Titanic is an epic romance film, which also contains certain historical and authentic aspects of the time it narrated. The film is released in 1997 and is directed, written and co-produced by James Cameron, also widely known as the director of Avatar. Based on the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Titanic in 1912, one of the most tragic historical events, Titanic focuses on the reinvestment of the past. It achieved a great commercial success and broke the records of its time because of the factors like its original plot, cast, huge budget and its successful content. Titanic was indeed the most expensive one of its time with its estimated $200,000,000 budget, which paved the way for the reputation of the film as a blockbuster. In the opening weekend, it came to 2674 screens and was ahead of the box office lists in USA with $28, 638, 13. In total, it had a box office of $2,185,372,302 worldwide. It was nominated for 14 categories in Academy Awards and won 11 of them, including “The Best Director” and “The Best Actress (Kate Winslet)”.
Although Titanic is regarded as a historical figure in American cinema, it is based on a fictional love story of the members with the different social classes but the story begins with a present day and the exploring of the shipwreck RMS Titanic in 1996 by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) and its team for searching a diamond necklace named “Heart of the Ocean”. After finding an old picture of a young naked woman wearing this necklace, an old woman named Rose Dawson Calvert (Gloria Stuart) calls the team and claims that she is the woman in the picture. She and her granddaughter come on the shipwreck and Rose Dawson begins to tell the story. Here, we are back to 1912. A beautiful young upper-class woman, Rose (Kate Winslet), her fiancé Cal (Billy Zane) and her mother Ruth DeWitt Bukater board Titanic. Rose has no control over her life as her mother wants her to marry Cal, a rich claimant, for she believes that it will solve Bukaters’ financial problems.
Daunted and depressed by her engagement, Rose becomes depressed and tries to commit suicide by jumping off the stern but Jack Dawson (Leonardo Di Caprio), a poor and homeless artist, saves her. When Cal sees them and learns that he has saved Rose, he invites Jack to the dinner. Here, Jack and Rose become good friends and later, Jack and Rose join a party in the third class quarter of the ship. Both Cal and Ruth are concerned about their relationship and forbid to see each other. But Rose realizes her love and wants for Jack to draw her naked picture with “Heart of the Ocean”, which is a valuable diamond necklace. Cal sees the picture and has Jack arrested by putting the necklace in his pocket.
By the way, the ship collides with an iceberg and starts to sink. Rose saves Jack but the ship is nearly sunk, Jack and Cal persuade Rose to board a lifeboat but Rose does not want to leave Jack and is back to the ship. The ship divides into two parts and they fall into the ocean from the stern. Jack saves Rose by helping her mount on a wall panel. Jack is in the ocean and dies of hypothermia, while Rose is boarded to a lifeboat. Then, the survivors are back to New York. Rose changes her name as Rose Dawson and learns that Cal committed suicide. Finished her story, Rose takes out “Heart of the Ocean” and throw it into the ocean.
Of course, what makes a motion picture “blockbuster” cannot be restricted with its plot and its stars. The budget of the film actually gives us an idea about the role and importance of visuality in the success of Titanic. James Cameron had a fascination about the shipwrecks and for him, THE RMS TITANIC was “the Mount Everest of shipwrecks” (Bilmes, 2010). For that reason, a new kind of camera and camera angles had to be used so as to show Titanic at the bottom of the sea. With the light of this information, the cinematographic process is as follows:
Titanic was shot by Super 35 film format, in wide screen, with the 1:78:1 aspect ratio by Russell Carpenter. The modern day scenes were shot on board the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh in 1996. A reconstruction of the Titanic was built at Playas de Rosarito, Baja California, and scale models and computer-generated imagery were also used to recreate the sinking (Marsh, 1998). However, most of the shots of the film at sea were unreal.
Although we can see many kinds of camera shots in the film, the medium close-up and the pan down shots are dominated. The medium close-ups and zooms are highly used in the party scenes at the 3rd quarter for showing the intimacy and the scenes of sinking so that we can understand the feelings of the people from their mimics. The pan down shots are especially in the flying scene of Jack and Rose, capturing the psychological situations of them as conquering and proud with themselves. We also see that the scene gives a quick social message. In the scene, Jack and Rose are above all the social classes.
