Monday, January 09, 2012

Titanic: Going There

This April marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

I'm quite sure this is why the 1997 movie is being re-released right now in 3D, and why I've seen Titanic-related books and such as well.

What I'm talking about today has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the film. I don't particularly love it or hate it. It is what it is. It had special effects that were ground-breaking. It struck an emotional nerve with millions and broke box-office records. No matter your feelings about it, that film is a piece of history.

I recall a huge fervor in my (then) neighborhood when the movie came out. In particular, I heard a lot of murmurs about how it had bad, bad content and shouldn't have gotten a PG-13 rating. People were divided into those who oh, so loved the movie and saw it fourteen times in the theater, and others who, I must admit, seemed a bit self-righteous about not seeing the "evil" film.

The bad, evil content included a predictable one: upper female frontal nudity. Yes, some said, it's technically in an artistic scene, but it's a straight-on shot of a woman's chest. (Insert horrified gasps.)

Other content that made it inappropriate for "good" people to view included lots of violence, graphic deaths and more.

I reserved judgment. Maybe it was totally inappropriate nudity. Maybe not. Sometimes films have violence I don't want to be exposed to, graphic deaths I don't want in my head. Maybe these people were over-reacting. Maybe not.

I'd decide for myself some day. But for the moment, the issue was moot, because I had a toddler and an infant, neither of whom I felt comfortable leaving with a sitter. Date night almost always meant take-out and a video in the basement, often with the kids at our feet. If I saw any new release that year, it would have been a Disney matinee.

Two issues surrounding the neighborhood discussion still linger in my mind:

1) The Evil Fiance
A neighbor said she saw the film and wasn't so much offended by the art scene (although she didn't approve of that, either), but she was offended instead by the fiance's behavior. I asked what he did.

Neighbor: He's mean, controlling, and violent.

Me: Oh, so he's the hero? His behavior is acceptable in the movie?

(That was the obvious explanation. If we're supposed to cheer for a jerk, I don't want to see it.)

Neighbor: Oh, no. He's the villain.

Me: O_o

I believed then, and I do now, that a story, whether in a film or a book, can teach better than almost any tool. Just because something is portrayed in a story doesn't mean the creator is saying it's acceptable; in many cases, the portrayal is the reverse: a condemnation of that very behavior.

In this movie, we see Cal being a jerk. He treats the woman he's supposed to cherish in a bad way and does a lot of other bad things. We know he's a bad guy.

Ergo, cruelty to women is bad.

If fiction showed only good things and good people and happy events, there would be no stories, no exploration of ideas or problem solving, no understanding compassion or people who aren't us.

I was quite sure I wouldn't have a problem with the villain's actions. He's the villain. He's supposed to be bad.

What about the other big thing?

The Nudity
This issue was put into perspective when my mother told me about a conversation she'd had with some women. They'd raved over movies like Dr. Zhivago and Bridges of Madison County, about how romantic they were.

My mother stayed quiet, being the only one there who didn't like either movie and couldn't see how glorifying adultery (the topic of both movies) was "romantic."

They moved on to discuss the buzz around, of course, Titanic.

Did they like it? Was it romantic?

They hated it. It was totally inappropriate and evil. Why? Because of the art scene with the woman's chest. But the scene in the sex scene in the car? Romantic, just like the other movies. These were middle-aged, Mormon women.

Mom: O_o

I don't know if she said anything in the moment, but she told me her thoughts about it, and I couldn't have agreed more:

Since when is the human body evil, but extra-marital sex is good?

Better mention that nudity thing to Michelangelo. Whoa, that evil Sistine Chapel . . .

This isn't to say that I necessarily think the art scene needed to be there or whatever, but I do think the scene became a scapegoat. Some people saw it and promptly stopped thinking for themselves. They weren't thinking about real values, about what's right or wrong. They were reacting, almost Puritanically (the body is evil!), about what made them uncomfortable.

