I already knew that Jack would die.
By the time I was finally able to see Titanic, a few months after it was released in 1997, I already knew everything that would happen in James Cameron’s blockbuster, by which I mean that I already knew that the blue-eyed, spunky American would freeze to death in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean — so close, and yet so far from rescue.
My lateness to the party was especially frustrating, because it seemed like every area of pop culture at that time was singing the ballad of Jack and Rose. Radio stations remixed Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” to include different soundbytes from the film, the best version of which I taped onto a cassette. There were specials on TV about the historical accuracy of the movie and a glut of young adult literature about other people on board (whose cheesy plots could never live up to the film). There were ads for an exact replica of the Heart of the Ocean necklace that Rose wore in magazines. And with no personal movie theater outings planned for my immediate future that December, I let curiosity kill the cat and discovered from a classmate that my precious Leo would not survive.
And it was heartbreaking news, at least for any heterosexual girl with burgeoning tween hormones who had promptly ordered an unauthorized autobiography of Leonardo DiCaprio — photos included — along with all the other girls in her class that year.
Obviously that massive spoiler never would have stopped me from going to see Titanic myself. One puny detail cannot sum up 190-plus minutes of action, suspense, romance, and factoids. And when the next special occasion came around, you can bet I asked for the double-VHS copy as a gift.
To this day, I never cease to find Titanic entertaining, except it’s been a long time since I’ve been willing to sit still and see it through from the opening credits to its watery end. Citizen Kane it is not, and despite its special effects, it probably doesn’t deserve the massive accolades it has received since its release — those are probably due more to the epic nature of the thing than its actual content. But I don’t think I could ever pass up a practical opportunity to watch it.
Titanic is still enjoyable because the movie unfolds like summer camp. It starts, and everything is great and fun and exciting. More than 3,000 people get on an unsinkable boat with their whole lives ahead of them. Connections are made, romances spark. But in the back of your mind, you always know that the end is looming, that April 12 is quickly approaching, and there is nothing you can do about it. Inevitably, that iceberg is right ahead.
Still, every time I watched Titanic, whether on my double-VHS copy or on the E! network while on a treadmill at the gym, a little part of me, that teensy piece of my soul and conscience, really, really, really hopes that maybe, this time, Rose will scooch on over on that piece of door or table or whatever it was and help Jack get even a moment’s respite from his impending hypothermia. Or maybe they would have squeezed onto a lifeboat. At least Fabrizio and that nice Irish gentleman could have survived.
But eventually, despite how much hope I have that maybe this time it’ll be OK, it’s not. This stuff really happened — 1,514 people died, and you’re gonna see it happen in this movie. And then you’re going to cringe when old-lady Rose tosses that expensive necklace over the side of the boat. And then you’ll have an argument with someone over whether the dreamy ending meant she was dead. I don’t think it did.
I don’t need the bold addition of 3-D to want to see Titanic again, even if I’m sure it’ll turn out pretty decent in Cameron’s adept hands. I would just see it to see it again in theaters. You watch it because you remember the joy of the initial experience of experiencing it. It’s nostalgia. Even if you already know that Jack dies.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.