Writing a review on a movie that made a bazillion dollars, swept the Oscars, and has become permanently engraved in the cultural echelon doesn’t leave me much room to present any terribly original thoughts. However, all too often I hear people refer to Titanic as a dumb 90s sensation that amounts to little more than some celebrity heartthrob, which is a take so baffling to me that after revisiting the movie earlier this year, I feel compelled to write about why this movie still triumphs two decades later.
Titanic feels epic in every sense of the word. The movie’s title might as well be a two-way nod, with one to the ship itself and the other to the sheer scale of the spectacle that James Cameron crafted here. Despite the fact that none of us have obviously been on the Titanic, Cameron’s painstaking attention to detail in recreating the ship shines through and makes the viewer feel transported into this world, as if we are just as lucky to physically be on board and catch glimpses of its wonders as Leonardo DiCaprio’s blue-collar Jack. Of course, once the figurative and literal iceberg hits and the ship starts falling apart, Titanic becomes perhaps even more impressive in how it destroys its sets than in how it flaunted them in the first half. The visual effects wizardry here is hard to overstate, with Cameron reveling in any opportunity to make the walls feel as if they are caving in and the water level rising, and it’s a technical marvel that has rarely been rivaled since its release.
Still, none of Titanic‘s detractors dispute its technical brilliance; it’s the film’s central romance that is their issue. It might be easy to critique the iconic relationship between DiCaprio’s Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose as lacking in the nuances that define other great on-screen romances in films such as When Harry Met Sally, but to me one of Titanic‘s most endearing qualities is the extent to which it chooses not to get bogged down with the realism of relationships, instead opting for an unabashed sense of young love that could only be found on board a ship as magical as the Titanic. In many ways this is DiCaprio’s second Romeo and Juliet adaptation, as Jack and Rose are star-crossed lovers divided by circumstances that will never allow them to be together, yet they still foolishly pursue each other out of hopeless romanticism. After all, knowing that the Titanic eventually sinks isn’t a spoiler — it’s crucial to the film’s impact, as viewer mentally prepares themselves for the eventual tragedy that will ensue on board and the impact that will have on these delusional and optimistic young lovers.
Even if it’s looked back on by some as a dated piece of 90s pop culture, I will forever hold a special place in my heart for Titanic — a film that pushed the boundaries of what blockbusters could achieve on a technical level, as well as their ability to swoon the hearts of audiences forever. Much like the Heart of the Ocean necklace serves as Rose’s gateway into reliving her fond memories aboard the Titanic, a rewatch of Titanic serves as our gateway into remembering the sheer awe and wonder that movies can deliver.