This article was written by Emily Odesser and originally appeared on Broadly.
I’ll admit that when I told my friends I was a Titanic virgin, they were shocked. "Wait, how have you never seen that movie?" they asked, paused, then followed up: "You do know what the movie’s about… don’t you?" And yes, I do know what the iconic movie is about (and the history behind it). The general gist is: boy and girl go on boat (boy super attractive but poor, girl super attractive but uncomfortable rich), boy and girl meet, boy and girl fall in love, boy thinks he's flying, boy paints girl, iceberg (uh-oh!), girl never lets go, boy freezes, Celine Dion plays.
I know Leo is very sexy in it because—like any other teen girl/human on this earth—I <3 young LDC, and I know the famous lines, and I know people rave about it pretty frequently. It’s not like I have a vendetta against the film or anything; it’s just one of those things that hasn't ever happened for me—especially after I took on a feminist mission to only consume art created by women/femmes for a year.
Titanic was written and directed by a man, so in my period of late-night movie watching, I never thought to check it out—that is, until now, on the film's twentieth anniversary. Fresh off a year and a half of exclusively consuming art created by women and femmes, I sat down with my grandma's Amazon Prime account to review the film.
Below, you'll find screenshots and time-stamps to accompany my thoughts on the "greatest love story of all time."
0:32:33: I’ve had a mental checklist of famous lines and I hit the first ("I'm the king of the world!"), so now is a good time to catch you up . Long story short, a bunch of rugged treasure hunters find an infamous drawing in a shipwreck in the ocean, and we learn that the portrait's subject is wearing a necklace these high-tech pirate dudes want. When they show off their discoveries to the press, the subject of the drawing, Rose, recognizes herself on TV and goes to meet with them. She’s 101 years old now but remembers everything, and as she fills in the crew, we watch it play out in "real time."
At 20, Rose is engaged, morose, and very rich as I had suspected! Like, equipped with maids to carry around her unframed Picasso and Degas paintings rich. There’s a big yikes moment where she calls the massive Titanic a slave ship.
On the other hand, LDC’s Jack Dawson is her age, but her polar opposite. He’s a gambling, Glossier-dewy-skinned reckless charmer who won free tickets aboard last minute. I know they’re really trying to make a dichotomy between the two characters, but his hedonism/recklessness is a little dramatic. I mean, you’d think that if you get to go on the world’s most exclusive boat for free, you’d have a little regard for your life, but instead, he’s standing on the bow railing, screaming he’s the king of the world. Rose is having much less fun in her cabin as her asshole of a fiancé, Cal, schmoozes around.
0:39:17: So it’s all going well and Jack/Rose have sexually stared each other down as everyone around them makes it very clear that there should be no interaction between old money Rose and no money Jack (someplace, somewhere, Fitzgerald just busted a nut from the grave). But very little time passes and suddenly, Rose is running down the hallway, sobbing, and Jack realizes she’s going to try to jump off the ship.
They’ve never talked, but he proceeds to pull maybe one of the worst suicide prevention steps anyone could ever think of: he plays chicken with her. Because it’s a romantic movie, it works perfectly, and because he’s so charming, he gets an invite to one of Rose’s family’s swanky dinners. It’s pretty atrocious to show a flimsily fleshed out near-suicide attempt as a romantic catalyst, and once our lovers have met, Rose’s recovery isn’t exactly a point of focus.
0: 58:44: It looks like Jack is shaping up to be Rose’s manic pixie dream boy. He shows her his erotic drawings and they plan a California horseback riding date (paving way to Rose’s cringeworthy line: "Teach me how to ride like a man… and spit like a man") before they head off to dinner. He gets the cliché movie makeover and we get to watch sexual tension flare between Jack and Rose as the ridiculously hyper-masculine Cal jealously tries to snub Jack over and over to no avail. The two
lovers head off to a below-deck party where they spill beer everywhere (Rose’s next cringe worthy line is, "What, you think a first class girl can’t drink?") and they spin around as Cal’s creepy butler spies on them.
1:10:53: Sure enough, the emotional after-effects of Rose’s suicide attempt have been neglected. The next hour or so deals the ramifications of Rose falling for a poor boy. Rose holds her ground pretty well as everyone tries to control her—Cal is an aggressive buffoon (more on that later) and there’s a very intentionally symbolic scene as her mother ties her into a corset and lectures her about the family’s future.
