“Titanic” as Cultural Myth of American Society
“Titanic”… This name stirs imagination. It was an unsinkable ship, destroyed by the iceberg and resulted in the unimaginable disaster. This film portrays the collision of life and death, good and evil, poverty and richness. The producer of the film was talented enough to show the collision with destiny. The film is captivating, because it is not a fairy-tale, but the real story that has become the cultural myth of American society. The creators reproduced the people of that time, their worries and wishes, political and social diversities.
At the beginning, it should be pointed out that the plot of the film is one of the most beautiful love stories ever shot in the U.S. It is a story of two young hearts that were not destined to be together. Titanic is a real masterpiece of American cinematography. It might be even stated that it is the best work of James Cameron. Moreover, this epochal picture forces millions of viewers to watch it with bated breath. The matter is that this wrack still stirs human thought and imagination. This disaster remains relevant even today.
This film is strong, passionate, and emotional. The scale of human tragedy hits the viewer every time he watches it. James Cameron has created a true work of genius. Sometimes there arouses the feeling that Titanic is a living being that perishes into deep waters together with hundreds of people. Therefore, water is perceived as the powerful enemy, and the agony of the dying ship enhances the emotional impact of the tragedy. Sometimes this film seems to be a horror movie. Maybe it is so popular because of this. Stephen King in his article “Why We Crave Horror Movies” points out:
It is true that the mythic “fairy-tale” horror film intends to take away the shadesof grey . . . . It urges us to put away our more civilized and adult penchant for analysis and to become children again, seeing things in pure blacks and whites. It may be that horror movies provide psychic relief on this level because this invitation to lapse into simplicity, irrationality and even outright madness is extended so rarely. (2).
The film portrays the disastrous pictures of death, but its main idea is to show the beauty of life, courage, and love.
The plot of the movie has become a myth long ago, because in the center the true story is shown. Linda Seger once wrote, “Some myths are true stories that attain mythic significance because the people involved seem larger than life, and seem to live their lives more intensely than common folk” (1). Every myth includes certain characters, which are portrayed in different stories. Taking into account the plot of the movie, we can divide all the archetypes into two broad categories: human archetypes (these are the main characters of the movie) and the natural archetypes (water).
It should be mentioned that a number of film producers use water in their movies as positive or negative figure. For instance, in the movie “The Storm”, it was portrayed as a negative figure, and in the movie “Return to the Blue Lagoon”, it was portrayed as positive one.
In “Titanic”, the water has significant meaning. At first sight, there arouses the thought that this film depicts just the catastrophe and the love affair of two young people; however, it also contains a deeper line, invisible to the ordinary viewer. The last cadres of the movie reveal the secret. Authors address them to the subconscious of the target audience. In order to understand it, one should analyze the last scene, where Rose gave the diamond to the sea.
This diamond has symbolic meaning in the movie. The central thing is this story is not the necklace with the diamond, but the diamond alone. The last scene should be investigated in order to get the idea. One should take into account that this stone is the symbol of wealth, light, and hardness. In the language of mythology and psychoanalysis, it is associated with masculine beginning.
The diamond falls into the sea, in the bosom of waters, as it is intended to this, as it is “Heart of Sea”, and it should be placed in the sea’s depths. In this context, sea’s depths are the symbol of feminine beginning.
Most mythologies presuppose that water proceeded to the creation of space. Water is amorphous, it dissolves all the things. It is considered to be the symbol of destruction and death. However, water accepts all the forms, and for that reason, it has also another meaning, it is a symbol of innovation. This ambiguity of meanings leads to the fact that it occupies a central place in religious myths and rituals. Water is also perceived as a symbol of new birth, accordingly the ritual of immersion presupposes use of it. Thus, it becomes understandable that, in human myths, there is a stable archetype, which unites water with new birth and revival. There is a thought that creators of “Titanic” were aware of the mentioned above associations, and tried to show their understanding to the target audience. At the end of the story, they showed the new beginning, where Rose and Jack meet together. Maybe, it is their meeting on heavens…
This movie has two main archetypes: rich princess (Rose), and brave and poor adventurer (Jack). Young Rose is handsome and rich, but desperate. She does not understand the essence of her life. She seems to be the movie manifestation of Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. The matter is that there arouses a feeling that, before meeting Jack, her life was dull and colorless dream. Besides, it is his kiss that wakes her beauty. The male character Jack might be called the complete opposition to Rose. He is poor but brave. He takes everything possible from the life. He values every minute. However, in this film his main aim is waking up the princess Rose, and showing her that life is worth living. While discussing the thematic paradigm in Hollywood movies Robert Ray states:
The movies traded on one opposition in particular, American culture's traditional dichotomy of individual and community that had generated the most significant pair of competing myths: the outlaw hero and the official hero. Embodied in the adventurer, explorer, gunfighter, wanderer, and loner, the outlaw hero stood for that part of the American imagination 30 valuing self-determination and freedom from entanglements. By contrast, the official hero, normally portrayed as a teacher, lawyer, politician, farmer, or family man, represented the American belief in collective action, and the objective legal process that superseded private notions of right and wrong. (1).
