In this assignment I intend to analyse the film “Titanic” in light of the statement “A tale of forbidden love and courage in the face of disaster that triumphs as a true masterpiece”.
On April 10th 1912 the White Star Line luxury cruiser Titanic set sail. The Titanic was the largest ship of its day and was deemed at the time to be unsinkable due to its 16 watertight chambers. The first few days went by uneventful. Then the unthinkable happened and just days into its maiden voyage the Titanic hit an iceberg causing it to subside to the bed of the Atlantic just 3 hours after it had hit the obstacle. Consequent investigations suggested that the Titanic was traveling too fast in the icy conditions and was warned several times about the icebergs that lay ahead but nevertheless continued at its optimum speed.
The film incorporates a fictional love story with the historical sinking of the ship. Cameron uses the love story between Jack, a third class passenger and Rose, who is traveling in first class to access all the areas of the ship to show the wide divide of the classes. Cameron uses the universal theme of forbidden love to get the audience attached to the characters to make the ultimate sinking more unbearable and to show the audience the emotion of such a catastrophe.
” I wanted the audience to cry for Titanic. Which means to cry for any lost soul in their hour of untimely death”
Cameron’s attitude to producing the film was of the highest standard. He wanted everything to be as authentic as possible. He wanted a film that could be entirely believable and would truly reflect upon what happened on the fateful journey. “I want to be able to say to an audience, without the slightest pang of guilt: This is real. This is what happened. Exactly like this”.
He brings the tale into the modern day with a wrap-around story, with a much senior Rose as the storyteller. Cameron used every piece of new technology at his disposal to produce the film. His use of computer generated imagery was the best of its time, even the people who used the imaging every day could not tell the difference between the real people and the generated ones.
James Cameron uses the theme of forbidden love to make the audience connect emotionally with the characters so that we can experience the true terror of the sinking. Cameron also uses this theme to access all areas of the ship. In this story the theme of forbidden love seems impossible because of two aspects; firstly Rose is traveling first class whereas Jack is a third class passenger and secondly Rose is already engaged to Cal. When we, as the audience, first meet Jack, he is deep into a game of poker. His clothes and mannerisms give us clues as to his background and his finances. He seems to be a likeable, happy-go-lucky character that lives on the edge of his seat, taking things as they come to him.
In contrast Rose is first seen vacating a luxurious coach. Her first words are “it doesn’t look any bigger than the Mauritania”. This suggests that she is snobbish, regarding herself to be superior to anyone else. Her character seems the opposite of Jack’s. The voice-over from the senior Rose tells us that she was unhappy “on the outside I was everything that a well brought up girl should be but on the inside I was screaming”. We can conclude from this that Rose was not a typical first-class women of her time. She is a more modern character.
The first time that the two characters meet is at the stern of the ship. During this scene Rose is seen, from a panning shot, to be running towards the aforementioned location. She has her hair down and is wearing a revealing red dress. This symbolizes Rose struggling to break free from the clutches of the demanding first class society, meaning that she doesn’t like the characteristics of the way she and the first-class are living and she is unsure of what she wants to do and if she should marry Cal, her fiancï¿½.
Consequently we see Rose precariously balanced on the wrong side of the railings, looking likely to jump off the back of the ship. Jack persuades her not to and holds out his hand to pull her in. We are then shown a close up of their hands with romantic music in the background, because this is the first time that Jack and Rose touch each other. Subsequently we see close-ups of the characters faces showing an instant emotional connection between them.
In a following scene Jack is having dinner in the first-class section of the ship. From a point-of-view shot we see how intimidating the foreign atmosphere of the first-class must have been to him. A low-angle shot is used to look up at the colossal dome, which dwarfs Jack and makes him look vulnerable. During the dinner we hear music from a violin that creates a soothing atmosphere. The scene is shot in artificial soft light, which gives the impression of a romantic and warm setting. Close-ups on Rose and Jack’s faces show feelings and emotion for each other.
The party scene is a complete contrast to the dinner. The Irish music creates an up-beat atmosphere and the scene has an enjoyable theme to it.
The scene is shot in a duller light than the dinner scene; this creates a less inviting and colder environment. Throughout the scene we are shown close-ups of various characters faces to show the enjoyment in which they are experiencing. The most important close-up of the scene is when we see Jack and Rose swinging while holding hands because this not only shows the enjoyment of the occasion but also the enjoyment of each others company.
