I watched Titanic in its 3D release about a week ago, on the strong urging of my partner. I missed it the first time around so it was all new to me, and I’d somehow managed to avoid learning anything about the story. It’s a great movie, very nicely paced and with an excellent combination of love story, social drama and action, and I think it confirms James Cameron as a truly great movie maker. However, I think the ending was amazingly cynical and I would like to ask my readers whether they agree with me, or think it doesn’t quite pip The Breakfast Club. The thing I think is particularly cynical about the ending of this movie (and The Breakfast Club) is the way that it undermines all of the positive content of the human relations in the first part of the movie, and this trick really always strikes me like a massive slap in the face.
Fair warning to all readers: from here on in is a massive series of spoilers, for the ending of Titanic, The Breakfast Club and probably Cabaret. If you ever plan on watching these movies as a virgin viewer, avert your innocent gaze now.
… you have been warned …
Right, so at the end of Titanic, 101 year old Rose throws her precious diamond necklace into the sea. I guess we’re meant to see this as a symbol of freedom: she has been able to face the ghost of her past and the amazing events that both defined her entry into adulthood and liberated her from (a kind of) bondage. She could face the memories of her lover and put all these things to rest just as the end of her life draws in – get closure, as the Americans might say. So this last remnant of that time could finally be released into the very deeps that claimed her innocence and freed her future.
What I found myself thinking, however, was … “What a bitch!” Rose had only been offered any of these chances because Brock “I don’t want to rain on your parade man but we ain’t gonna last 17 hours out here man!” Lovett has spent his life chasing the diamond necklace, and in the process of looking for it uncovered a picture of Rose. In his pursuit of the diamond necklace he flies her to the site, and she recounts her full story for the first time in her life, to the four people on earth most likely to appreciate and understand it. Would that we all got such chances! Plus, for free, she gets her picture back and is able to settle all those old memories into place. Earlier in the movie we’ve been told that other salvage experts’ careers had been ruined by failure to find the diamond necklace, and we know this is how Lovett aims to fund his whole mission.
So in exchange for the kindnesses fate and Lovett have offered her, one would think the very least Rose could do would be to fess up that she has had the diamond the whole time, and give it to him. She doesn’t need it for money – she’s never pawned it off – and she isn’t planning on giving it as an heirloom to her daughter (we know, because she threw it in the sea) and no one else knows she has it, so she has no use for it. She doesn’t even want it now that Lovett has kindly offered her the opportunity to file away the memories of that time. And yet … rather than offer it as fair trade for her peace of mind and happiness, she throws it away, selfishly and privately and without thought for others.
This isn’t just a betrayal of Lovett, but also of us the viewers. Early in the movie Jack Dawson (Rose’s poorhouse lover) tells her that she is selfish, stuck-up and spoilt but he loves her anyway. He sacrifices himself for her, and I think it’s fair to assume as the viewer that this sacrifice and her experience of the universality of love might have changed her so that she is no longer that selfish child. But no, 80 years later all she can think about is herself, and not the many people who (once again) helped her to achieve emotional fulfilment. Dawson’s sacrifice did nothing to change her, and she is frozen in the mindset of the born-to-rule upper class girl she was when the whole world’s men were fighting over her on the deck of the sinking ship.
Now, I know a lot of you will say “I only came to watch the ship sink, man!” but I think a good 50% of the movie’s viewers (you know who you are, ladies) were heavilyemotionally invested in this story of love crossing all social barriers. I know I was – I thought it was a great story and in my happy little idealistic heart wished that it could only be so true. And what salve do I get for this hope and idealism at the end of the movie? Some rich bint slaps me in the face with her privilege and throws a priceless diamond into 2km of freezing ocean.
Thanks for nothing, Rose.
This is pretty much the same emotional turnabout I got from watching The Breakfast Club – what a treacherous, slimy piece of emotional skullduggery that movie is. Early in the movie the nerd boy tells everyone that their Saturday idyll is just that, and on Monday morning they will all return to their social places and – by extension – to bullying him, and all their heartfelt exchange of fears and dreams will come to naught. They all poo poo him, but that’s exactly what happens at the end of the movie – with the added sliminess of the goth girl giving up her alternative look and bouncing away all happy and preppy into the sunset, overjoyed because she pulled the popular jock boy.
That, my friends, is betrayal. Don’t go looking for it in the Weimar republic – that’s your stab in the back right there.
And speaking of the Weimar republic, I think Cabaret has a different but equally unpleasant kind of treachery at its end. They’re standing in their bar in the dying days of the Weimar republic, singing some stupid song about how life is a cabaret old chum, and I just found myself thinking of what was to come – especially of the holocaust, but let’s not quibble about details: there’s a world war that’s going to kill about 60 million people looming and no, those 60 million people and all the hundreds of millions who have to flee and lose their homes and loved ones, they are not going to think it’s all a jolly great show! I think this movie was attempting to portray a group of people coming to terms with the descent of their age into madness and slaughter, but that last song basically portrays a movie maker who really has not worked out how serious that madness and slaughter is going to be. Perhaps if they’d been singing auld lang syne it might make a bit more sense … but no, declaring life to be just a big stage show at that moment of history is remarkable folly.
Though I grant you, it’s been a long time since I watched Cabaret and I really, really hate musicals so I may just have failed to understand the movie properly. Feel free to enlighten me on this point. But I don’t think I’m wrong about Titanic or The Breakfast Club. The endings of both of those movies are cynical and devious in a way that few movie-makers could ever hope to be by design. I can grant Cameron a bit of leeway for Titanic, but I strongly believe that the ending of The Breakfast Club was deliberate: the director made a movie intended to suck the kids in and then tell them at the end, “Get back in your place, pencil-neck geek!”
That director should fry.
So anyway, feel free to vote: which was more cynical? Titanic or The Breakfast Club? And do you think the endings were deliberately or accidentally evil?
fn1: that quite frankly most of the people on the ship would have happily been sold into at about the point where women of Rose’s class were being lowered to their safety from the doomed ship