punch-Drunk Movie Love

I believe that each one of us has one fictional story ingrained in our minds that we’re meant to carry deep inside throughout our lives. We don’t really choose it – it just happens to us. It sneaks into our heads through our little eyes and ears during our most susceptible years only to stay with us forever. It becomes a life-long genuine trigger for emotional comfort and inspiration. In my case, it’s James Cameron’s movie Titanic (1997).

The impact of this movie on me – both the real tragedy that it depicts and the fictional story that it’s wrapped up in – is so immense, that it still keeps surprising me as I grow older. Hence I found it very fitting to make it the subject for my very first entry on my very own brand new blog.

James Cameron's Titanic 1997 personal movie review
Screenshot from the movie Titanic (1997) – Leaving the shore before its first voyage.

RMS Titanic sank into the dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean 107 years ago but the tragedy still manages to fire up our emotions up to this day. James Cameron’s masterpiece of a movie came out in 1997, and back then the distance between this event and the present didn’t feel as vast as today. After all, when the film first premiered we were still living in the same century as those lost souls this piece was honouring. Right now it would be quite impossible to get away with the fictional storyline of one of the last survivors who’d been not only well and alive on the ship but also had vivid adult experiences to be shared with others as valuable memories. Every single passenger on that ship is now long dead.

I think it says a lot about me, this fact that my first real strong and burning cinematic crush was this particular motion picture. At the time of its release, I was only 7 years old and I had just started first grade at school that year. What’s also interesting is that it’s the same year that an epic TV series called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of which I now am a diehard fan, premiered and forever changed not only my life but the whole television as we know it. But that’s a topic for another day. Suffice to say it was a hell of a year that 1997.

So what I am trying to say was that I was quite a young little thing when Titanic came out. Too little, you may think, to immediately get so mesmerized by a film which basically explores two very non-childlike themes: romantic love and death. That, again, is so very interesting indeed, because these are the exact two themes explored and exposed by my first real strong and burning musical crush – the Finish gothic rock band HIM.

So there you have it: Titanic, Buffy, and HIM all working their magic on me while endlessly contemplating love and death.

I’ve been drawn to the concept of death since I was really young, finding the allure and thrill in all things morbid. So to call my somewhat grim way of seeing the world that has naturally manifested in my aesthetic preference during my teen years a phase was plain ridiculous. Because how can something be a phase if it has no ending and, even more importantly, no beginning? I argue that I was born a goth.

James Cameron's Titanic 1997 personal movie review
Screenshot from the movie Titanic (1997) – Rose sees her younger self on TV.

After my first viewing, I immediately became obsessed with the story of Titanic, the real and the fictional. I watched the movie as many times as it has been shown on Lithuanian television. Ask anyone – it had been shown a freakin’ lot of times. At some point for quite a long period of time, it has somehow become a Christmas movie along with the legendary Home Alone. Heck, I would even watch it on German TV channels, even though I didn’t know much German and the Germans are known for their notorious and unapologetic full dubbing on all foreign productions. I think I was 8 or 9 years old when I got a pirate copy of the movie in, understandably, a VSR cassette format. Mind you, those were the times when piracy was legal. Sort of.

I collected everything there was to collect on Titanic in what was then still a yawning post-Soviet province of 90s Europe. What I remember most clearly is my beautiful notebook with the most romantic scene of the movie on the cover and a glorious pog, or milk cap, with the picture of the liner itself. And oh the countless posters and clippings of scenes from the movie.

Leonardo di Caprio was my first actor crush. And nobody understood me that I loved him for his talent and the “who he really was” as it was long before he became the wolf of Wall Street and suddenly everybody turned team-Leo. I recognized his greatness in Titanic, along with heart-wrecking Basketball Diaries (1995) and flamboyant Romeo + Juliet (1996), even though to the masses he was just another baby-face sweetheart.

James Cameron's Titanic 1997 personal movie review
Screenshot from the movie Titanic (1997) – Jack wins his fateful tickets to the ship.

Admittedly, but secretly, Kate Winslet was my first actress crush and her character Rose DeWitt Bukater– my first role model. I bet she’s the reason why up to this day I have a special little place in my heart for red-haired women. It’s quite curious how I’ve become ginger myself last year saying goodbye to my black locks that had been framing my pale face for more than a decade. The year when I’ve finally decided and took real action in choosing love for myself over the irrevocable death. Love & death, baby, love & death again.

With every single rewatch of Titanic, I keep discovering something new. And it does strike me as the craziest thing considering that it’s a lot of times. But maybe less crazy remembering that I grew up with it. The things I notice, the things that I understand, the things that interest me change as I change. And this makes it even more amazing how I keep loving it for decades nevertheless.

