Watching Titanic With Our Kids
I wrote about Titanic a week or two ago, because I watched it with our twin girls (they’re almost nine). They have friends who are obsessed with it, and wanted to check it out.
We watched it in 40-minute chunks, and the comments from the gallery went like this:
“Is that Jack?”
“Is that Rose?”
“Is THAT Jack?”
“Is that the iceberg?”
“Is this when Jack dies?”
“Is THIS when Jack dies?”
I finally had to pause it and say, “Does the hero die an hour into the movie? Do you think that’s when the hero dies, really? Think we should we just watch it?”
I’m sure lots of folks reading this have kids and have had these kid experiences. Which I treasure, of course.
Oh, and given the “scene in the car,” which I realized was coming up, the Mrs. and I took the time to explain a few things about the Birds and the Bees. Thanks, Titanic!
I was surprised the kids were not more disturbed by all the death and drowning. I find it a disturbing movie to watch, which is probably why I haven’t watched it more often. (This may have been the first time I watched it completely since the weekend it came out.)
I find it an absolute masterpiece, and I think people who mock its simplicity are really missing the point. (I do acknowledge that it’s not just simple but simplistic in its love story, but I choose to just go with it.)
It is certainly, without a doubt, a staggering technical achievement.
After the movie came out, we published an essay by Nick Redman in FSM that was the best thing I’ve ever read about it. (It starts on page 36 of this pdf.)
It is written that serious artists have one idea. And they spend their lives endlessly reworking it. In James Cameron’s case, the end of the world has been a regular preoccupation. In The Terminator (1984), the narrative thrust is the prevention of nuclear war. In its sequel, Terminator 2 (1991), the Linda Hamilton character has a terrifying vision of the world’s destruction. In The Abyss (1989) the aliens make themselves known to Earth’s inhabitants in order to warn them of their folly. The consequence of their ignorance? The end of the world. Aliens (1986) features a desperate confrontation with an alien species on an off-world colony, that implies if the aliens ever get to Earth... end of the world as we know it. True Lies (1994) is about a special agent dealing with the world’s most ferocious nuclear terrorists, and a warhead is actually detonated. Strange Days (1995), which was produced by Cameron, ties millennial angst to Armageddon.
The surprising reversal of expectations that Titanic demonstrates is also one of its most powerful strengths. The film is not about the stricken ocean liner at all. It is about impending Armageddon and our relationship to it. When the end of the world comes we cannot stand idly by, we have to participate, however unwillingly. The point becomes merely, how will we deal with it when it’s here?
All of this went over the kids’ heads—though I have to assume it made them nervous, because they were only too happy to laugh when I made the occasional joke.
Like at the end, when the RMS Carpathia steams off with the Titanic survivors, I said, “Now watch that ship hit an iceberg, and it sinks too.” They thought that was hilarious.
I don’t buy that elderly Rose actually tosses the jewel into the ocean (spoiler) at the end. I think she absolutely gives it to her grandkids so they can be set for life. But I get the point!
About the score—all these decades later, it does make me nostalgic for James Horner and what a unique and gifted artist he was. The famous song and the Enya-styled synths aren’t to my taste, but they undoubtedly moved the entire world—and it takes a kind of genius, and certainly bravery, to go against the grain like that.
About the song—I am reminded of the first time I heard it. Nick Redman was working at Fox and got an early cassette of it. (That’s how long ago this was: cassettes!) I was at his apartment and he played it, and we both thought, “Hm, that’s pretty.” Neither of us had any idea it would be one of the all-time great movie hits—just, “that’s nice.”
Curiously, when I watched the recent James Horner concert with documentary video segments with Sara and Emily Horner, they said they had the same reaction: “That’s nice.”
James was one of a kind and what a tragedy he is gone.
Next up for the kids: Taxi Driver.