Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Not every movie that wins the Best Picture Oscar is absolutely stellar. When considering this, it is useful to remember that the Oscars are an annual event, and the Best Picture nod is only the best film of that year. Even so, Titanic was nominated for Best Picture in the same year as L.A. Confidential, and those two films, while not absolutely stellar, are pretty darn good. But they kind of represent two ends of the spectrum. L.A. Confidential is a very tight and intricately constructed movie, but Titanic touches way more emotional nerves. It hits us where we are, despite that it takes place in a time when nobody who is watching the movie was even alive. L.A. Confidential does that a little bit, but it’s more visceral and raw than emotionally affecting; it goes for the gut rather than the soul. Titanic, however, has an effect that lasts much longer.

Now, the media machine surrounding Titanic was monumental, and the movie was incredibly successful. Those two things open it up to unnumbered parodies, riffing, and merciless mockery. I saw it when it came out while I was in high school. I returned three times to the theater to see it, and it quickly became my favorite movie. That was due in part to it being really good, and in part to my not having seen very many movies at that point. But as soon as I told my high school friends of the male persuasion that it was my favorite movie, I was laughed at and scorned for being the epitome of a wuss. Even a few of my female friends thought me a little too wishy-washy. On the other hand, all the guys who made fun of me for liking it never even saw it, so there you go.

Though other movies have surpassed it over time as being my favorite, it still rings true and I still love it. James Cameron’s previous films were True Lies, Aliens, and the first two Terminator movies, so it doesn’t seem that he would be very competent at a love story. Cameron’s high-price action style actually lends itself to this material more than one initially thinks, however. Let’s not forget that the central event in the plot is a ship sinking, and that in the course of the movie, 1,500 people bite the big one. Macho detractors of this movie have no ground to speak, as I can think of nothing less girly than a whole bunch of people dying.

But the movie’s not really about the ship, or its sinking. It’s about Jack and Rose. Kate Winslet earns her Best Actress nomination here, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s not bad, either. He was better in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, The Departed, and Romeo + Juliet, but this role didn’t demand a whole lot, so we don’t expect it of him. The supporting performances are absolutely great, especially Billy Zane, Gloria Stuart, Victor Garber, Kathy Bates, Bernard Hill, and David Warner. I noticed on my most recent viewing that the film creates empathy with every character, not just the two stars. You understand the pain, drive, and motivation behind each major character, from Captain Smith (he realizes he let his pride get the better of him) to Cal (he feels emasculated by Rose’s wayward ways) to Mr. Andrew (he put all this work and energy into a ship that despite his best efforts, wasn’t good enough).

The love story has a rocky beginning, and a few pieces of dialogue could have been written better by a 7th grader, but the stunning visuals and the historical credibility more than balances that out. The Jack and Rose romance is pretty fast and emotional, and usually love affairs that begin like that don’t last, but we don’t really have to worry about that because, hey, the ship sinks anyway. Rose only says “I love you,” to Jack once, and he never says it to her, but one only has to look at them when Rose is floating on the door and Jack is in the water to see that they do in fact love each other. Each actor does a magnificent job of conveying the emotion and drive behind every single line, and that’s true of all the supporting performances, as well.

You can call me a sissy or pantywaist, and you can call into question my sexuality, because all of those things have been done because of this movie (really), but I like it. It’s thoughtful, it’s well-shot, it’s well-acted, it’s emotionally touching, and its themes last much longer than just the time you’re sitting in the theater chair. And aren’t those the components that go into a Best Picture nod? In summation, there are better movies, but this one just does it for me.

Iconic lines:
“I know what ice fishing is!”
“Interesting that the lady slipped so suddenly, and you still had time to remove your jacket and your shoes…”
“You jump, I jump, right?”

22 Rating: 16

Particle Man


Your Racist Friend said...

Dude, you are such a.....

*ahem* Right. Been done before. But an admirable defense of a vilified (justifiably so, I think) movie.