They feel safe and united. Furthermore, in certain scenes there are long tracking shots, which give the film a taste of action. Different types of camera angles are used in the film. A low angle is used in the flying scene and used from the water in the sinking scene, as if it is still dominating and challenging the ocean. On the other hand, the high angle and the crane shot is also preferred in the sinking scene. It shows that the ship is far below to the ocean, creating a sense of vulnerability and hopelessness for the audience. When it comes to editing, Titanic portraits as a mainstream Hollywood film, although it has also the parallel editing in the certain scenes. For example when the ship runs into the iceberg, Rose tries to release Jack at the same time.
The sound of the film also varies according to the scenes. A diegetic sound is used in the scene of party and the voyage but non-diegetic sound is also preferred especially in the romantic scenes such as their “flying” and panic scenes of sinking, as it increases the tension. But the present-day scenes have no soundtrack, concentrating on the dialogues. The soundtrack of Titanic contributed to the immense success of the film, selling over 10 million copies and becoming one of the best sellings of all time.( Film Score,2010).
Along with the main camera techniques, some of the special effects were also preferred in the film: Digital effects. 17 more company were in cooperate with Digital Domain, the production company of Titanic, for In total, there is 500 scenes with digital effects. For instance in the sinking scenes, stunt men and women acted instead of the stars but with the help of the effect techniques the faces of the stars were montaged on the bodies of the stunt men/women.
Based on a tragic historical event, the core of Titanic is a love story of different classes. In this point, there are many social and subconscious messages in the film. One of the focuses of the film is the concept of “class” in twentieth century. Class is represented in an excessively explicit way, through both the narrative of characters and the narrative of Titanic itself.
The content and the concept of the film is constructed on the characters Jack and Rose. By positioning their social roles, Cameron immediately delivers the differences in social classes and the deep concern for the interaction of these classes. There are many examples to infer the class distinction from beginning to the end of the film. For instance, although different social classes can board to Titanic, they stay in the different quarters of the ship and “more money” means “better standards”. Taking a closer look, the class distinction between the upper and lower classes are represented even in the dresses of men and women.
Upper class women wear corsets and hats, which become the icons of the class. In addition, we obviously realize the distinction from Jack and Rose. Rose is represented as a young upper-class woman living with social rules and having no control on her life. She perceives Titanic as a slave ship and some kind of “prison”. On the other hand, Jack is represented as a homeless and poor low-class man, perceiving Titanic as a ship of his dreams and feeling great excitement.
Even though their paths cross at a point and they develop a friendship, Rose’s mother and fiancé-regarding this kind of an interaction as a “threat” for their reputation and their class- forbid them to see each other. Again, in the sinking scene, the distinction between social classes becomes chronically painful as the upper-class members are boarding to the lifeboats while the crew and the low-class are merely left to dead, simply locked in the engine room and their own quarters. Thus, power is the survival and the class that someone belongs to seals her/his fate.
Gender roles in Titanic are also constructed in an explicit and mainstream way, especially on the main characters. Rose is represented as a woman who cannot express her own opinions and have no idea about the control of her life. Even by her mother, she is seen as a guarantee for the solution of her family’s financial problems. For his fiancé Cal, Rose is nothing more than a possession and he wants to have control on her. He sees no harm throwing her a hissy fit.
The painful dresses and the corsets of the women also give us an idea about how women perceives themselves as if they have to seem fit and beautiful because otherwise they are condemned not only by their congenerics, but also by men. Another point that we should consider is the scenes of sinking. As you remember, “women and children first” should be saved and survived. They are immediately boarded to the lifeboats and men stay in the sinking ship. As Wayne Hall states;
Passengers’ chances of surviving the sinking of the S.S. Titanic were related to their sex and their social class: females were more likely to survive than males, and the chances of survival declined with social class as measured by the class in which the passenger travelled. (Hall, 1986)
At first, the scene can even be appreciated considering the norms of a society, including the positive discrimination. İn a profound analysis; however, we also see an implication that “Women are incapable of surviving and physically much weaker than men.” which is problematic. Men of high-classes are represented as “heroes” in the film, sacrificing their lives. Actually, it is a realistic representation of the social conventions and sexism in the society. Speaking directly to accounts of “women and children first”, Zizek states:
In the case of Titanic, the myth of first-cabin male heroism appealed to conventional understandings and sentimental notions of gender roles that involved a series of oppositions: strength versus weakness, independence versus dependence; intellect versus emotion; public versus private. (Zizek, 1989)
Nevertheless, in the film as a surprise, Rose rejects to board to the lifeboat when both Jack and Call try to persuade her. She is back to save Jack from the prison, hitting a steward and in this scene she is considered as a “heroine” by the audience, which is also problematic in terms of the ill-perceived idea that “using violence is one of the brave behaviors.”
