I confess to feeling slightly foolish blogging about Titanic, but the phenomenon of Dakota and her pals going to see it in Imax 3-D – for their 34th lifetime viewing – set me to pondering what on earth could have precipitated that kind of devotion to a movie. OK. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit I’ve read all three volumes of Kristin Lavransdatter eight times, sobbing through every one of the readings, so maybe this is just this generation’s great love story, but still…
It made me remember the first time round when she and her friends – then 8 years old – fell under the enchantment of what turned out to be a life event. Let me explain:
No longer did they play Barbie or American Girl Doll, they sat instead listening rapt to the Titanic CD, or they put on Rose and Jack costumes and went down with the ship in tearful splendor. Dakota and her friend Sydney went Trick or Treating dressed as the Titanic and the Iceberg, and made the local papers!
They knew every nuance of Titanic’s last journey. At one point Dakota was #17 on the public library’s list for the definitive text on the sinking, yet she could quote names, times, facts and statistics about the great ship’s harrowing last hours in a way that would have given most historians feelings of inadequacy.
I realized after watching all this in utter fascination, that for them, it wasn’t just a story – it was a Morality Tale about the major verities. Love. Truth. Honor. Integrity. Rich vs. Poor. Courage. Commitment. Never give up. Never give in. An entire education about life in three hours.
For the most part, the children of this formerly opulent generation haven’t seen hardship up close – at least not in Greenwich, Connecticut. They haven’t been war torn or disaster-plagued and they’ve been insulated by seeing everything on television solved in half-hour capsules. The dead rise to inhabit new prime time series, the endings are happy, and all the rough edges of life get magically smoothed out by the end of the show.
Not so in Titanic. There, they came face to face, probably for the first time, with some truths that are particularly relevant at the moment. Like the truth that life is not for sissies. That being rich doesn’t make you a good person and being poor doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard enough. That the tougher life gets, the more it brings out true character – the best and the worst of what we mortals can be is nowhere more evident than when the ship is sinking.
They saw that courage in the face of the odds doesn’t mean you’re not scared – it means you’re scared to death and you keep going anyway. That you can never give up and never give in, because as long as there’s breath in your body, you can still hope to triumph over the vagaries of fate. Only when you give up or die, is the game finally over. I guess you can tell we’ve held a number of late night conversations about what it all meant to her and her friends, and why they keep going back to it on Netflix.
Where, in current film or literature or life, for that matter, can you find a male character like Jack? she and her friends – all young women now – have asked. A man willing to sacrifice himself for the woman he loves? A stalwart, honorable, courageous and resourceful man, who gives more than he takes, and tries, down to the gates of death, to live with integrity. They’re out there, surely…probably looking for the kind of young woman who’s looking for them. “What did you love best about this story?” I asked the 8 year old Dakota. She mulled for a moment, then said softly, “‘You jump – I jump.’” What could seem more noble-spirited to a child who has seen divorce, than the old-fashioned idea of absolute commitment?
And wasn’t Rose a terrific archetype for our times, when you come to think of it? Beautiful, sexy and competent. Although destined, by virtue of having been born female, to take a supporting role in life – to be the pampered pet-wife of a man who makes all the decisions – she longs for the freedom to be whole, and to become more than fate has dictated. And, best of all, she pulls it off.
She grows exponentially, through hardships she never imagined she could face. She doesn’t abandon Jack when he needs her – she fights like Hell to save him and leaves her place on the life boat to remain at his side. Later, when she’s on her own, she doesn’t abandon herself, but becomes all she can be…wife, mother, potter, horseman, pilot, actress, we catch glimpses of her unfoldment in flashbacks. And she gives credit where credit is due – “He saved me in every way one human being can save another,” she says of Jack with conviction and gratitude.
The diamond necklace, the Heart of the Ocean, is to Rose, a keepsake she’s hidden away for a lifetime – a sacred memory, not a commodity to be turned into ready cash. Maybe that speaks volumes to a generation bred to the paradigm that he who dies with the most toys wins? Doesn’t it say, some memories are beyond price, some things cannot be bought or sold, the human heart being first on the list.
When the Titanic craze was still a fresh phenomenon, two conversations in quick succession riveted me – both about Rose. A fashionably anorexic woman I know critiqued Rose’s body at a dinner party “How could they have cast that fat cow in such a role?” she asked disdainfully, “what man could possibly want her?” The very next day I overheard two eight year old girls discussing Rose’s body. “She’s so beautiful and sexy,” said Dakota’s friend with absolute delight. “And she’s not even skinny!” Both girls – neither one a wraith – seemed inordinately relieved to think that a body like Rose’s could be deemed worthy of being loved.
“She still looked nice, even when she was old,” Dakota mused. “And Jack was waiting for her when she died so they could be together in Heaven.” You jump, I jump…
So whatever Hollywood may think of James Cameron’s creative output, he can go right on making all the money in the world as far as I’m concerned. He provided a benchmark for the spirit for little girls in need of honorable heroes and not so skinny heroines, in a story that said choices really count and love can be forever. Who could put a value on that?
© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2012