April’s monkey is Confess to crying at the movies! I confess that I cry at the movies all the time. I have a lot of soft spots when it comes to themes, and a lot of movies poke at those themes.
However, my real shame in this case is not from the fact that I cry at movies, but due to the specific movie sob-fest I’m about to relate. While some of you conjure episodes of high emotion drawn from obscure artistic films or classics from the golden age of cinema, my confessional monkey centers around that most dreaded film that we all love to hate: Titanic.
Wait! Before you close your browser in disgust, at least hear me out. First of all, as a Nova Scotian, I’ve had a fascination with the (true) story of the Titanic ever since I was a kid. When I first saw the preview for the movie I was bug-eyed and drop-jawed with anticipation. So yes, I went in with a prejudice in favor of the movie.
One of the things that provoked the widespread prejudice against the film was the enormous amount of money — some $200 million — that was spent on the film’s making. That is, by anyone’s standard, an insane amount of money to spend on a film. Keep in mind, however, that the money was all private investment. It wasn’t taxpayer’s money (like it would likely have been in Canada). Private investors can do whatever they want with their money. And frankly, it fits very nicely that the story of the biggest ship every built (in its time), a project that was born out of bombast and audacity, should be filmed in a bombastic and audacious manner.
Also consider where the money went. It’s not like it flowed right into the pockets of the director or producers. No, they got rich from the box office, not the production money. Rather, the production money flowed into the pockets of hundreds of craftspeople and artisans who worked for months on the models and sets. Plumbers, cabinetmakers, carpenters, potters, painters, and other skilled workers all benefited immensely from the project before the film crew even got started.
James Cameron, the director, was criticized for paying too much attention to detail — right down to having the plates in the film’s dining room match the originals. That might sound excessive, but not if you’re a ceramicist and you happened to land that contract.
Please understand that I have a great appreciation for craftsmanship, so that aspect of the film’s budget didn’t bother me at all. The more realistic the better as far as I’m concerned.
Ok, so that’s out of the way. The next big criticism was the sappy love story. Well, it was a bit sappy, but it was no worse than what you find in half the movies coming out of Hollywood, and was less painful than virtually any “romantic comedy” you’re ever going to see.
I really didn’t pay much attention to the love story anyway. I was utterly captivated by the ship itself, and I chose to focus my attention there. I was also very taken with the character of Rose (Kate Winslet). Believe it or not, I found the character to be quite believable. Imagine a young upper-class woman at the end of the Victorian era, who is bequeathed to an overbearing man she doesn’t love. What’s so unbelievable about that?
She has a fiery spirit, just like the technological era that is replacing the era of her parents. The sinking of the ship, and her subsequent rescue and decision to live life on her own terms is a metaphor for the passing of the Victorian era into our modern age.
Ok, well enough. So why did I cry? Well, one of the themes in film and literature that always gets to me is that of an old person’s realization that his or her life has been wasted. Novels like Brian Moore’s I am Judith Hearne and No Other Life leave me choked up and barely able to breathe.
In the case of Titanic the theme was quite the opposite. A young woman escapes not only death but also a wasted life. She goes on to live a full and rich existence and near the end of her life goes back to the scene of her transformation and gets to relive it and to tell her story. Titanic is not the story of the sinking of the ship, nor is it the story of the brief romance between Rose and Jack. Those are just devices in the real story — that of Rose’s escape from her pre-destiny and her choice to live well and appreciate it. It’s like an atonement in reverse. That is great storytelling!
I fell apart when the extent and depth of Rose’s appreciation for the gift she had been given became apparent, which is why she always carried photographs from her life around with her. She is not unaware that the immense tragedy that unfolded around her is what granted her this opportunity. You see her riding horses, flying in biplanes, and doing all sorts of other fun things, and in the end she still has that damn blue diamond thingy, a metaphor for her life unsquandered. Yeah, it might be sappy, but like I said, life stories get to me. I’m predisposed to it.
Unfortunately, I was still blubbering like a baby when the credits rolled, and that’s when that damn Celine Dion song came on. I hate the song, but memory association is strong, so I still get thick in the throat when I hear it. Shaddap!
One more thing. To my utter, utter shame, I went back a week later and sat through it again!