This week I decided to discuss “Romeo and Juliet 2: I’m On A Boat.” Some alternative names are “Jack and Rose Aren’t Really In Love,” or “This Movie Beat Good Will Hunting For Best Picture And That Is Stupid.” Yeah, I’m talking about Titanic. It took me so much whiskey to make this movie bearable, and I broke it up into two days. This movie is so bad, you guys.
Before I give this movie the ripping it deserves, I think it’s necessary to first touch on a couple things it did right. First and foremost, the steerage dance party scene was pretty great. The music is excellent, the dancing is great, and you really get a feel for how much Rose needed this escape from the stuffiness of her family. Switching to shots of the rich people sipping brandy and talking politics interspersed with the dancing and revelry was a great juxtaposition. The movie definitely had a populist message, that poor people are great and welcoming and rich people are boring jerks (which is weird in a movie that made pretty much all of the money), but what I got out of it was that it was exactly what Rose needed. She felt trapped and stifled, and for one night in her life she got to drink and dance and party. It was a great scene.
Second, I thought it was an excellent piece of writing and directing when Rose’s mother was helping her put on her corset while discussing the lack of freedom afforded to women. That was just perfect, discussing society’s restrictions on women while literally restricting her body. Very well done. Not “better than Good Will Hunting,” but still it was pretty great.
The studio forces the idea that Rose and Jack are protagonists and that Billy Zane is the primary antagonist next to the iceberg and man’s hubris. Now until this week, I hadn’t seen this movie since it came out in 1997. But from what I remembered, I was pretty sure Rose was actually the villain in this movie. And not because there was room on that door for two, there clearly wasn’t. But everything I remember going wrong in that movie except the iceberg could be easily traced to the fact that Rose used Jack to punish her family for how unhappy she was. But again, that was a 20 year old opinion. I walked into this convinced Rose was the villain of Titanic. I walked out knowing that the villain of Titanic was the movie itself.
Seriously, everyone in this movie except Kathy Bates is just a terrible person. Kathy Bates is downright delightful, I actually tweeted to her the other day thanking her for being the only person in Titanic who isn’t awful. Seriously you guys, everyone in this movie from Rose to her mom, from Jack to Billy Zane is just as bad as everyone in Juno. Also, I know Billy Zane’s character had a name, but I don’t really care. He’s Billy Zane to me, just like when Julie “The Cat” Gaffney was in Rookie of the Year, but that’s not the point. This is a bad movie that is made significantly worse by virtue of how genuinely awful the characters are. There are logic and plot holes, but the worst of it really is the awfulness of the character.
I plan to break the core of this post up into discussions of how awful individual major characters are, but I want to throw out a few honorable mentions first. Billy Zane’s personal assistant follows Rose around all movie but never actually stops her from doing anything. Then when she goes missing “all day,” they’re not actually hiding. They’re at the front of the ship literally posing, then they’re in her sitting room. Dude reports back to Billy Zane “Nobody has seen her.” Dude, she’s in her room right now. Maybe check that out. Then later when ship security is looking for Jack and Rose, they sneak up on the steamed up car. So as not to alert their quarry, security uses hand signals and light snaps to communicate. That would be a smart move, if they hadn’t already shined their flashlights on the car window, clearly announcing their presence. That’s just bad protocol.
Before anyone else, I’d like to talk about Billy Zane. This is the man the movie wants us to believe is the primary antagonist because he’s a controlling misogynist with rage issues. And he totally is, I don’t dispute that. But I also want to point out that he tries very hard to be kind to Rose until she starts building up to cheating right in front of him. He’s a classist misogynist from old money in the early 1900s. That’s not an excuse for his snide remarks about Rose’s taste in art or that she doesn’t know what’s good for herself, but it does put them in perspective. He’s even distantly polite to Jack until it becomes apparent that Jack wants to bone his fiance. And as for sending Jack to go get locked up downstairs, Billy Zane didn’t know the ship was sinking at that point. He sent Jack to go get locked in the brig because based on all the information he knew, Jack had tried to steal his priceless diamond. So even if Billy Zane was angry and jealous, he wasn’t out of line for imprisoning Jack. I’ll admit that Zane snaps at the end when he starts shooting at Jack and Rose, and using the kid to get on the boat was a complete scumbag move. But an emotional break and a scumbag move are not enough to turn someone into a primary antagonist.
I’m going to break the discussion of Rose into two sections, one for Old Rose and one for Young Rose. I think it goes without saying that Rose is a different person when she’s 17 than she is when she’s over 100. Also, while the ways in which she’s a terrible person are the same, she expresses that terribleness in a completely different fashion. So first let’s talk about Old Rose. She’s just as selfish as Young Rose. I totally understand wanting to get her picture back, it’s just the way she goes about it that’s terrible. She inserts herself into the narrative of the movie by promising to tell these treasure hunters about the diamond. She then proceeds to tell a 3 hour long story that mentions the diamond twice and ends without her telling them that she has it IN HER POCKET THE WHOLE TIME.
During this story she gives details she can’t possibly know. She told them about conversations and reactions that she wasn’t in the room for so there’s no way she’d have known. She tells them she never spoke to Billy Zane again but somehow knows not only that he started laughing hysterically when he realized she still had the diamond, but she somehow knows that he used a kid to save his own life. That’s right, the one completely unforgivable moment Billy Zane has the entire movie is something Rose made up. So after forcing her way onto the ship to talk to the crew, she proceeds to tell this group of strangers and her granddaughter a hyper sexual tale about a teenage fling she had. How awkward is that? And then, after the whole thing, after telling her granddaughter about “the most erotic experience in her life,” she throws the damn diamond in the ocean. The thing that could have set her family up for the rest of their lives, she gets rid of. Ugh.