We cannot easily say that Titanic serves for any kind of ideology but we can infer the ideology of 1912 from the film. First, the “unsinkable” ship Titanic is a sum of capitalism and hegemony. All social classes can board to the boat. The upper and the lower class are living together, under the same roof but upper class is “more equal”. They have much better standards in the quarters than the lower class. Even the music played in the quarters are different. Upper class needs to the physical power of the labor class, which is represented as the crew in the ship. But labors are not indispensable for the upper-class, as it is highly inferred from the escaping scenes.
The crew and other lower class members are left to dead while upper-class board to the lifeboats immediately. Moreover, the description of the ship as unsinkable” and the representations of class distinction in the film shows that upper-class has a belief in which they are much more powerful than nature itself, which also refers to the code of “dominating the nature” as a norm of capitalism. Cameron also may make a reference for the collapse and defeat of capitalism against nature with the scenes especially in which the valuable articles are persistently displayed and the orchestra is still playing the music when the ship is sinking into the ocean. When viewed from this point of view, Titanic and the valuable articles are the symbolic codes of capitalism.
Although it has the plot problems and is highly problematic with regards to the representation of social aspects, Titanic is one of the most successful films in terms of its acting, marvelous visual effects, high production cost and the delicious taste of its narrative. The different themes are blended together constructed around a love story, in an epic narrative with special effects and a sense of reality. Yet, whether or not it totally deserves 11 Oscar including “The Best Director” and “The Best Screenplay” is a matter of question and it is still debated. It is also challenging that although Cameron somehow criticizes the social class distinctions by making reference to the unfair and unequal nature of capitalism, the excessively high production costs and the evaluation of the film as a Hollywood product, which can be regarded as a heart of capitalism in USA, draw a hypocritical profile of him.
Cameron, James. (Director, Writer). (1997). Titanic. Santa Clarita, California, USA. Retrieved from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120338/
Chumo, Peter N. (1999). Learning to Make Each Day Count: Time in James Cameron’s Titanic. Journal of Popular Film and Television, 1999.
Gambrel, Steven Michael. “Titanic” discourse: On the edge of the millennium. The University of Texas at Arlington, 1999. 1398215. Retrieved from: http://search.proquest.com/pqdtft/docview/220096286/13BC1B792D07C8DD8A8/7?accountid=11248
Hall, Wayne. (1986). Social Class and Survival on The S.S. Titanic. Social Science and Medicine 1986 22 (6). Retrieved from: http://espace.uq.edu.au/eserv/UQ%3A152940/HallSSM2261986.pdf
Learning and Teaching Scotland. Higher Still Development Unit (2001). English and Communication : Titanic & A Night to Remember : Access 3 & Intermediate 1. HSDU, 2001.
Nulph, Robert Glenn. (2002). The analysis, application, and evaluation of three critical methodologies, and the synthesis of a new critical model for audiovisual analysis: Case study, “Titanic” (1997). University of Kansas, 2002.
Robinson, Cassidy. (2012, April 12). An Analysis – James Cameron’s Titanic Successes. Retrieved from: http://www.macguffinpodcast.com/macguffin-spotlight/an-analysis-james-camerons-titanic-successes/
Tatlock, Melissa S. (2009). From “Titanic” to “Star Wars”: A Derridean deconstructive analysis of the minimization of violence in the 25 top grossing films of all-time. Saint Mary’s University, Canada, 2009.
Tyrkus, Michael J. Titanic. Fim Reference. Retrieved from: http://www.filmreference.com/Films-Thr-Tur/Titanic.html
Zizek, Slavoj. (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. New York: Verso, 1989.