Is Titanic Really A Great Love Story?

Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Titanic came out almost twenty years ago. And for as long as TBS has been airing the nudity-free version on Saturday mornings, viewers have been asking themselves, "But is it good?"

The Best Picture winner a lot of numbers on its side. It won 11 Oscars. It made over $658 million domestically. And in an unofficial study, it has caused at least 50 billion wistful sighs worldwide. It does have its fair share of critics, however, who point to Rose's lack of self-awareness, the sheer speed with which the lovers fall for each other, and the size of that damn piece of wood. Still, die-hard defenders continue to hold on, and more importantly, somehow work "I'll never let go" into everyday conversations.

I asked Hunter Harris, a colleague on the entertainment team, to join me for a civil disagreement. Hunter provided the con arguments, pointing out all the reasons why Titanic is a terrible movie, and I stood up for the film. Read through our thoughts in this slideshow, and decide for yourself if James Cameron's great love story was worthy of your teen devotion, or if you were blinded by the swelling music and Leo's dapper grin.
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1 of 10
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Con: Titanic glamorizes poverty.
"Half of the supposed thrill of Jack and Rose’s romance is that they’re from two different worlds. He’s the scrappy artist, she’s the refined aristocrat. In nearly every scene, Rose revels in this unfamiliar low-class world: poor people can hock loogies, dance all night, are free to drink beer and fall in love. Jack talks up the simple privileges of his bohemian lifestyle — friendships with one-legged sex workers, taking 'each day' and living it to the fullest — and Rose eats it up. Of course she would — who wouldn’t want a simple life in which your only concern is finding and falling in love?

"Titanic
is a melodrama, so it’s understandably unrealistic. But its depiction of poverty as something fun and hip is dangerous. If you only see poor people as honest workers and poets, then it’s easier to support policies that keep them poor. This wrongheaded thinking — that a low-income person’s greatest indignity is that they’re treated as second class — isn’t just perpetrated by these two characters, it’s reinforced by the whole production."

— Hunter Harris
2 of 10
Pro: Jack and Rose have more than a shared interest in Rose being naked.
"Rose and Jack don't have much time together, but even the little they share isn't all about making out and engaging in erotic drawing sessions. They dance and spit and talk about what they want out of life and who they want to be. It's true their interest in each other starts out superficially — Rose is the beautiful, unattainable girl Jack stares at from the lower deck. Jack is the kind of free spirit Rose has always wanted to be. But it also becomes clear that they enjoy each other's company as people, not just as ideas."

— Molly Horan
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3 of 10
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Con: Why are we pretending Rose and Jack have good sex?
"I know very little about the logistics of having sex in a Ford Model T. And after whatever that is between Jack and Rose, I’ll pass. I get the logic that it's (ostensibly) their first time, I get that they're young, I get that they're working with limited means on the RMS Titanic. But I’m genuinely confused as to what all the fuss is about. Even grading on a curve, nothing about that scene looks particularly sexy. There’s nothing all that hot about their lovemaking. It’s all very vanilla: sweaty, not steamy; tame, not tantalizing. There’s not even a hint of real sex happening, just a shot of them staring into each other’s eyes and then Rose kisses Jack on the forehead — which feels a little weird and maternal, but like, do your thing.

"One thing I will say: You know Billy Zane in 1997 laid it down in the bedroom. Zane could, as Rihanna says, 'homicide it.' It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Bad Gal RiRi is having the best sex on planet Earth. Somehow I’m certain that 1997 Billy Zane might have been a close second."

— Hunter Harris
4 of 10
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Pro: That car scene, though.
"Rose and Jack doing it in the car is so sexy you don't even notice how funny the scene is until you watch it a few times. They are (probably) losing their virginities in the same place where generations of future movie teens will, but on a giant boat where there are literally hundreds of places that would probably be more comfortable. But it doesn't matter, because that horror-movie hand on the glass somehow manages to be more erotic than any actual sex they could have shown."

