IDEOLOGIES OF THE FILM “TITANIC” 8
Ideologiesof the Film “Titanic”
Ideologiesof the Film “Titanic”
Premieringin 1997, “Titanic”is a perfect example of what one would call a popular cinema. Sinceits release, there are only a few other films that have won over themasses the way Titanicdid. With 11 Academy Awards, Titanicgrossed over $600 million in the U.S. and Canada, and over $1.8billion worldwide, making it one of the highest earning films in theworld (Kapell & Veigh, 2011). James Cameron is credited as thedirector, writer, and co-producer of the movie, which starredrenowned actors Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack) and Kate Winslet (Rose).Titanicis an epic romance film that is based on the sinking of the passengerliner RMS Titanicin 1912. It tells the romantic and sad story between two young loversJack and Rose who are from different social classes. They meet duringthe ship’s voyage at a moment when Rose wants to take her life awayin protest to a forced proposal from her mother and fiancée Cal.Jack and Rose develop a tentative friendship that leads to love whichends when the ship sink. This essay examines the different ideologiessuch as class, race, culture, and gender seen as the love storyunfolds.
Thefilm presents a dominant ideology because it epitomizes young and oldwhite males and females from the middle-class and upper-classbackgrounds. Koldau (2012), argues that this doctrine is challengedby the storyline, which involves a poor young man falling in lovewith a wealthy upper-class woman, who is engaged to her fiancé Calbut plans to leave him to be with Jack. The struggles of thisforbidden love draw audiences from poor, upper, and working classbackgrounds that can relate to this romance. The films biggestfeature is how the lower class struggles against the upper-class andlove concurring everything eventually (Benshoff & Griffin, 2011).The film also appealed to a young audience because of the young castin the story. However, it also appeals to an older audience as it istold by an older woman who narrates her story of how she lost thosethat she loved something the older generation can relate to. Becausethe Titanicis a romantic story, its ideology does not focus on a single audiencebut appeals to wider viewers, which include those from the upper,middle, and lower classes.
Cameronprovides the audience with a stereotypical representation of classand race as the movie progresses. It shows how different categoriesof people on board the ship are given different treatment. Accordingto Kapell and Veigh (2011), Titanicwas phenomenal in Asia because the movie showed how difficult it isfor someone to come from the lower class and mingle with the higherclass. It also gained popularity because it indicated how it isshameful and degrading for someone from the upper class to minglewith someone in lower level. This is seen in scenes where Jack wasinvited to dinner by Cal, and later he asked Rose for a party in thethird class. Rose willingness to drink and smoke with Jack’sfriends is made a point of self-humor while Cal and Rose`s mother areagainst the idea of Rose being at the party.
Thefilm also constructed gender roles in an explicit and mainstream way,especially on the main characters. Rose is portrayed as a woman whohas no idea about how to control her life and cannot express heropinion. She is also seen as a solution to her family’s financialproblems. Her fiancé Cal sees her as nothing but a possession andonly wants to have complete control over her instead of developing ameaningful correlation (Benshoff & Griffin, 2011). Gender rolesare also seen during the scenes of the ship sinking, the women andchildren were the first to be saved as they were immediately boardedto the lifeboats while the men stayed on the sinking ship. Thesescenes can be appreciated considering the society’s norms, but inthe profound analysis, one can see the implication that women arephysically weaker than men and are incapable of surviving.
Additionally,the film throws in an interesting twist where Rose is portrayed asheroin when she refuses to board the lifeboat to save Jack who wasstill locked up inside the ship. She is seen to oppose the idea thatwomen cannot stand or speak for themselves and the dominant myth ofsaving women and children first as something not all women choose intimes of disaster (Benshoff & Griffin, 2011). The last scenes ofthe film depict Rose no longer wearing glamorous costumes, her hairand dress are loose, and she is soaked portraying her to be much lessof the nineteenth-century lady she was three days ago.
TheTitanicwould as well represent the Marxist class struggle as the governingideal within which it was produced. Based on a historical event thathappened in 1912, just when America had emerged as a superpower inthe industrial revolution, it characterized the last remnant of theVictorian class struggle underlying the precise definition of classstruggle (Kapell & Veigh, 2011). This can be seen right from thebeginning of the love story which openly symbolizes capitalism at itspeak where Cal tells her fiancée of how much faster, stronger andluxurious the ship is than any other. The ideology that the ship wasunsinkable sums up capitalism and its hegemony. The upper and lowerclass lived under the same roof, but the top class had betterstandards and even played different music in their quarters. Duringthe sinking of the ship, lower class members are left for dead whilethe upper-class passengers boarded lifeboats. This shows that theupper class has the belief that they are stronger than nature itself(Benshoff & Griffin, 2011). This is evident in scenes wherevaluable articles are displayed while the orchestra is still playingthe music as the ship sinks.
