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Watching the film Titanic is not a new experience for me, so I’m cheating on this one.  But I’d like to be ‘on trend’ for once.  Because of the centenary of the sinking, everyone else is talking about the ship so I thought I’d re-visit the film to see if my views have changed since I first saw it in 1997.  Also, it’s another stall while I work up the courage to watch a Stephen King film like I said I would.

Spoiler Alert: The ship sinks in the end. Plus, my views haven’t changed.

What is the allure of the sinking of the Titanic above, say, the Lusitania or any other vessel?  Lots of things. It was probably one of the first tragedies of the media age.  There were a lot of photos and there was plenty for the burgeoning mass media industry to write about.  And of course there was the rigid social stratification of the boat. But be honest, who doesn’t hanker for the simpler era when the lower orders knew their place?  Which is to say, below decks, behind locked gates, de-loused and after you in the queue for the lifeboats.   But mostly I think the allure stems from the sheer folly of the enterprise.    It’s difficult to avoid the sense that you could go back and prevent the terrible tragedy.   Watertight compartments not being quite watertight enough (or some such).  Heading out into the deep blue yonder without enough life boats.   Increasing speed despite iceberg warnings.  Not filling the lifeboats to capacity when evacuating.   Not turning the lifeboats around fast enough when the ship was gone.

But of course, deep in the recesses of your mind, you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if you had been there yourself.  Who would you have been?  The cheery, welcoming, social transgressive, Molly Brown?  The honourable but tortured ship designer, Thomas Andrews?  Or the brave, resolute Benjamin Guggenheim?  He dressed in his evening wear and sat stoically with his valet waiting for death , saying “No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.”   (Although personally I would have let the valet take his chances)  Or maybe Ida Straus, who refused a place in the lifeboat to die with her husband, Isidor.  And this they did, holding hands at the waves swept them out to sea.  I suppose we all like to think we would have behaved honourably – eschewing a place on the last lifeboat in order to save countless shivering orphans, somehow surviving the sinking by sheer dint of personality (and also the foresight of having put on warm attire).

Whatever about the actual Titanic, surviving James Cameron’s 1997 epic film of the same name is an ordeal of its own.  Let me be positive and say it is a sumptuous achievement visually and technically.  And it brings the brutality and inhumanity to our understanding of the events.  The sinking of this boat is not a genteel affair.  People die cruelly, barbarically and arbitrarily.  Nonetheless, it is a fairly dreadful film in so many ways.  Chief among them is the dialogue.  My favourite was “Rose: You see people/ Jack: I see you.”  That just needed a “peekaboo” to complete the absurdity.  Equally absurd are the cyphers walking around masquerading as fully-drawn characters.  Although, maybe I’m being unfair.  Maybe all rich people are emotionally fossilised.  Maybe all Irish people are cheery, musical drunks who are embracing of cultural diversity.   Just because I myself am not musical, who’s to say?

I have no idea what I would have done aboard the Titanic, but I do know what I would have done had I been on James Cameron’s ship.  I would have kicked the boy Leo into the briney deep and rushed headlong into the warm, sultry embrace of one Billy Zane Esq.  Because this is the most absurd part of the film for me.  Thomas Andrews  (and, by the way, Worst. Northern Ireland Accent.  Ever.) seemed to think Rose was bright and observant, but clearly the girl couldn’t see what was staring her in the face like a looming iceberg.  In what reality does a girl wade through the freezing, rapidly-rising Atlantic waters to save Leonardo di Caprio when there is a warm, dry and preposterously gorgeous Billy Zane up on deck happily bribing his way onto a lifeboat on your behalf?  You may call it amoral venality, I call it a healthy solutions-orientation.  What’s not to like about that?  You’ve only got to stay with him as far as the lifeboats, you ninny!

Let’s pause for a moment to contemplate the loveliness of the man again.

Ahh…..

I can ponder it all I like but the fact remains that had I been on the real Titanic I wouldn’t have got within forty fathoms of the first class deck.  It would have been steerage for me and my kind, cheerily dancing the night away with the huddled masses yearning to be free.  And then huddling in the rapidly rising stern and then finally huddling on a piece of flotsam, facing into the ugly reality of my own imminent demise.  But that’s still a more attractive prospect than watching the film Titanic again.

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