— Molly Horan
5 of 10
Pro: The power of the tin whistle.
"Whether you feel that the scourge of '90s music isn't 'The Macarena' but Céline Dion's omnipresent Titanic ballad, you at least have to admit that 'My Heart Will Go On' evokes emotion in the listener. It instantly lends weight to the couple's romance, as they come to represent every doomed pair whose love continues on in their memories (or in the words of elderly women hanging out in submarines). The song, even more than Rose's ultimate return to an afterlife with Jack, convinces audiences that she never really let go of her first love (her poor actual husband, btw)."

— Molly Horan
6 of 10
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Con: This is all so fake woke.
"Throughout Titanic, James Cameron reminds his viewers that he didn’t write another movie about a woman being saved by a man. Really, he promises, this is so not that style of meet-cute canned romance. 'It’s not up to me to save you,' Jack tells Rose. 'Only you can do that.'

"Except that’s exactly what happens, more or less. Rose gets a few scenes of teenage rebellion, but there’s not much there. She wields an ax, exhales a puff of smoke in her mom’s face, tells Cal she’d rather be Jack’s wife than her fiancé’s whore. And still, this relationship is just an extended montage of these two people saving each other from sticky situations. Rose has the richest interior life, but its assumed her greatest adventures will occur sometime after she escapes the Titanic."

— Hunter Harris
7 of 10
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Pro: Yes, technically, she let go...but!
"I get it, internet, they both could have fit on the board. Even if they couldn't, why didn't they take turns? I believe there are two main reasons for this, and while they both make our intrepid couple seem kind of dumb, they're both terribly swoon-worthy. First, let's get the sharing-the-board logic out of the way — have you ever been so cold your brain seems to freeze, too? Yes, from the warm comfort of our couches we wonder why they couldn't have tried a few more times to puzzle-piece it out, but they were tired and frostbitten. Give them a break.

"So, Jack, being street smart and nature smart and generally being able to feel his body ice over, pretty quickly figures out he's going to die. But he keeps up a positive front for Rose because he loves her and doesn't want her to be afraid. Jack's love is selfless, which is the most romantic type of affection.

"Rose isn't dim, but she's definitely oblivious sometimes. She doesn't worry about her beloved becoming a human popsicle because she doesn't believe it's possible; she believes their love is too strong to be defeated by some chilly water. Her love is idealistic, and while that would have taken some adjustment were they to actually create a life together, it's very romantic in the moment."

— Molly Horan
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8 of 10
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Con: Titanic is a turducken.
"In case you don't know, a turducken is a meal that involves a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey. I imagine it’s as much of an abomination as it sounds. Titanic is a turducken: It’s a melodrama stuffed into a disaster movie stuffed into a history lesson, never making good on any one of these genres. The first time I watched the film at 13, I was intrigued but unimpressed. This time, I was mostly bored. Titanic’s most compelling footage is when Cameron’s camera is free to zoom through the ship’s lower decks, imbuing the heavy machinery with a kind of upstart sense of character. Jack and Rose’s relationship is pretty boring — I’m not fundamentally interested in either one of these people. The narrative regularly switches between this yawn-worthy romance and the story of the boys club that built and sails the Titanic (and is too arrogant to take the iceberg warnings seriously). The visual of the ship sinking is fantastic to witness, but we have to go through an hour of contrived romance and intrigue to make it there.

"Being a turducken isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just boring. Jack and Rose’s romance is really just a gimmicky pretense to introduce a much more intriguing story: shipbuilder Thomas Andrews."

— Hunter Harris
9 of 10
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Pro: They have the most intense meet cute of all time.
"So, there's obviously nothing romantic about mental illness and actually being suicidally depressed, and it's wrong when pop culture tries to romanticize that. But. BUT. I don't think Rose was ever going to kill herself. Is she in a great spot? No. But she is also being kind of a drama queen. The fact that Jack instinctively knows how to talk her off the ledge, never being condescending or too dramatic himself, shows they have a solid connection from the start."

— Molly Horan
10 of 10
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