1:21:21: Jack, ever so romantically, sneaks into the rich people’s section, pulls Rose into a room, and proceeds to give a long monologue that basically goes: "You’re annoying and hard to deal with but despite that, I still like you." How selfless. She hits him with an amazing one liner: "It’s not up to you to save me," which is later slightly diminished when she finds him at the bow railing, saying that he loves her so much, and admits she changed her mind—so, he shushes her, tells her to close her eyes, makes her climb up the rail, and they "fly" together (not a euphemism).
Jack really has no regard for his safety, and it probably wasn’t the best idea to dangle Rose off the boat after how they first met. Anyway, I know the scene is supposed to be really timeless and beautiful, but the dialogue is so cheesy and their reactions are so dramatic that I actually thought it was a pretty hilarious scene.
1:25:40: There’s a quick flash forward to remind us that this unrealistic beautiful love story is all gonna go wrong and they all die, then we get back to the drama. It’s finally time for the scene I’ve been incorrectly quoting for five years: when Rose gets her portrait. I remember a stage I had as a freshman where anytime I'd be horizontal, I'd make a "draw me like your French girls" joke and I'm glad I grew out of that. It must have been sort of frustrating for Rose to lie there for so long! But it was an empowering moment for her and I'm glad she got to have an "erotic experience" where she had control. Ultimately, it seemed more tender and vulnerable than it did sexy. My only lingering question is if they hired a hand double or LDC is just a really good artist too.
1:40:05: The kids are totally in love now and get chased through the ship by Cal’s butler, Lovejoy. They take a brief detour for sex in a carriage once they escape LJ. I googled it and apparently it makes the list of top movie sex scenes? But, I talked to a couple of friends and we all agreed it was so weirdly sweaty that it wasn't really erotic at all. It seemed more uncomfortably damp than steamy. Also, it seemed like they were enjoying running around the ship way more than the sex itself.
After the sex, they end up at that fated spot where they first met—remember that fun time? It’s about to become even worse. Jack and Rose kiss, and the camera pans up to the ship’s officers, who frantically notice an iceberg ahead. They try their best to turn—I never knew the ship captains knew about the ice in their path beforehand—but they’re too late. The ship and the iceberg collide.
1:48:16: Water starts flooding below deck, and the couple overhears the captains discussing the damage. Jack makes an astute observation. "This is bad," he says, and they set out to try to warn Rose’s fairly awful companions before it’s too late.
But Cal, being the desperate snake he is, trashed his own room and safe so he could frame Jack for robbery. So right when Jack and Rose come downstairs, Lovejoy plants a couple valuables in Jack’s pocket and Jack gets arrested. Cal goes on a misogynistic rant where he calls Rose a "thing," slaps her, and calls her a slut. We learn the ship has about an hour till it goes underwater, so the officers are frantically scattering around with smiles on their face trying to get everyone in their life jackets, but instead, there’s a ton of detours. Jack is handcuffed to a pole downstairs by Lovejoy.
2:49:44: Everything goes to shit. Way earlier in the film, we learned there were only enough lifeboats to hold half of the people on board—the crew has to come to terms with the fact that their desire for aesthetics will likely have a thousand person death count. There are a lot of scenes with panicking and desperation that are so intense I needed to take a break and make a vow to never get on a boat again.
The poor people are locked downstairs and basically realize they’re sentenced to death, but the rich folks barely internalize that death may be imminent. Cal is so hung up on Jack and Rose’s relationships that after Rose saves Jack from his handcuffs, he passes his chance to get on a lifeboat to run downstairs, toward the flood, and try to shoot them. This movie puts in a lot of misogyny for misogyny’s sake; feminist movies are (unsurprisingly) far better at depicting men’s violent mindsets realistically, while Titanic hyperbolizes.
The last forty minutes are people drowning and freezing in every different way possible. Cal continues to be an asshole. There’s a nice history lesson about Molly Brown’s rescue efforts, and of course, Rose doesn’t share the floating wood, so Jack freezes. Keke Palmer was right. The movie ends with Rose in modern day throwing her necklace in the water—I guess to join Jack and the boat’s ruins?
Titanic gains about a 6 out of 10 in my book. The dialogue is cheesy and the characters are pretty one-dimensional, but the cinematography is beautiful. Rose is moderately fleshed out and interesting enough to analyze (though I don’t have any desire to support Kate Winslet’s work after her Woody Allen comments), and it certainly taught me more about the boat’s story than any history lesson has.
I’d like to also present my list of alternative titles for the film:
- Lovejoy Will Tear Us Apart
- Men Exploit Old Woman’s Trauma For Capitalist Pursuits
- Bougie Mr Clarke From Stranger Things and Daddy Warbucks from Disney’s Annie Mess Everything Up
- Suicide As a Romantic Device
- You’ll Never Want To Go On a Boat Again