What’s it like to love the biggest, most romantic movie of all time?
It’s entertaining; mostly because I can’t buy into the bunk, but also because it’s fun to type the characters and talk about my complete inability to relate to some of them.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Titanic. It’s in my “top ten favorite movies of all time” list. It’s epic. It’s gorgeous. It has a great cast. It’s about my favorite ship and many of my favorite historical characters. It’s powerful. It’s unforgettable, and as a perfectionist, creative side of the type, I admire the hard work and sheer accomplishment of it. James Cameron produced a masterpiece of special effects, sweeping emotion and unforgettable characters, however much I may dislike one of them.
I’m oblivious to Cameron’s total emotional manipulation of the audience. He’s not even subtle about it; he asks us to believe certain things and feel certain ways that I’m incapable of believing and feeling, so instead of being moved and impacted by it, I simply sit back and observe. Others are swept up into it, I’m fully aware of it, critical of it – and choose to love it anyway.
Firstly, Cameron goes out of his way to show us that being poor and happy is better than being rich and miserable. I personally would rather go for financial security over poverty, but that’s just me. You’ll notice that all the rich stiffs upstairs aren’t having much fun, with their insipid conversations and “business-minded” men, whereas all the penniless, rootless characters in Steerage are fun to be around. Isn’t it interesting how rich people always try and convince the rest of society that being rich isn’t all that great? Is that because they don’t want us to aspire to their level of society or because they actually believe their own tommyrot?
Other than the magnificent ship as it goes down, the characters are the most important aspect of this story, particularly Rose, whom many have typed as an INFP, or the “Dreamer” personality type. Rose wants meaning in life above all, to the point where she longs to cast aside convention and follow her heart, at the cost of everything she is blessed with but fails to appreciate. Rose is a true Bohemian, dedicated to “truth, beauty, and love.” Her love of art draws her to Jack, but it’s also his ability to just “take off, whenever [he] feels like it.”
Out of all the characters, I understand Rose the least, since everything about her is in direct conflict with my personality. I just can’t feel sorry for Rose as she whines about being forced to marry a good-looking billionaire to get her family out of financial duress. As an INFJ, I look for stability and long term security in a relationship – and Cal provides that. I’m also baffled at her total disregard for her mother’s fate and feelings (by allowing her to believe Rose died with the ship, she leaves Ruth open to financial ruin, not to mention enormous pain and guilt; there’s no other response to that than, “wow, what a bitch”).
I don’t believe in true, immediate, lasting love based on a three-day romance. I don’t believe in love at first sight. I’d never take someone I’ve known 48 hours at their word (“How did you find out the truth, Rose?” “I didn’t! I just knew!”). Rose’s entire thought process is utterly foreign to me – “It doesn’t make any sense; that’s why I trust it”?
… wait, what?
Jack is a pretty straightforward ESFP – spontaneous, optimistic, the life of the party, loved by everyone, craves adventure and is the center of attention. He’s an artist, he enjoys traveling, “meeting new people,” never knowing what kind of an adventure he’s about to have. He lives life to the fullest and makes the most of each moment. He’s a fun, extremely likable character… the sort of boy everyone wants to hang out with, who brings out spontaneity in others, and bucks social conventions. What I don’t understand is why he likes Rose!
Cal is difficult to type, since his “psychotic break” in the second half is consistent with his repressed emotions but not always consistent with a particular type. He’s a total ESTJ. Out of all of them, I understand Cal the most. He doesn’t deal in expressing his emotions and isn’t enormously tolerant of them in other people (“I don’t pretend to know why you’ve been so melancholy…”), so he tries to show Rose affection in the only way he feels comfortable with, through presents: a grand stateroom, a giant diamond, and the promise of a grand, wealthy life if she will only “open [her] heart to me.”
Since Cal represents a social life and class Rose can’t stand, she doesn’t give him the chance to win her over, nor does she share her true self with him except in snippy, bratty comments. His ‘S’ comes out in his rigidity when it comes to social norms and his desire for her to fit into them – his objection over her behavior, his belief that she should “honor him,” and his inability to see long-term results. Yet, in spite of Cameron’s attempts to make us dislike him, more sensible viewers will see that in spite of his anger management issues, he really does care about Rose. (Again, why, I have no idea. You’d think he’d have better taste in women.) And as far as that is concerned, he really isn’t as awful as Rose thinks he is: he merely objects to her continually obnoxious, self-centered, rude, and immature behavior, as any well-bred man would. Yet, we’re supposed to dislike him for being narrow minded, dismissive, and insulting.
Here, James Cameron falls into a tired old cliché of making one man horrible, so we’ll root for her to be with another one. (As my best friend pointed out during our last viewing together, “If the situation was reversed, and it was Cal cheating on Rose with a girl from steerage, we’d see him as a contemptible lout. But since it’s a woman doing the cheating, it’s all right.”)
When I first saw this film at age sixteen, I was more emotionally invested in it than I am now; in spite of myself, I invested in the romance, mourned the death of one of the characters, and cried at the end (even though I still liked and understood Cal). That time has passed; I find Rose and Jack adorable but implausible, and find reasons to defend Cal against the hate leveled at him, even though I can’t support certain of his decisions. Yet, in spite of that, and in spite of the absurd message of enduring love built up over a few hours, the last two minutes of the film are still, to me, utterly iconic, powerful, and invoke a spiritual response in me. Tears still come to my eyes, as Rose returns to the ship, passes through the crowd of people who perished on her, and is reunited with Jack once more.
Why does this touch me so? I think it’s because, underneath all my sensible protestations, there beats the heart of a spiritual woman. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in Christ, and in heaven, and I’ve lost enough people to death to look forward to that moment when, after my own death, I’ll be reunited with them. My heart longs for that more than anything… and in a very strange, very powerful way, in spite of its faults, for me Titanic is a deeply moving spiritual experience. I love it in spite of myself, and in doing so, prove that sometimes the heart can overrule my head.