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Hollywood lost at sea, or the Titanic sinks again

Posted By Elizabeth Farah On 03/20/1998 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

I didn’t want to write this article. I resisted, but now that “Titanic” has become the top grossing film of all time — in the U.S. and the world, I feel compelled. Surpassing “Star Wars,” “Titanic” has taken in some $1 billion internationally and $465 million domestically. Besides its dollar achievements, “Titanic” has received 15 Academy Award nominations and, from what I can tell, nearly universal acclaim — but not in our household.

This is not only a bad movie, it’s a fundamentally immoral one — deceptive, manipulative, offensive. A monument to the moral destitution of our society. Last night I watched a reporter interview a psychologist as to the meaning of the movie’s success. I learned “Titanic” has achieved its extraordinary popularity because the American people are looking for stories about the meaning of life. Well, America, if you found “Titanic” satisfies this quest, our country is in a great deal of trouble. The psychologist closed saying that “movies are a reflection of what’s going on in our culture.” I agree. Boy, do I agree. One only has to study the American people’s response to the scandals and crimes of the current administration for confirmation of this fact.

For those of you who have already seen the movie — and loved it, read on. Ask yourself if the stunning superficial beauty of this film obscured its underlying ugliness. For those of you who haven’t seen it, ask yourself if a movie which upholds the values “Titanic” does, can be a great movie despite its moral bankruptcy. The film’s success, a hundred years ago, would have elicited a nationwide uproar concerning the relationship of art to morality. (Can any artistic achievement which glorifies immorality be “great?”) Not in today’s America.

So what’s wrong with “Titanic”? Gee, where do I begin? For starters, the “heroine” of “Titanic,” Rose, is a self-absorbed, spoiled aristocrat. She takes the fateful journey with her mother and wealthy fiancee, Cal, who presents her with a priceless diamond necklace during the voyage. She is having second thoughts about her engagement. You see, she doesn’t love the arrogant, pretentious Cal — she is marrying him for his money (at her mother’s urging). Rose’s misgivings predictably have nothing to do with a guilty conscience at her deception.

Let me pause to reflect on the general theme of the characterizations the screenwriters developed. There is a simple formula: All wealthy people are boorish, overbearing, dishonest, selfish, pretentious, and greedy — some are evil. All people of limited means are genuine, loving, selfless, honorable and generous. This simplistic and shallow (not to mention untrue) way of portraying the movie’s characters is truly sophomoric. But apparently the general public cannot see the injustice and inaccuracy of this propaganda. Can it be that the dumbing down of America, and the left’s tactic of fomenting class envy has been so successful that they actually agree with the manipulators who produced this movie? I shudder.

Back to our “heroine.” She’s unfulfilled by her life. Her intended doesn’t appreciate her Picassos. She doesn’t like cocktail party chitchat. She’s misunderstood. So, she does what anyone in her situation would do. She makes a half-hearted attempt to kill herself by jumping overboard. During the botched suicide try, she meets the “hero,” a young struggling artist who won his third-class ticket on the Titanic in a poker game. How does he make his living? Selling his third-rate sketches for ten cents each. As you can guess, using the formula outlined above, Jack is genuine, loving, selfless and honorable. (Just ignore his seduction of another man’s future wife.) He pursues Rose during the next few days finally convincing her to go below decks — where the poor (good) people are. Rose has a wonderful time at a raucous party.

Stop the tape. Rose, an engaged woman, deceives her fiancé, and goes with another man to a party — where they kiss. How courageous. Cal’s assistant witnesses her moral lapse and reports back to the boss. The following morning, Cal has the audacity to be angry at Rose! He turns over the breakfast table in a rage and tells Rose that no wife of his is going to act this way. To me this would be an understandable reaction. In fact, she needed a good spanking. If the genders were reversed, the writers would have portrayed the offended female as righteously indignant. But he is a rich, white male — thus, we are encouraged to despise his actions and sympathize with Rose instead.

Rose has decided not to go through with the marriage — she loves Jack. What would a heroine do in this circumstance? She could go to her fiancé, explain she doesn’t love him and call off the wedding. Since the 500 wedding invitations have gone out, he is paying for her transit, and he will obviously be humiliated by her breaking off the engagement, she could delay a public display of affection for Jack until after their arrival in America. Or she could ask Jack, a man she just met, to draw her naked in her fiancé’s sitting room. She could wear the fabulous diamond — a gift of her fiancé. Then she could leave that picture, along with the diamond and a cruel note in the fiancé’s safe. Next she could go off with Jack and have sex in the back seat of her fiancé’s car in the hold of the ship. Hmm. This is a difficult decision. What would a heroine do? Since the fiancé is a rich, white male — she does the latter.