Cameron uses the topic of ‘courage in the face of disaster’ to take the audience through the final part of Titanic’s history. He uses it to move us through Titanic’s last actions and ultimately the sinking.
Cameron uses various scenes to build up the terror of the disaster. In one scene we see water cascading down the corridors; this shows the audience the power of the water. Another scene used to show this is when the glass dome shatters. During the final scenes when the ship is sinking we are shown people falling from the raised end of the boat; this creates an atmosphere of terror and panic. When the ship finally submerges, all we can see is masses of people screaming and splashing; Cameron shows us this to illustrate how many people went into the water and consequently how many perished. In contrast to the noise we here during the scene mentioned last, in the scene where one lifeboat goes back, the only thing we here is the water and someone shouting to survivors. During this scene we can observe the amount of dead bodies floating in the water; this produces a solemn atmosphere. These scenes create a terrifying environment that Cameron uses to show the amount of courage that is subsequently shown by some characters.
The third-class passengers are shown to be courageous during the sinking. This is portrayed in scenes like the one where a young boy asks his mother what is happening and she replies “we are just waiting dear, when they’ve finished putting the first class people into the boats then they’ll be starting with us and we’re going to be all ready aren’t we?”
In contrast the first-class are exposed as being cowardly, for example when told that half the people on the ship are going to die Cal replies “not the better half”. This shows that not only where the first-class cowardly they were also egocentric. Rose is one of the few courageous first-class passengers. During the scene where she is on her way to rescue Jack, strobe lighting is used to create the effect of the power failing. Blue light is also used to manufacture the effect of the water being cold, both of these help to set the scene and make it frightening. This frightening atmosphere shows the audience the extent of Rose’s courage to go back for Jack.
The ships crew on a whole are perceived to be brave during the disaster, none more so than the band, who played on through all the panic, trying to calm the passengers down. The Captain traditionally went down with his ship and the Titanic was no exception. Captain E. J. Smith, who was on his last voyage, is shown to be valiant as he locks himself in the bridge of the ship and prepares to die. During this part of the film we are shown people who are preparing to go down with the ship. Music from the band on the ship produces a poignant mood.
After the ship has been submerged Jack and Rose are seen to be swimming towards a section of wood. Jack shows courage by letting Rose stay on the floating object, while staying in the water himself. Later on in this scene make-up is used to create the effect of icicles in the character’s hair, this is to show the audience how cold the water is. Also the dialogue is spoken in such a way as to make us think the characters are shivering which creates a similar effect.
The courage shown by the various characters manipulates the audience into feeling emotionally attached to them, which makes the final scenes even more tragic and distressing.
Is “Titanic” a cinematic masterpiece?
To answer this question we need to look at what the film achieved, not only financially, but also technologically. I mentioned in my introduction about Cameron’s use of computer-generated imagery. “Titanic” set down the standard for other films to follow in this area, making groundbreaking technological advances. Cameron’s use of flashbacks helped link the past to the present to make the story more relevant to the audience. He used actual footage of the wreck, which meant him taking several long journeys down to the bottom of the Atlantic to film, to show us what it looks like now and he used fade-ins to show us what it looked like in its prime.
The fact that this film cost $200million to produce, making it the most expensive film ever made at the time, shows how much commitment Cameron and the associated film companies made to the production. The expense was worth it as they began to see the profit rolling in as the movie hit the screens, with many of the audience going back to see it several times. This made it one of the most successful films ever, one that could challenge classic films such as “Gone with the Wind” as the most popular movie of all time. “Titanic” received record numbers of VHS sales with 15-20 million sold in the first week.
I conclude that “Titanic” is a cinematic masterpiece. I believe that the time, effort and money that was put into the film was justified and that the final outcome is one of the greatest motion pictures ever produced. It wasn’t just the cinema audiences that liked the film, it also excited the media, who gave it encouraging and complimentary reviews. I admire the film because the special effects are still, even in today’s high standards, deemed to be among the best ever created, even though most of them were designed not to be noticed. I think the film was and is successful because of it’s combination of storylines; it has a love story but it also has action in the sinking, these are two factors that are hard to combine but when merged correctly produce dazzling results. Both parts of the film, the action and the romance, are essential in making this movie a “hit” with the modern cinema audiences.
“Titanic” became a landmark film, one that other filmmakers could use as the standard that they had to work to, a standard that has rarely been breached since.