Titanic’ssuccess cannot be attributed to its plot and star cast only, but somehidden factors. The budget used to make the film gives an idea of theimportance of visual effects in the success of Titanic.Benshoff and Griffin (2011) show how costumes were efficiently usedto bring out the difference in class between the main casts. Rose wasalways dressed to impress for any occasion. She had at least sevendifferent attire changes throughout the film. Jack, on the otherhand, had only two costume changes. Decorations in the rooms of therich were significantly different and better bringing out thecontrast in class and further emphasizing on the luxury the rich wereaccustomed to. Painful dresses and corsets of the women were used toshow the audience how women perceive themselves as a gender that hasto be seen fit and beautiful otherwise they would be condemned by thesociety. Particular lighting was also used to heighten the distance,shape, texture, mood, season, glamor and time of day (Benshoff &Griffin, 2011). For example, when Jack first steps into the lobby ofupper-class level, the high key lighting has contrast, while thelower level has an almost dull light.
Thefilm also uses different sound to set the mood in the movie for theaudience. A diegetic sound is used in party scenes while anon-diegetic music is preferred, especially in romantic scenes andpanic scenes as it increases the tension. The music used in the movieset the atmosphere in the Titanic(Benshoff & Griffin, 2011). When Jack was running along the deckto board the ship Irish fiddle music is used to reflect the historyof many Irish people who went to America for a better future. CelineDion’s theme song recurs throughout the film to reflect the moodchanges. For example, a single piano reinforces the intimacy betweenJack and Rose during the drawing scene and again to bring intocontext Rose’s thoughts as she is being lowered into a lifeboat.The music used just before the sinking of the ship brought out asense of doom. The screaming made it even more terrible at the endwith the silence coming out as eloquent as the screaming.
Cameronalso utilized a broad range of camera shots to enhance his visualmessaging. The film was shot on a Super 35 film format in widescreenwith 1:78:1 aspect ratio (Koldau, 2012). Modern day scenes were shoton board a replica ship built in California. The film had many kindsof camera shot with medium close-up and the pan down shots beingdominant. The medium close-up shots are used to show intimacy byallowing the audience to understand the feelings of the people fromtheir impressions. The pan down shots are used psychologicalsituations and to quickly pass down an intended message. This is seenin the flying scene of Jack and Rose where we can see them conquerand rise above all social classes and are proud of themselves. Longtracking shots and handheld camera shots are also used to emphasizethe panic below as the ship sinks.
Earlyin the movie, aerial shots are used for emphasis on the dominance ofthe ship and drive home the Marxist ideology. This is seen as theship cruises past Southampton where there is a clear contrast betweenthe huge dominant Titanicand the other ships. This was a clear symbol of the capitalist greedto make a better ship for no other reason but to make all other shipsaround seem insignificant (Koldau, 2012). The pullback aerial shot isused after the sinking of the ship to display the extent of thehorror in the sea. This challenged the capitalist concept of beingable to be in control of everything including nature. In this case,the capitalists were defeated.
Slowmotion is also another technique used on some occasions within thefilm to pass a message, for example the scene where Jack and Rose arerunning through the boiler room. We see them run against the rednessof the furnace, Rose dress moving in slow motion depicting an angelmoving through hell as has been characterized by her struggle to fendoff Cal’s advances. Slow motion is also used to allow the audiencesto see Rose reaching a decision to scramble back onto the ship fromthe lifeboat she had boarded.
Backingup the camera techniques are visual effects that were used to drawthe audience attention to what was happening at the moment and increating scenes. For instance, in the sinking scenes, they used stuntmen and women to act instead of the stars. With the help specialeffects, the faces of the star casts were montaged on the bodies ofthe stunt men/ women. Most of the shots at sea were also unreal, butwith the help visual effects they were reconstructed to look likethey were done in reality.
Cameroncombines some techniques and shots into a sequence which togethermakes meaning. According to Benshoff and Griffin (2011), thebeginning of the film sees the modern story edited into scenes fromthe past. The fading shot spanning eight decades is done usingcomputer imaging and visual effects to pull the narrative together.This is reversed in the last scenes where the film moves from theeyes of a young Rose life to that of an old Rose at the end of themovie in the process helping the audience connect with what ishappening.
Insummary, Titanicis one of the greatest films to analyze because of its manyideologies of race, gender, and class that appeals to a wideraudience. It is one of the most successful films concerningproduction cost, narrative, acting, and the spectacular visualeffects. The video is a huge demonstration of what life was likeaboard the Titanicfor both classes. Different themes in the film are blended andconstructed around a love story, in an epic narrative, specialeffects, and a sense of reality. Titanicmight have problematic issues concerning the representation of socialaspects, but there is no denying that it is one of Hollywood’sblockbusters.
Benshoff,H. M., & Griffin, S. (2011). Americaon film: Representing race, class, gender, and sexuality at themovies.New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Kapell,W, M., and Veigh, S. (2011). TheFilms of James Cameron: Critical Essays.California: McFarland.
Koldau,ML. (2012). TheTitanic on Film: Myth versus Truth.California: McFarland.