Every one of my daughters’ friends has seen “Titanic.” Of course my kids can’t figure out why I won’t let them see this trash. (Another emergency family round-table discussion.) Courage to do the right thing though difficult is a necessary quality of all heroes. Sins do not become virtues because those whom you sin against are pompous. You can not be a hero if you are fundamentally dishonest and cruel. Heroes can sin but they must atone for those sins to remain a hero. (For the record, I have sinned many times, but I was never a hero when I did.) Filmmakers have other options when dealing with a less than virtuous “hero.” The tone of the movie can indict the immorality of the “hero.” Other characters of integrity can denounce sinful behavior. In a sadistic twist the only persons appalled at Rose’s immorality are the villains! Compare “Titanic” to “Gone With the Wind”, “An Affair to Remember” and “Casablanca” — forget it.

“Titanic” reminds me of the distinctions between people of faith and secularists. While all agree that death is inevitable and very often unexpected the religious and secularists do not agree on the behavior life’s fragility should promote. Those of faith, know they may meet their Maker, at any moment at which time they will account for their sins. Their fear and deep love for God inspires them in their constant struggle for righteousness. To the secularist, life is short — get what you want — when you want it, and in what ever way necessary. Our heros fit into the latter category.

Before I get to the most insulting scene in this movie, I’ll regale you with a few more choice excerpts. In one scene Rose humiliates her dining partners (including her mother) by self-righteously concluding that the Titanic represented a phallic symbol to one of the guests at the table. (We were supposed to find her terribly sophisticated and enlightened for her time.) Rude, crude behavior is never sophisticated. Of course when Rose uses a certain four-letter word and the accompanying hand gesture in another scene, we are again supposed to admire her.

As the Titanic is sinking, we are treated to the heroism and cowardice of the passengers. A mother holding an infant asks Captain Edward Smith what she should do. We are stunned to see him callously turn away from her without any offer of help — later we see them frozen in the Atlantic. In reality, the captain went down with the ship, and in one survivor’s account, Smith, bobbing in the freezing water yells out encouragements to those hanging on to an overturned lifeboat. He never asks to be taken aboard.

One of the most inspiring true stories of the Titanic is that of Margaret Brown. You’ve heard of the unsinkable Molly Brown. In real life, Margaret was a survivor in one of the lifeboats. A sailor refused her command to turn around and pick up survivors dying in the water. He threatened her but she forced him to go back. In the movie — she shuts up.

In the movie, the lower decks are locked behind a floor-to-ceiling gate. The ships crew heartlessly refuses to unlock the gates — condemning those trapped to a certain death. The truth? The gates on the Titanic were short enough to be climbed over — even if they were locked. It is true that far more lower class passengers died than the wealthy, but not for this reason. (On that note I will mention that the tales of courage exhibited by the “upper-class” — as well as by others related in first-hand accounts are truly inspiring — I just don’t have space to recount them.

How does our “heroine” behave? You be the judge. Jack and the evil fiancé persuade Rose to get into a lifeboat. Lifeboats are scarce. There are only enough for about half the passengers. She takes a seat coveted by hundreds of other passengers — including other women and many children. Then, at the last moment, when it’s too late for anyone else to claim it, she hurls herself back into the ship to find her true love. The fact is she is responsible for one other passenger’s death — the one who could have taken her place. How are we supposed to interpret this act? “Oh, how romantic, she’d rather die than leave her one true love.” As we see later, Jack dies as a direct result of her recapitulation — but our little Rose survives.

As a matter of fact Rose lives into her 100s. We experience the story of the Titanic though her words as she recounts the events to her granddaughter and the crew of the salvage ship. Ironically, they are searching for the very diamond which Rose wore in the portrait created by her lost love. You see, the diamond went down with the ship along with Rose — as far as Cal and his family know. Of course the insurance company suffered a tremendous loss when the claim was submitted.

But wait. We know the diamond was in Cal’s jacket, the jacket he offered to the shivering Rose. What gives? Did she lose the diamond while swimming in the Atlantic? No, in the final scene of the movie we discover the 100-year-old Rose has kept the diamond all these years! For those of you who don’t get it — our “heroine” stole the diamond! She is a thief! Does she feel remorse, regret? No! This little old lady stands up on a railing as she did while contemplating suicide 80 years ago (I was hoping she would succeed this time), and throws the necklace overboard — instead of herself! To the moviegoers and no doubt the producers of this movie, this act was the final crowning virtuous achievement in the life of this courageous woman. When, oh when, did thievery achieve the moral equivalence of valor? Was the family of her fiancé so evil that they deserved this? Were the owners of the insurance company evil, greedy, white males? Probably, therefore, their loss is justifiable. (To the knee-jerk liberals out there, what could the proceeds from selling a diamond worth perhaps 10′s or 100′s of millions of dollars do for “the children”?)

And that, kind readers, is the story of the Titanic. Yes, they may have gotten the number of portholes right. The chandeliers, woodwork and china patterns may have been “perfect.” But the true story — the one involving people, faith, truth, justice, honesty, courage, loyalty, etc. went down with the Titanic this time. As my husband observed in our walk from the theater, “Now I know why Clinton’s popularity is still so high.” Yes, movies do reflect the culture but the culture of a society is influenced by its art. So many millions have seen this movie — they have sub-consciously absorbed the moral relativism of the producers. Millions of children, in their innocence, have learned what kind of character a heroine embodies. The future of America will someday be in their hands.


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