For instance, only fairly recently have I realized on a cerebral level how goddamn feminist this picture is. It’s a story about a very young woman who is practically sold to a rich older man Cal Hockley by her own poverty-stricken mother. A young woman who’s intelligent, witty, strong, and wild at heart meant to be trapped in a cage and become a jewel of a possessive man. And here, seemingly against all odds and under dreadful circumstances, she manages to escape, to survive, and to live a long extraordinary life under her own terms.

The love at the centre of this story only works as an inspiration (albeit a huge one) to our beloved protagonist, not a final destination or an ultimate goal, suggested by other more traditional love stories. And I argue that this is not a love story at all, regardless of how endearing the connection between Rose and Jack is. In fact, Jack Dawson’s character can be viewed as a Manic Pixie Dream Guy trope, or, in the words of The Take creators on Youtube, “a sexy life coach”. No matter how beautiful inside and out he may be, we don’t find out much about him and his past and he’s only there to awaken Rose, to launch her into the skies and leave her there to fly alone.

James Cameron's Titanic 1997 personal movie review
Screenshot from the movie Titanic (1997) – Open your eyes, Rose.

To start truly living and find your happiness you need to recognize what’s wrong in your life and cut it out before adding anything that may bring joy. In other words, to become happy you can’t just add Jack in your life, you need to cut out Cal first or, even better, be a single lady for a while.

I most definitely could feel the vibe of feminism in this movie even when I was little. I just didn’t understand what it was. But it undoubtedly was one of the reasons I was so drawn to it. Even though I cry every single time when Rose has to let Jack go and sink into the deep blue, I surrender to the great dark sorrow carving through my chest with great relish. Here death immediately becomes strength and the beginning of Rose’s never-before-experienced freedom.

James Cameron's Titanic 1997 personal movie review
Screenshot from the movie Titanic (1997) – Rose saving herself after Jack’s death.

Rose was a real inspiration to me even though, considering her circumstances, her time period, and her age, so vastly unrelatable. Nevertheless, she would become more and more relatable as I grew into a modern young woman with my fierce, albeit undirected, passion flickering in my heart and my pink sunglasses dimming into black. Alas, the world is not so very damn different, in a sense. All that we see around us are merely decorations to soothe our restless clueless souls. This past century was very likely the most exciting in the whole human history: the most progressive, the most ambitious, the most fast-paced. But at the moments of such awful admiration I can’t help but wonder, how come human rights icons such as Gloria Steinem spend the entirety of their lives fighting the same old fight?

It may sound silly, but Rose has inspired me to live for as long as I’m at least 100. This strong affirmation contrasted greatly with my many suicidal episodes throughout my adolescence and young adulthood years. But maybe that’s what kept me going – a naïve promise to my childhood self. Although to tell you the truth, I hope it’s at least 110 – I really want to see the birth of the XXII century. To tell the cyborg kids how great the original 90s were.

James Cameron's Titanic 1997 personal movie review
Screenshot from the movie Titanic (1997) – Rose, at 101, sleeping with pictures of her life by her side.

Thanks to this piece of fiction, the real tragedy of Titanic became my first historical interest. As a child, I was completely mesmerized by this eerie juxtaposition of the majesty and luxury of the liner and its quick sinking into the depths of the ocean in a matter of hours. It must have been my first emotional contact with the fragility of life and everything that’s man-made. But what was arguably more shocking to my developing brain and nearly impossible to comprehend was the menacing arrogance of the people in charge that let most of the passengers die for the heartbreaking reason of not having enough of deck-cluttering boats.

James Cameron's Titanic 1997 personal movie review
Screenshot from the movie Titanic (1997) – musicians playing on deck till the very last moment.

Titanic is also guilty for introducing to me the beauty and the glorious power of soundtracks. George Lucas has famously said that sound is half the picture. Titanic: Music from the Motion Picture, composed, orchestrated, and conducted by James Horner, is a heavenly creation. You can clearly feel how the music plays with your emotions and you’re overmastered by this invisible puppeteer, but it’s so freakin’ pleasant that you just don’t mind. Don’t mind at all.

Evidently I could go on and on about the importance of this film to the development of my personality, my tastes, my world view, and my emotional and intellectual triggers. But I guess you’ve got the point. The only thing I wish is for people to get rid of all the silly prejudice and see Titanic for what it really is – one of the greatest goddamn movies ever! And yes, one of the most romantic too.

James Cameron's Titanic 1997 personal movie review
Screenshot from the movie Titanic (1997) – before the last night of the voyage.

Pictures: Screencaps

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