Dr. Worm said...

Neal, if I remember correctly, a lot of the reason Titanic was seen as a sissy movie is because it made a lot of its money off teenage girls who were drooling over Leonardo DiCaprio. But it's really actually pretty well balanced between being a guy movie and a girl movie. I remember feeling like it was two movies when I saw it; the first half was a love story for the gals, and the second half was a disaster movie for the fellas.
And I think you're right, it was a good movie. Most of the hatin' comes from the fact that it made an enormous amount of money and won a fistful of Oscars--people understandably try to shrink the movie back down to size. But if this was instead a little-seen indie film, I think a lot of those same people would be singing its praises.

Your Racist Friend said...

That's a good point, DW. The reason I don't like it, and many others, I suspect, is that:

-A lot of the acting borders on melodrama, when the film itself is not a melodrama.

-It's really, really freaking long.

-If you want human tragedy, don't show people bouncing off of deck objects like human pinballs...that makes the more cynical members of the audience giggle.

-It was ridiculously overrated. People were all like "OMG BEST MOVIE EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!", when there's a long, long list of much better movies.

Particle Man said...

DW, that would be the "very successful" part that i mentioned. but the fact that teenage girls were hot for Leo was the real reason those folks tried to cut it down to size, not the Oscars up the Wazoo. after all, Return of the King won a boatload of Oscars, and it wasn'r disrespected with nearly as much prejudice as Titanic was. sure, it had a South Park episode based on it, but what didn't? it seemed when i was in high school, everywhere i turned there was some comedian (or perceived comedian) making fun of the "sissyness" of Titanic. it really infuriated me.

Wicked Little Critta said...

I think ALSO contributing to the idea that this is a "girl movie" is the time period in which it was set. Women all in dresses and corsets and men in suits with hats while sitting down to tea and trying to decide whether to marry or not to marry...
While the time in and of itself is not "girly", I think that in this case it contributed to this picture.
Personally, I thought the love story between Jack and Rose was ok, but I was more caught up in the fact that they were on the TITANIC. Seeing it on the big screen was incredible. Yes, I'm ashamed to admit I was one of those teenage girls drooling over Leo, but I was and still am much more affected by the idea of being on a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean. People who had it all, or who thought they did, all of a sudden had nothing. Families hoping for a better life had their dreams taken away in a moment. Individuals who were complete cowards as well as those that demonstrated incredible strength and bravery were operating side by side. Fascinating stuff.
I don't feel like it was too long, but I do agree a bit about the melodrama and human pinballs. While those parts don't make me giggle, I can see how others might...

Particle Man said...

thank you, WLC, that was what i was saying about the themes lasting longer than when you were watching the movie. touching upon the "cowards and brave people" thing you were talking about, another theme of this movie is how tragedy brings out our true nature, and how we all have within us the capacity for heroics, no matter our circumstances. another theme of this movie is that the only human force stronger than the survival impulse is love. very poignant, no?

Wicked Little Critta said...

I don't necessarily want to turn this into a debate, but I disagree that a theme of the movie was "that the only human force stronger than the survival impulse is love." I'd say that a more accurate theme would be that some people have motivations that overrule their survival impulse.
Cal was more driven by jealousy and anger than love when he first stayed on the boat to find Jack and Rose.
The Captain totally denied any survival impulse he had, I'd say not for love, but for either loyalty to his ship and crew, or shame.
One member of the crew committed suicide for what I would believe to not be love, but for selfishness or shame as well.
However, the more powerful and touching acts of self-denial happen on account of love, IMO. I think my favorite part is when the quartet plays music as the ship goes down. Whether or not it really happened, it was a beautiful scene. The case could be made that these men did it in love.
I absolutely agree with you that tragedy brings out our true selves. We'd all like to think that when we face the fire, we'd stand for the ideals that we hold dear. But we won't know until we get there.