Cameron’s Genius: A Formalist Approach to Titanic (1997)

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It is a well-accepted fact that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, director and producer James Cameron is a genius when it comes to the cinematic arts. And, it would not really be much of a shock to the people familiar or who’ve lain witness his works when someone claims that the 1997 disaster and romance film Titanic might be his magnum opus. The said film has and continues still to touch, and later on, break the hearts of its viewers with its heartwrenching scenes and feel-good dialogues. It leaves an impression which has traversed years, or decades even and yet, it still continues to inspire and impress even after the first four watches. It goes on. But, what makes it such a timeless piece? A devastating disaster immortalized in such a way that people would continue to think and ponder on what would have happened if it hadn’t sunk, and it did, even moreso to the people in it. The creative minds behind this film used this as their pivot point to create possibly the best movie of all time by incorporating a fictional romantic story which relates the power-struggles, discrimination and class distinction in that time period. This article aims to review and critique what made this film a great one by inspecting its elements along with its creators’ methods and strategies, and how it all came together in one three-hour long blockbuster piéce de résistance.

The film Titanic was set in modern times, when a group of researches found the sunken “ship of dreams”: the RMS Titanic, in search of a historically valuable diamond, or the “heart of the ocean”. The RMS Titanic was a luxury cruiser bound for America on its maiden voyage on April 10th of the year 1912. “And it was”, according to the aged Rose Calvert, née DeWitt Bukater — a passenger of the ship which, formerly known to having held the dreams of many, has now fallen to the very depths of the ocean it once sailed upon, taking along with it the lives of an estimated 1,500 people on board. She recalled her experiences to the crew and to her granddaughter, retelling the things she did on-board the Titanic with all its former glory from departure to its fall. Having been forced onto the ship in order to be married off to someone she did not love just because her mother wanted to remain living in luxury, young Rose DeWitt Bukater did not expect to meet the person whom she would love and whose she would never forget until her last breath: Jack Dawson, an American drifter and artist. He, on the other hand, was able to board the ship along with his best friend, Fabrizio De Rossi, on a third-class ticket they got by a stroke of luck, i.e. winning a poker match. The two protagonists were able to fall in love even by the social distinctions placed upon them, much to the chagrin of Rose’s fiancé, Caledon Hockley. Jack was able to experience luxury with the help of another passenger, while Rose was able to experience the freedom of being with the general masses of lower stature. However, the climax hit, quite literally, in the form of an enormous iceberg which caused the ship’s and the people on-board’s demise. The ship, continued to succumb to the great waters beneath it, until it sank fully, with it the heart of Rose which is more valuable than the diamond she was given. This earned the famous scene from which Rose is staying afloat on a piece of wood as Jack was shown freezing from the dangerously low temperatures of the water, which ultimately lead to his death. She survived, on one end, and hid from her fiancé and led a life of relative simplicity away from everything she once had, and at the same time, did not have.

Cameron and his team’s collective genius comes into play in every skillfully, as well as purposefully made second of the film, with not even one scene sticking out of place. These are the reasons which, I believe, made it what it is and imposed the film as one of the industry’s bests:

Theme

The film talks about a societal crisis evident at the time when the real RMS Titanic sunk along with other themes such as the pressures endured by women of the old times who did not have as much a purpose nor obligation, except to be married to a man who will provide them with lavishness and whom they will serve. The film beautifully captures the problems in our society, under the guise of a tragic romance film centered around a disaster mostly attributed to man’s recklessness and disregard.

Plot/Development

All plot points and hints were wonderfully incorporated into the lines of the characters, like how the Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable and that “God himself can not sink [the] ship” — a foreshadowing to its infamous fate of falling prey to the film’s iconic iceberg in lieu of a deus ex machina. All things stated in the first act were used up to their utmost potential when the second half rolled around. This is evident when, take for example, Jack’s skill in making sketches — which, of course, has to happen at some point of the story as it was inadvertently advertised in the first few minutes of the film. This is in line with the principles of the use of Occam’s razor, and done with a splendid and artistic execution.

Characters

Character-wise, not a single character was considerably unimportant to the developments in the story as all of them each had a part to play in what is to be the life of the people in it. Even the girl who Caledon picked up had a part to play in reinstating Caledon’s personality as someone who will take advantage of a situation such as that.

Symbolisms

The film also features, rather, revolves around the art seen in the film, such as Jack’s introduction scene where he was defined by the art style he uses and the topics for his sketches, and when Jack drew Rose “wearing only [the diamond]” which signaled that they are that far along in their relationship, and such. It is also worth noting the importance of how Jack was treated when wearing clothes which were significantly more expensive than the ones he wore. Symbolisms in the film may also include the chaos surrounding the evacuation ramps to the greed in people’s hearts as well as their capability to abandon others just to save their own skin.

Setting

The RMS Titanic, which is the predominant setting of the film, was masterfully crafted and recreated to resemble one of the most luxurious cruisers around the 1900s. That era was described as an era of taking chances with other countries, such as America, and exploring its lands among others but, for a price, of course. Which is why the environment sets the story up for a lot of class discrimination and distinctions.

Dialogue/Lines

The lines of the film are both iconic and enthralling — all of which rang true in the entirety of the film. In the scene where Jack and Rose first met, i.e. when Rose was attempting to jump off of the ship, Jack said the memorable line “if you let go, I will jump in there after you”, which was reprised by the end as “you jump, I jump”. This, along with a lot more other lines which had great impact in on themselves and with the story made up the totality of the movie’s undeniably moving movie lines.

Other elements

The film’s soundtrack, which complemented the scenes and overall mood of the film, is also note-worthy. As is the case with Cameron’s fascination with artworks and intricate details — something evident from the attention to detail Cameron had when he drew Jack’s portrait of Rose as well as the intricacy, but at the same time, simplicity of the plot devices used.

All aspects considered, the film does not leave much room for people to question the ingenuity of the work.

For all its worth, I believe this film is worth every award it garnered from its release onward, along with the praise and the overwhelming response from both critics and audiences alike. What was once a tragedy became an art form, and has revolutionized the film making practiced today. I would expect this film to remain in the hearts of every single person whose hearts it has maid its impression on. It is as timeless as it is timely for all the themes we see which hold true until the days, and would probably remain until the rest of the days for us, the people. True to the message of the story, the years may go on along with the heart, but it will never let go.

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Source by Denise Salas

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