I went back and watched “Titanic” for the first time to figure out the reason for its popularity (Photo by Yoojin Takaki).

By Shawna Takaki | Staff Writer

There’s some films that everyone has watched, or at least on some level know of, and one of those is “Titanic,” directed by James Cameron in 1997. It’s a film that won 11 Oscars and was once the highest-grossing film in history. I’ve seen short glimpses of the 3-hour-long spectacle on television as a kid switching channels, and seen many parodies of the film, such as “draw me like one of your French girls” or the ship breaking in half.

I’ve never seen most of the classic movies people speak of fondly, and “Titanic” has been one of the films I could never escape. In fact, this is the beginning of a possible plan for me to go back and watch many of the films pervading our culture that I have never experienced. So now, in 2023, I decided to finally get around to watching the entire tragic story of Jack and Rose, with one question in mind: Why?

The fascination with the Titanic has spawned numerous documentaries, excavations, and of course, June 18 this year, the sinking of Titan. Thus it was interesting to me when I booted it up that the film started in the aftermath of the sinking, initially following someone searching for the heart of the ocean, the diamond necklace belonging to Rose, played by Kate Winslet. So to me there was the question: What about the Titanic was so fascinating to the greater public?

I’ve heard a lot about the quality of the film from people over the years, from people citing it as a tearjerker they’ve watched over-and-over to an account of boredom through the slog of three hours. For me, it was neither. 

It was a shock watching “Titanic” with hindsight. The young, almost teenage-looking Leonardo DiCaprio was alien to me, and it was fun to finally be learning the context for all the famous scenes I had been aware of. The “It’s been 84-years” I’ve seen as a meme so many times, or hearing “My Heart Will Go On,” sung by Celine Dion, booming as Rose shouted that she was flying; both were small triumphs for me to experience. It was almost like a rediscovery of all of the other times I had seen references.

I came out with the opinion that the film was well-made, extravagant, and followed through on its two main parts – epic tragic romance paired and disaster movie – with skill. I never enjoyed “Avatar,” directed by Cameron as well, and found “Titanic” to be a better-made film overall, though I disagree with it being one of the greatest.

However, I didn’t quite connect to the melodramatic romance. It was a tragedy from the start, like Romeo and Juliet, perhaps even more as someone who has seen doomed romances likened to them. I thought it was a transparent plot device to get the characters to more parts of the ship when Rose’s fiancé chased down the young lovers with a gun, found the rich/poor romance trite, and, at the moment of truth, I was stone faced watching Jack sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I understood why only Rose could be on the door, due to the door flipping over when both attempted to, but it still didn’t click with me emotionally. 

What was most emotionally affecting to me, more than scenes I had heard of, were scenes like the elderly couple in bed or the man who built the Titanic waiting for his demise. It felt very human to me in these smaller moments.

Despite my love for the smaller moments, “Titanic” was a story about a spectacle, and I acknowledge that the romance felt like the natural piece in topping off the melodramatic tale for the ages. What was most impressive to me was how thoroughly it showed off the ship. The realism of every detail, and the way the film made you truly see the grandeur of the Titanic before it sank, were excellent. The unsinkable ship, the largest ship ever built, sank on its maiden voyage. It’s so perfect you’d almost believe it was fictional if it wasn’t a true story. 

It was the pinnacle of the classic tragic love story and historical disaster. It’s endlessly fascinating for anyone to think about and easy for anyone to connect to. Thus, “Titanic” is a film that has deep ties with our culture, and there’s a reason that some rich folk will pay exorbitant prices to go to their death with the intention of seeing the wreckage, why everyone knows about Jack and Rose, and why there is such a love for the film to this day. I believe that is the answer to my initial question.

I hope to maybe go to some other classic movies, such as “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings,” which I haven’t watched. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.