Orthodox America

 Film Review The Titanic Sinks 

by Fr. Alexey Young

Previous articles in this series have promoted films of a certain type, those that can be viewed by an entire family without worrying about sex, violence, or other forms of immorality - say, immorality of the mind, the heart, the soul. Such films breathe what this reviewer believes is a classical spirit or attitude, i.e., they are spiritually healthy and balanced and foster attention to the essential rather than the unessential, to true happiness, which is always based in some way on the law of God.

By contrast, the "unclassical" spirit produces a film that is almost the complete reverse of the above. The classical film, while not unaware of the subjective side of human behavior, is more interested in whether what a character does, thinks, or says, is objectively true, whereas the unclassical film is more concerned about motives and the whys of character behavior; it finds the Seven Deadly Sins (these are "classical sins" because they always basely attack the revealed doctrine that man is made in the image of God) to be in some way psychological and therefore attractive, thus reducing sin to the result of heredity and environment. (A specific example of the unclassic attitude in our society today is found in our tendency to see the problem of the American President's recent scandals through the prism of polls and public opinion rather than in the light of the Ten Commandments and the objective moral law revealed in Scripture.)

Titanic, touted as one of "the greatest films of all time," is what we might call a classic example of an unclassical film. This movie has now left the theaters, by and large, but millions have seen it and millions more will undoubtedly see the video, so it is worth briefly examining its impact and its place in our already too-superficial culture:

Teenage girls (apparently in the millions) who wanted to lose themselves in a "really cool" romantic story have successfully done so; some have seen the film ten, twenty times, saying that they can not get enough of it. And how does Titanic translate romance? Into fornication, dishonesty, arrogance, and a lack of integrity.

Titanic buffs may have been impressed by the film's special effects, but most have been disappointed that the real story, which was worthy of a blockbuster, was so distorted. For example, the crew of the Titanic was routinely and even profanely misrepresented. Characters who, in real life, were heros, were portrayed as cowards, and vice-versa. (Director James Cameron later had to issue an apology to the men of the Titanic whom he had so brashly misrepresented.)

Objective historians observe that this film shamelessly perpetuates the Marxist myth of class warfare - a lie which, in this case, asserts that third-class passengers were locked in steerage and given little or no hope of escape from the sinking ship. This is largely false. Moreover, the film presents a view of historic events that is politically correct rather than objectively true. No mention is made, for example, of the noble sacrifice of Mrs. Strauss. (She and her husband were owners of Macy's Department Store.) On learning that there were not enough lifeboats for the men, she refused to embark one herself, firmly stating, "I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so will we die together." Even Margaret Tobin Brown (the rightly famous "Unsinkable Molly Brown" of Denver, Colorado) is not given the credit she deserves, for although she was unsophisticated "new money" and not old aristocracy, this film's screenplay writers felt she was somehow not to be trusted. Thus, the film fails to mention her truly heroic post-Titanic endeavors - especially her Christian efforts to raise money for the surviving widows and children of poor third-class menfolk who had gone down with the ship on that tragic night.

In the wake of this terrible shipwreck (the historic event, not the movie) the old naval rule about "women and children first" was changed, and this was almost universally seen as a "good thing." People with traditional Christian values, however, have felt otherwise. It is gratifying to note the existence of "The Christian Boys' and Men's Titanic Society," (it can be contacted through the Internet) whose slogan, "Women and children first!" is an encouraging sign that someone is still thinking clearly about these things.

Some parents took their older children to see Titanic, assuming the film's PG-13 rating meant it was suitable for 13 year-olds. It wasn't. A few years ago the nudity alone would have earned the film an "R" rating, but not today. The film's gratuitous sex and nudity, the triumphant portrayal of fornication as a satisfying way of life for rebellious teenagers - none of this recommends the film even for adults, at least those who are traditional Christians or religious-minded.  Many of these who have been deceived by the PG-13 rating and have seen the film have been shocked and uncomfortable.

But none of this seems to matter. Hollywood handed out fistfuls of Oscars to Titanic directors, writers, musicians, etc., indicating its pride in this film, and recognizing that Titanic has sold more tickets than any other film this year or even in our generation! As if we needed further evidence, Titanic proved once again that Hollywood is more about making money than it is about art or truth. And not just making money, either; when faced with a real choice between making money producing a truly artistic and historically truthful film (as was, say, A Man for All Seasons, thirty-five years ago) and a film that corrupts the viewer - guess which film is going to be made?

The sinking of the historic Titanic involved the lives of real men and women, many of whom were noble, heroic, self-sacrificing, and brave. We saw very little of this in Cameron's film. Titanic chose instead to focus primarily on venal and corrupt characters whose lives cannot inspire. We are fascinated by the Titanic because the sinking of this great ship signalled the end of the modern era (before it even knew that it had been born). The story that needs to be told is the true story of why the Titanic is such a symbol, and why its sinking - its death, if you will - represents the death of technology as the savior of mankind. (Newspapers at the time boasted that even God could not sink the Titanic.) This is the story we need to hear and see, but Titanic did not tell us that story. Its intention was to titillate and impress, to "wow" and overwhelm with senseless and endless special effects and teenage sexuality. All too typical of today's movies, the film never intended to edify or instruct, lift up or ennoble.  It did not intend to do so, and in fact it did not.

For a superior film about the sinking of the Titanic,  a truly classic film, this reviewer recommends the 1958 black & white film (available on video), A Night to Remember, which provides a splendid look at the true heroism of many on the Titanic.