Plot Spoiler Ahead.
Titanic is a grand-scale epic by James Cameron about the sinking of the ship and about a young woman, Rose DeWitt Bucater (Kate Winslet) who falls for a poor artist, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) while on board, rejecting her family and her evil fiancé, Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane). After the ship sinks, the two lovers escape together but Jack dies, leaving Rose to abandon her past life and live as he suggested, by following her heart. It is one of my all time favorite movies.
Rose is attractive but doesn’t have the typical model figure. She is not large, but is a healthy weight, and has a lovely face, unlike the popular actresses and “fuckable” models of today. Her costumes are lovely and colorful, and though they are often uncomfortable looking, they are enjoyable to look at, unlike the chrome colored crap the “heroines” of mainstream action films wear. The costumes, colors, and music in the film are vivid and romantic, a rejection of the “masculine” norm of being unemotional and uncultured.
Technology symbolizes masculinity in the film, and often in real life. Technology is something you use to conquer nature, and something you associate with our world’s idea of masculinity. The Titanic is all about SIZE and the male preoccupation with it, as Rose says.
The film lampoons the sexist behavior of the men by portraying them as knowing what they’re doing is wrong. It doesn’t try to go all existentialist and avante garde and say that there are two sides to every story, you have to look at things from a different point of view, no one’s really evil, it was a different time and place blah blah blah.
Titanic portrays very strong women, like Kathy Bates’ Unsinkable Molly Brown and Rose, and portrays only the upper class men as disrespectful towards women but not poor men, since the lower class is synonymous with femininity, and therefore is the butt of the male establishment’s hatred. (I don’t see it as a case of masking the fact that masculinity is the problem by presenting lower class men as “better” or making it an economic issue rather than a male hatred issue).
One night, Rose tries to commit suicide by jumping off the back of the ship, and Jack talks her out of it. As she comes back over the railings, she slips and almost goes overboard. She screams and the ship authorities come running, just as Rose falls on the ground, her dress hiked up and Jack standing over her. Of course, they assume it’s a rape scene, because underneath, they all know many, if not most men are emotionally capable of it. Rose says she slipped trying to see the propellers and they mock her for being womanly and such.
Jack isn’t afraid of the female body, and draws pictures of prostitutes and other women, including an elderly woman who waits for her lost lover. He doesn’t have love affairs with the women he draws- only with some of their hands. He’s more of a personality guy.
By falling in love with Jack, Rose makes a romantic and sexual choice of her own volition, and she chooses an acceptable, enlightened, unbigoted man, who is fun to boot. Jack is protective, but not because he’s a man; rather, because he’s been more exposed to the world and knows the ropes. It also speaks volumes that she chooses a man below her power level, a man who supposedly isn’t as “biologically attractive” (strong, domineering) as a rich man. It means she chooses out of love, not out of the wish to replicate an irrational fetishized power structure.
One night, Jack invites Rose down to a third class party with wild Irish music and beer, where she shows off her toughness by standing on her toes like a ballerina (showing that the harshness of female standards is just as harsh as the toughness standards for men, even more so sometimes). The next morning, Cal, having found out about her escapades, tells her he’s disappointed she didn’t come to bed with him that night and honor him the way a wife is required to. She tells him he cannot command her like a foreman in his mills, so he flips over a table and storms off, leaving her upset as the maid rushes in and tries to help Rose clean up. She tells the maid it was an accident, as many women do, since they are afraid to blame males even when speaking to other women. This movie does something important in that it shows what really happens behind the scenes when a woman appears to be confused or upset for “no” reason. (of course, no one should assume there is no reason, and all people have the capacity to understand there may be a reason for the emotions, so there’s no excuse- but scenes like this help us tell the truth about those causes to those who would deny it).
Jack sees Rose naked without initiating sex with her. He is very professional when he paints her. He is sensitive and artistic without being odd and jarring and nihilistic, as some artists are. Jack’s different without being repulsive; he retains his innocence, which is the proper way to be different and creative.
There was a quote on Wikipedia (a male controlled site) that said a newspaper or film review claimed men liked Titanic because Jack got Rose to take her clothes off by offering to draw her. Watch the movie. Nowhere in that film does this happen. She is the one who offers to do a naked drawing. And Jack isn’t the sort of man who allows bad men to define his existence, which is why he is demeaned and abused by Rose’s misogynistic fiancé, Cal.
