Monday, May 7, 2012

Titanic: 100 Years Ago, or Yesterday?

by Emily Cormier

Last month the Opera House had a free showing of Titanic by James Cameron as part of their Centennial Celebration Film Series. 100 years ago this April, the brand new luxury liner Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage to New York City, so the movie was an appropriate choice for the start of the free series--since the Opera House also turns 100 this year.

I had never seen the film, and I dragged my friend Ann along with me to watch what would be an agonizing three hours of drowning: the passengers in the Atlantic, me in my own tears.

I had not expected such an assault on my emotional faculties, and my reaction represents the effectiveness of the film to provoke a specific response. Films are means of communication: all screenwriters and directors have something they want to tell the world. A good film makes the viewer think, forcing them to see the world from a certain perspective for as long as the movie lasts. The hope is that this perspective will last after you leave the theater and remain with you in your daily life. Titanic accomplished this in full.

The class struggle in the film is especially poignant because the sinking of the ship pits the rich against the poor in a life-threatening situation. Those in the lower holds of the ship are separated from the upper class for the entire journey, unseen and unconsidered by their rich counterparts. The wealthy families believe they are entitled to the best treatment, and that their lives are more valuable than those below them.

As the ship begins to sink, the lower class are locked in steerage until all of the wealthy men and women are comfortably ushered on to the life boats. The depth of the class system stretches into the very roots of the human heart, and we are reminded that those class boundaries still exist in our own hearts; we all think of ourselves as better than someone, give our own lives more value than someone else's. But if it came down to it, would you take another's life in order to save your own? Or does that make you just like the first class passengers on the Titanic?

This movie brought me to the edge of my existence, so that I could look at the world as a whole: how thin the line between sophistication and savagery are. When our survival instincts kick in, the money, the manners, no surface civility matters, the only thing we have left is our integrity and true intentions.

What separates us from animals is our ability to choose whether to resist our animal instincts, or to embrace them depending on the situation. We have consciences, and feel the weight of what we do. Though we are animals, survival is not our primary concern. For humans, existence is worth nothing without a reason behind it, and in the case of the move Titanic this reason is love. The central female protagonist, Rose, is willing to give up her privileged spot on the lifeboat to stay with Jack because she has had enough of surviving- she's been doing it all her life. Jack was the one who showed her how to live.

As a whole, this movie was so powerful to me because it represents what I love and hate the most about humanity: the profound mercy and self sacrifice of the people who decided to stay behind and drown rather than take up space on the life boats, and the utter savagery and emptiness of the men who panicked and killed each other to save their own lives.

Emily Cormier is a senior at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. She will be attending Bowdoin College in the fall for English.