Rose DeWitt Bukater
It’s funny these days when you talk about Titanic. There was no movie throughout my childhood, adolescence, and teens that was quite so popular. Nor that suffered quite so strong a backlash. People have some sort of strange idea that because something was not as good as some people thought it was, and because a certain demographic enjoyed it then it’s not really good. They forget that when they saw it they sort of liked it but that girl sitting next to them freaking out and crying hysterically was ridiculous. It shouldn’t diminish what you think of the film, but rather what you think of that hysterically crying girl. This is the case with so many things I can’t even count them. Twilight is probably a good example for these days. While Twilight is poorly written and completely overwrought there are some elements that really aren’t as bad as the naysayers would hand you. I’m not a Twilight fan, not really, but I was really into Titanic.
And it made sense, I love history, and I love historical dramas. I was a teenage girl, so forbidden love stories were fantastic (though I’m not entirely sure that’s changed much). The idea of a girl who’s life was set out for her breaking away and finding something new and exciting in the world apart from what was expected of her was appealing. I was typical, perhaps. James Cameron did famously read the horrifyingly awful Reviving Ophelia written by a psychologist who thought she knew teenage girls but churned out the most stereotypical piece of crap ever put to book shelves, in order to get a handle on his demographic.
I was well aware of the actual ship, photographs and diagrams. I had books already, I was interested. There’s a scene when Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Jack Dawson, climbs into the first class section of the ship, grabs a discarded jacket and bowler hat and moves on. He walks right by a father and son on deck spinning a top. A near exact replica of a famous photo, one of the only surviving photographs from on deck. The hall, the dining room, the clocks on the mantelpieces, they’re all so similarly exact that its hard for a history buff not to have a near coronary. What Cameron accomplished with his recreation of the ship was extraordinary. Probably second only to being on board in 1912, and likely more accurate than sailing on Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic. Moments were also captured brilliantly, such as the top scene I was speaking about before, but also lines spoken by characters such as owner Ismay, or architect Andrews. Even the actors were remarkably similar to their real life counterparts. It was impressive. And how often does a piece of historical fiction catch this many people’s attention? Even if you don’t have the love story, which seems to be the issue most hold with the film. Because let’s not make any bones about it; Titanic is a love story. What’s more, it’s a very typical love story. There’s nothing new or original here, and the ending is not only predictable but necessary.
As far as I can tell the problem people began to have with this film, after it came out and became so popular, was simply the fact that it was popular. Suddenly it was uncool to like it. Sort of the hipster reaction to the world. And it’s true; Titanic received accolades it probably didn’t deserve. It made an unreasonable amount of money, but it wasn’t the best film of the year and thus shouldn’t have won the Academy Award. But as most people realize these days the Oscars are just as much about business than anything else. Business and reaction. There were enough screaming teenagers to drive an Oscar win. I’m not here to complain or dissect the Academy. But because something becomes unreasonably popular and you no longer believe it deserves it’s reaction does not mean that the story was bad in the first place. What it means is that you got sick of it.
And then of course, there is Rose DeWitt Bukater, played by the brilliant Kate Winslet who was already my favorite actress due to outstanding turn in the only Peter Jackson movie I’ve loved completely (Heavely Creatures), and as Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. As you might have been able to tell from some of my other Childhood Icons I have a thing about redheads. I’m not sure, entirely, why this is, but I can surmise that it has something to do with the symbolisms that come with different colors of hair. Blondes are glamorous, the girls you want to be, brunettes are the girls next door, somewhat mousy but the one that will stand by you in the end, but redheads, redheads are feisty and often wild cards. Ariel? Feisty. Anne Shirley? Feisty. Jessica Rabbit? Definitely vampy, but ultimately sort of feisty. Rose DeWitt Bukater? Also feisty.
The early teens were a strange time, they were halfway to the twenties with new idea being born and women’s lib making a slight appearance, but nothing had changed yet. In Titanic Rose is a product of her time, her father has died sometime previously and left the family with a pile of debt that the women have no chance of paying back on their own. So Rose does the only thing that’s really presented to her; she decides to get married. The fact that she doesn’t love the guy doesn’t really factor into it, as was the grand tradition of many generations before her. But Rose is from a new time, a time where women are starting to think they should have more than they do, a time where they started to publicly resent their lack of choices and lack of the right to vote. She’s somewhat torn between modern ideas and old responsibility. Which is why one of my favorite scenes involves an argument between Rose and her mother, Ruth; after Rose has sneaked off to the third class party, after she’s met and started to like Jack Dawson, goes to give her daughter a talking to. She reminds Rose of her responsibility and with a dejected sigh Rose states that it’s not fair. To which Ruth says something along the lines of “Of course it’s unfair, we’re women.”
But then, of course, she does go her own way. Which was tremendously appealing to a girl of the age that I was. That’s to say; sixteen. She rebels against her family, rebels against being forced into a marriage of convenience, and chooses to be poor and free. Like how everyone wishes Roman Holiday could have ended but knew it couldn’t. What’s more, she chooses to be poor and free and gets love. And who doesn’t want that sort of fairy tale romance that doesn’t exist in the real world? The kind of romance where you’d give up everything because it’s that important. The kind of romance that saves you from your own choices and everything that was set out before you. The kind of romance that makes you that happy, until the ship sinks and plunges you both into the icy North Atlantic. Whether they admit it or not, that’s the sort of idealized romance that every sixteen year old wants, ideals are beaten with age, when one realizes they don’t need to be special to the rest of the world and that being special to one person is probably enough, but that never really leaves, because eventually there will come along another story about forbidden love, another tragedy, another movie like Titanic and then it starts all over again.
But at that age I wanted to be Rose, because she meant something to me. Because she stood up for herself and took what she wanted when everyone else told her no. Because she had the most luscious red curls, and because when push came to shove, I admired her. And even though I agree that the film did not deserve the accolades it received; I still sort of do.