I know it's old news, but I saw Titanic again this weekend. Man, I hate this movie. I wonder how people will view it now - in light of 9/11 - with the upcoming special edition, I wonder if the love this film received will fade, or if it already has. Cameron turned a tragedy into an action spectacle, and I don't and never got the appeal. I think it has something to do with a certain sort of fantasy/narcissism, as the film is about someone who learns important life lessons through a tragedy, and it's about putting yourself in the main character's shoes, safe with the knowledge that not only will you survive, but that you've turned the tragedy into the greatest moment of your life. I guess that's not a bad place to be for a story, but I think because Cameron wishes to show the entirety of the boat sinking his heroes must ride the ship down and in doing so loses the inherent humanity of such an event. Because he decides to stage action sequences (that have characters running through the ocean water that proved fatal to many who were in it for merely minutes) in the middle of the boat going down and indeed the sinking is something of a bravura digital stunt, when characters begin to drown or fall and hit propellers it has the tinge of a set piece instead of feeling tragic (paving the way for Michael Bay's grotesque tribute to Americans dying in spectacular ways in Pearl Harbor). In that way the film has the illusion of dealing with death, but allows the viewer safe haven from it. It robs the tragedy of the real grip of fatality, as even Jack's passing becomes not about the thing itself but a lover sacrificing himself in the name of love.
Perhaps it's an idealistic viewpoint of mine, but a lot of the filmmakers who survived World War II didn't indulge in gratuity when it came to filming such events. Perhaps it was assumed a somber tone was best or the nature of the rating system, but I've always figured, rightly or wrongly, that Sam Fuller wouldn't want to show the sorts of things Spielberg did in Saving Private Ryan, and that only people who've never lived through that sort of chaos could do something like that (Platoon is not a picture I think of as being exhilarating in that way, nor any of Stone's war films). Whereas the heroic bloodshed of a film like The Killer makes perfect sense: it is removed from a reality, it makes no point of "realism." And there is something to the modern ennui I see reflected in these sorts of films as they present stuff like this in maximum detail because many Americans have never had to face such situations. I think it is fair to say that one couldn't put these sorts of characters in the middle of the world trade center (Victorian underpinings aside) because at this time and cultural climate it would be viewed as a grotesque exploitation. But I guess that's the difference eighty years make - there's no sense of the real event, nor no sense of the real.
In that way it's interesting to note that America has successfully made war for the last two decades away from the scrunitizing public eye. It is doubtful twenty years from now there could be the sort of mass cultural decompression that seemed to hit with such films as Platoon. Though with the state of Iraq at current, it's hard to guess where our culture will be with this war when all is said and done.
Digression aside, I could rail on the film's sense of class, which is simplistic at best and insulting at worst (is it unfair of me to find it distasteful that a film that cost 200 million dollars suggests the greatness of a free from moneyed life? It's the sort of attitude that one can only have if one doesn't ever have to worry about money). There's something about cultural phenomenons like this (or, to pick another easy target, Pretty Woman) that seem about a fantasy that celebrates bourgeois dreams while paying lip service to the working class, or working poor. I can't believe I still harbor this much distaste for the film.