In our case, the young adventurer Jack is an outlaw hero, and Rose is the official hero. Robert Ray states that official hero determines what is right and what is wrong, and that is what happened in the movie. This short but memorable meeting gives Rose understanding why life is given to a human being. She finds her own credo: “Live life fully”.
The human archetypes are utilized to show the class warfare between poor and rich people, which is a relic to the past times. Those heroes are from different layers of society. The movie “Titanic” represents wealthy people as greedy and stonyhearted persons. It shows their pejorative treatment of those, who are poor, and who goes to the United States seeking for a better life. It should be pointed out that, at that time, many people around the world considered the United States to be the glimpse of hope for better life. For them, this country was the light at the end of the tunnel. People went there in the pursuit of better life, as it was considered as a melting pot, where representatives of different nationalities (in this film we have Irishmen) could achieve success. William Romanowski in his book “Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture” states:
In American mythology, the pursuit of wealth and upward mobility is expected and valued; character is based on individual ability, determination, and entrepreneurial spirit. The promise of American Dream – that by working hard enough anyone of however humble origins can advance socially – works as a mythic construct that covers class distinctions and barriers. While a representation of the past, Titanic provides a vision of the future, assuring the audience of the fulfillment of the promise by myth. (64).
The archetype of water is also extremely important in exploring the cultural myth. Water played a crucial role of a natural force that united all rich and poor. It was portrayed as natural disaster that brought death to human beings without taking into account their status or income.
We can state that this movie shows the truth about American society of the early twentieth century. Furthermore, this film tells a lot about American society today, especially, in regard to class, gender, and immigrant discrimination.
The first scene of the movie tells the viewer about gender inequality that prevailed in the U. S. at that time. Rose tells the crew that Titanic seemed to her to be the “slave ship”, the woman used this metaphor in order to express her feelings of gender oppression. Researcher Dimare points out, “Rose’s attempts to fight back against gender oppression are linked with the women’s suffrage movement in America” (495). At that time, a woman was considered to be a kind of bonus to a man. The history of mankind was built on the power of men over women. However, a lot has changed since that time, but some U.S. women still suffer gender inequality. Men still discriminate them at work and at home, because their hearts still exude harassment to women. It might be stated that some things did not change in American society since that time.
Another thing to be mentioned is class discrimination. One should remember that survived people were mostly representatives of upper and mid-class society. People, travelling third class, were cruelly killed. The verb “kill” is used, as they were just locked in that sinking ship. The notion of discrimination is not new to American society. This movie shows how class differences spelled the differences between life and death. James Cameron was talented enough to show how class differences distort human souls and human dignity. One should remember the scene, where Cal, Rose’s fiancé, escaped from the ship. He behaved, not as a brave man, but as a sneaky blackguard.
The last but not the least issue to be pointed out is the immigrant discrimination in the movie. Wealthy Americans considered immigrants to be rubbish. Nobody bothered about their lives and their fates. The U.S. is often called a melting pot. Of course, it is a metaphor, but it evokes the image of people of different origin, who happily live together. However, this film has shown that, at the disastrous moment, Americans thought about jewelry, money, precious things, their lives, but not about crying immigrant children, who suffered somewhere on the bottom of the ship. Producer managed to show both positive and negative sides of American people.
In conclusion, it should be pointed out that “Titanic” is one of the masterpieces of modern cinematography. The producer of the movie was talented enough to show the American society of the early twentieth century, the class discrimination, American Dream, and true love. It is not just a movie; it touches even the subconscious and makes it draw colorful pictures of possible future of the main heroes. It is a thought-provoking film, which makes people think about the essence of their lives. The matter is that, in the everyday hurry in pursuit of wealth, the mankind has almost forgotten about such eternal things as love, friendship, sympathy, and courage. This film shows the story of the past days, and simultaneously, makes you think about your life and your deeds. The life is full of opportunities, and people should use them, and always remain human, in every situation…