Cal, Rose’s fiancé, calls her a little slut when she decides to let Jack draw her naked, and later accuses her of preferring to be a whore than to be his wife, and she says she’d rather be Jack’s whore than Cal’s wife, and spits in his face.
Rose is portrayed as equal or maybe dominant in the relationship with Jack. She initiated the sex. She saves him from danger. She calls all the shots because she’s rich. Her sexual experience is happy and purpose-driven. She has sex with Jack because she WANTS to, not because she has to. He is not drawn to her weakness, but her strength, and also to her happiness.
The Nature Trumps Technology theme is present in the sinking. Any oppressed group, which internally realizes God or Nature or Fate is on their side, and that the established order including technology, is not, rejoices at disasters that destroy the established icons to some extent. Therefore, when Nature trumps Technology/Civilization by sinking the Titanic, the oppressed persons immediately sense an aura of divine justice. Many women watching the movie internally snicker at this phallic obstacle being one-upped by Mother Nature.
As they try to balance on a door in the water, Jack keeps falling off, so he lets Rose stay on. He dies in the freezing water, and Rose temporarily thinks about dying there with him, but remembers what he taught her about living her own life, lets him sink to the bottom of the ocean, and swims away to contact the rescue boat. This is unheard of in most movies- a man being the agent of a woman’s happiness, and (as a plot device, at least) dying so she can be happy and live.
Rose willingly leaves behind a world of wealth and safety in order to escape the patriarchy of that world, and to follow her heart. She takes up horseback riding, acting, and has a life of her own after the accident.
Her final rejection of the masculine world, the throwing of the diamond jewelry into the ocean, into Nature, is the last thing she does before she can die peacefully. She rejects materialism and the male view of “logic”, which would mean not “sorting through causes and effects in order to come to a factual truth” (the PROPER definition of logic), but would mean “taking actions or making choices that lead you to an arbitrary goal [like the possession and valuing of a certain mineral] that patriarchy has deemed good”. (there is no objective reason to assume that having a diamond, or any other particular mineral, or the money that it can be traded for, is “good”).
The movie is dedicated to emotion as well as reason. A healthy person needs both, but part of being masculine means rejecting part of your nature. Some men reject reason, and some reject emotion. Some reject both. Titanic enshrines both reason and emotion, which makes it a good film, and spits in the face of masculine ideal of dropping half your nature.
True, it is a film from the perspective of a rich white woman, but this doesn’t mean the main message doesn’t apply to all women, including women of color or Asians. It doesn’t seem to exclude other ethnic groups’ experiences but rather seems to address a universal, that women’s lives are hard and that we must escape from them by any means necessary.
The sea is often associated with women and the feminine- it is warm and large and “unpredictable” (at least to those who want to control and therefore predict it, even though it is no more “unpredicctable” than anything you cannot mindread!). It swallows ships and gives life. Like the mother, it was our first home, having evolved from it, the way we evolved from woman-dominated societies. “A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets…”
Titanic is hated, as is Twilight is, because it appeals to girls. It has superb special effects, tons of action, witty dialogue, and lots of death and destruction, and not the romanticized type, either. So why is it attacked by men? Not because of what it lacks, but because of what it HAS. It has morals, including sexual morals which show sexuality as connected to love and happiness. It is pro-working class, pro-women, pro-children. It tells the truth about men and what they do to women.
There’s a reason men judge a movie by what it HAS, rather than by what it LACKS. We would assume that men would only care if a movie LACKED something they liked, such as action and special effects, because we assume that men’s evaluation of films is through a lens of selfishness, i.e., what the movie gives to them. If a movie had action and such crap, they would be fine with it, and wouldn’t care or notice what else it contained.
But their evaluation isn’t based on selfishness; it’s based on hatred. Hence, they do not care that the movie CONTAINS what they like. They care only that it DOESN’T contain anything that helps or pleases women. If they were selfish, they would not notice others, but no, it is not selfishness they possess: it is hatred of women, what women like, and who women are. THAT is why men judge movies like Titanic on what the films have, not what they lack.
It’s not about pleasing themselves; it’s about hating you, even on such an innocuous and petty issue as movie watching. Very well, then. Long live Titanic!
[on a last note, it’s good that a man directed and wrote this film, because it proves that men can understand and agree with women’s rights, and that there’s no more “I didn’t know you were suffering because I’m a man” excuse that can be made by any man]