Before we talk Young Rose, I’d like to discuss how awful a person Jack is. I walked into this movie thinking he was the hero and just a victim of Young Rose. Remember, it had been about 20 years since I’d seen the movie. Watching it through this time, I saw that Jack is just as bad as everyone else. First of all, Jack immediately bails on Fabrizio as soon as he meets Rose. I don’t know how long they’ve been friends, but clearly they’re close. But the minute a girl pays attention, Jack disappears. When they run into each other under the ship, Jack seems almost surprised to find out Fabrizio is still alive. Then Fabrizio dies alone in the water, smashed by a falling smoke stack.
Even separate from Fabrizio, Jack is a bad person. He spends the entire movie aggressively pursuing a girl with a fiance. Sure, she’s visibly unhappy, but she never leaves Billy Zane. In fact, Rose tells Jack very directly to go away. So does her fiance, so does their bodyguard, and even the staff of the ship tells Jack to go away and that he doesn’t belong. Obviously, Jack doesn’t go away. Instead he steals fancy clothes and sneaks onto the rich side of the ship. When Rose tells him (repeatedly) to go away, he responds “I just want to know you’ll be alright.” Rose replies “Jack, I’m fine,” and of course Jack immediately says “I don’t believe you.” He tells her how unhappy he knows she is even after he has told her repeatedly that he knows she wouldn’t have jumped. If Jack were alive today, he’d be wearing a fedora and angrily typing on message boards about how girls should just give nice guys like him a chance.
I think it’s finally time to talk about Young Rose. Rose is so awful, I don’t even know how to describe it. At one point or another in the movie, she is incredibly rude to everyone she has a conversation with. When Billy Zane says that he needs to keep an eye on what Rose is reading, we’re supposed to see that as a dick move. And it wasn’t nice, but he said it directly in response to her telling the architect of Titanic that based on the research of Freud, the architect clearly has a small penis. She embarrassed her parents and fiance, and he was trying to save face. At that same luncheon, she lights up a cigarette, at which point her mother says “you know I don’t like when you do that.” Rose responds by blowing smoke into her mom’s face. I don’t care how trapped you feel, or how mad you are at the world, that’s rude as shit.
When Jack and Rose first start really talking after he saves her life, she’s just as rude for him. She complains and unloads all her life’s problems on him, then turns around and calls him rude and disrespectful. She literally yanks his sketchbook out of his hands and pages through it. Her tune changes when she sees the drawings were good, but what if they weren’t? Nothing in her character indicates she would have behaved with tact or grace. The best example of her selfish, impetuous, rude as hell nature is that when she gets to Titanic, she immediately talks shit about it despite Billy Zane (and everyone else) being super excited. How rude is that?
When it comes to Rose’s relationship with Jack, she’s a combination of selfish and borderline sociopathic. First, she makes absolutely zero attempt to hide her attraction and fascination with Jack from anyone. She says “my mother looked at him like an insect. A dangerous insect.” Probably because he’s a young man your mother has never met and it’s pretty clear you’re going to fuck him inside a car later. Hell, she runs off with him all day and then sneaks off to a poor person dance party that night. She’s drinking and smoking with this strange boy, and all her mom does is tell her not to see him again. Rose of course argues and calls her mom selfish, at which point we find out that her family is broke and this upcoming marriage is all that can save them. It’s understandable that Rose feels trapped, but gearing up to cheat isn’t the right move when it’s going to make your mother a seamstress.
Another time we’re supposed to think Billy Zane is awful is when he tells Rose she isn’t allowed to see Jack again. She responds that she’s his fiance, not one of his employees, and Billy Zane throws a table and screams “then start acting like it!” He shouldn’t have thrown the table, that wasn’t appropriate. That’s not how you win friends and influence people. But what he said was completely legitimate. She snuck off to a party with a strange boy. He’s allowed to be upset about that, especially since she’s wearing her heart on her sleeve every time Jack is in the room. Billy Zane sees that Rose is going to run off with Jack, and he tries to nip that in the bud. He does it in a real jerk way, but that’s what he was doing.
The worst thing Rose does in the entire movie is when she asks Jack to draw her while she’s naked except for the diamond necklace Billy Zane gave her as an engagement present. She then takes that drawing, writes a shitty note on it, then sticks it back in Billy Zane’s safe. Look girl, if you want to leave Billy Zane, that’s fine. You’re allowed to break up with someone, even in the early 1900s. But you don’t have to be a complete psychopath about it. It isn’t a crime to not love Billy Zane, but he clearly cared about Rose. He tried repeatedly to save her life when the ship was going down, he didn’t have to do that. So ripping his heart out was unnecessary and just plain cruel. Remember, up to that point he hadn’t done anything truly unforgivable. He wasn’t even the worst guy on Titanic, he was just a jerk she didn’t want to be with.
I really hate this movie. Like I said, it took me two days to watch it because it irritated me so much. I drank half a bottle of whiskey to numb me up for the slog through it. Part of the reason I chose this movie was because last week was pretty hard. The NSync blog was very difficult because I like the band and so breaking them down wasn’t easy. I went way too far in the opposite direction this week. I thought choosing something I knew I didn’t like would be easier, and I was only half right. It was a lot easier for me to feel good about the things I saw wrong with the movie, but first I had to force myself through the watching. Ugh. Next week I’m going to try to find a happy medium. Something I don’t hate, but don’t love. That’s all for now, love and kisses!
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