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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Titanic (again) (review)

Girl Power

Titanic is a certified phenomenon, so I feel justified in revisiting it. This weekend’s box-office take (to which I contributed my $8.75 again) pushed the film’s domestic gross past that of Forrest Gump, into the number-four position. It seems likely to pass, in the coming weeks, numbers three and two — Jurassic Park and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, respectively — though it still has a long way to go to surpass Star Wars at number one.

I’m particularly struck by one key to Titanic’s success: repeat business from teenage girls. Usually it’s the boys making testosterone-soaked action movies big hits, filling the theaters for second, third, and fourth viewings. This time, we’re told, it’s cute Leonardo DiCaprio and Titanic’s tender romance that’s bringing the girls back again and again.

I had all that in the back of my mind as I settled in for my second trip on Titanic, preparing to scribble out a diatribe on young girls’ (and sometimes older women’s) hunger for the kind of romance that exists only in the movies. Beware — I was ready to say — fantasy is all fine and good, but don’t expect Mr. Perfect to ever sweep you off your feet. Your life will not be made complete by any man. Not even Leonardo DiCaprio.

But I’d kinda forgotten that that isn’t what the relationship between Jack and Rose is about. Whereas Rose is a virtual prisoner to the wishes of Cal, her fiancé, and Ruth, her mother, Jack encourages Rose to break free and live her own life — if she wants to. Rose’s intelligence and independent frame of mind is hinted at early in the film, through a taste in art that differs radically from Cal’s and a clever snipe at Bruce Ismay, the Titanic’s designer, but (without giving too much away) she is a victim of her circumstance, doomed to marry a man she does not love and live a life she finds suffocating.

Jack never asks or expects Rose to change for him, but only for herself. “It isn’t your job to save me,” Rose tells Jack. “No,” he replies, “only you can do that.” And she does, and uncovers facets of herself that Cal and Ruth have tried to bury. Rose becomes more herself than she ever would have been if not for Jack.

So maybe one of the reasons all those junior high school girls are running back to see Titanic for the nth time is that the romance is the kind we usually don’t get to see. Jack and Rose fall in love without sacrificing who they are as people — neither has to pretend to be something they aren’t.

Hopefully these girls are absorbing this subversive (some would say) message: Be yourself, and don’t change that for any man — and you’ll still find romance.

other reviews:
“History Lessons,” 01.05.98
on the Oscar Best Picture win, 03.21.99
Titanic 3D review, 04.02.12

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Titanic (1997) | directed by James Cameron
US/Can release: Dec 19 1997
UK/Ire release: Jan 23 1998

MPAA: rated PG-13 for disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language
BBFC: rated 12A (contains strong language, nudity, intense threat and disturbing images)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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