You may want to get your knives out, this one’s a doozy. My fifth highly significant movie, and indeed second favourite film of all time, is Titanic, one that I have spent twenty years arguing about and defending. I’ve probably heard your criticism, but if anyone’s got a new one, I’d like to encounter it, even if only for the amusement value.
Despite the vitriol the film receives, my love for Titanic is not based on being contrary, although it is multi-fold. From the perspective of cinematic craft, the film is superb in its production design that creates palpable and tactile environments in which to house the drama. The practical and visual effects merge beautifully to shift the viewer between past and present, and in doing so manifest a significant conceit of the film: the act of telling history. Titanic is not a true story nor does it purport to be, though it places its fictional tale within recorded events. It is, rather, a tale of telling and a drama of recording. The narrating figure of Rose who contradicts ‘official’ versions, the constant visual emphasis on image recording including film, portraits and photographs as well as memory, the array of images presented and re-presented – all contribute to a remarkable meta-cinematic investigation into the creation of narratives. This is one of Titanic’s most fascinating aspects, easily overlooked by simplistic judgements related to ‘accuracy’ or motivated by pompous self-righteousness.
Furthermore, on a straightforward emotional level, Titanic never fails to move and enchant me. I saw it twice on its original theatrical release, various times on video and DVD, and for its 3D re-release. The 3D didn’t add much, but the IMAX certainly did. I’m a hopeless romantic and despite knowing how it ends, the emotional voyage (pun intended) of the film ever fails to transport me. Furthermore, it once again demonstrates James Cameron’s extraordinary skill for sustained set pieces, since virtually half the film is a prolonged action sequence. I always feel myself right there on the ship, alongside Jack, Rose and the other passengers, my heart in my mouth and feeling rather cold and wet. Plus I always tear up at the end when I get my heart ripped out. One criticism of Titanic that I understand, although I do not share it, is that the characters, especially Jack, are thin and offer little to engage with. For me, this is key to my enjoyment of the film, a point I will return to in a few days. This reason I engage with films the way I do is closely linked with Titanic, which is why it remains of great importance to me after more than twenty years.