One of the biggest ironies to me is that these women (the ones I talked to and the ones Mom talked to) were all Mormon. Yet our doctrine celebrates the body as something you must have to attain eternal glory. It's not something bad and dirty.

We believe in reserving sex for marriage.

Yet these women flip-flopped the two concepts completely.

Somehow old-fashioned beliefs creep in anyway and make people squeamish. I get that. I also get that I have less squeamishness thanks to the fact that I lived in Finland for three years, where the body is viewed very pragmatically. Also, Mom's a Finn, so before and after our Finland years, in our family, the body just wasn't a big deal. (We weren't walking around naked or anything, but if you asked about something, you'd get a direct answer, no blushing.)

My kids are older now. I have daughters. Teaching them these things is a challenge. I see how easy it is to try to teach something like honoring and respecting your body enough to dress modestly, and have the value eventually twisted into something that makes them ashamed of their bodies instead. It's something I don't have answers to, but I'm working on.

A final note:
If you plan to see Titanic in theaters with this new release, whether for the first time or again, I recommend not doing so when you're nervous.

We made that mistake by watching it on video two years after its release, when we had two toddlers and an infant, on New Year's Eve of 1999 . . . while bracing ourselves for Y2K.


Cheryl said...

I think you have a good point. However, if the full frontal nudity only served as an art experience, I would agree with you --instead, it served as a catalyst for their sexual encounter in the car less than an hour later, regardless of how it was narrated.

Things I hated about the movie (in no particular order):
1. the nudity (it could have easily been implied --in fact, seeing the drawing of her nude wasn't offensive to me --it was seeing HER nude that was. Art is one thing; manipulative hollywood executives throwing in an "art scene" in order to get nudity into a pg-13 movie is another.
2. the sex scene
3. The fact that she later married, had children, and apparently was with her spouse for a bazillion years, but the movie implied that when she died, she chose to be with the boy she had been with for 5 days. yes, he changed her life, but give me a break! I couldn't respect a woman who chose a passionate and short-lived affair over a lifetime of love and family. (granted, how else could have Hollywood ended it?)
4. Their depiction of Molly Brown. Kathy Bates needed more to work with; seriously! Get the character correct!
5. The everlasting and all encompassing message that continues to plague the media: Women who learn how to be "ladies" are oppressed and stupid. They need to fight "against the system and THE MAN" at every chance they get, but! They must still be beautiful. And it's okay to be immoral if you're fighting against being "a lady." In fact, it's encouraged. It's bad if the fiance or husband wants to have sex with you, but if it's with the boy in the back of the car, have at it! (I don't agree with the fiance thing, either, but you know what I mean).

Of course, when I saw this movie when it came out, I loved it. It took some time and thought to realize what was really going on. I'd take a documentary or a book over this movie, anyday. It wasn't fiction worth watching, imo. And for those women who might have been mixed up in WHY they shouldn't like the movie, I say, "none of us should have seen it!" I really don't know what the value was --it certainly didn't make me a better person. Breasts exposed or not, it was a brilliant Hollywood lie.

Jordan McCollum said...

I've never seen Titanic and I have no intention of ever seeing it.

There are a lot of reasons for that, but to be honest, the root reason is that it was so popular. I was in high school when it came out and some of my friends were obsessed. It was obnoxious. It was the Twilight of my day (LOL).

This might be where my "I don't like it because it's popular" streak started.

Melanie Stanford said...

I really like your comments, especially about the villain. I was having the same discussion with my mom that we have to write bad people, but that doesn't mean we like what they're doing or are condoning it. But there has to be the bad to balance the good or no one would read the book.
Great post.

Susan Anderson said...

I have to admit that I never really gave this movie much thought. It didn't do my imaginary vision of the titanic experience justice, but I still found it passably entertaining.

I agree with your assessment of the villain and don't get why someone would be so offended by him. Bad guys are bad.

As for the painting/car thingy, it must not have made much of an impact on me because I can barely remember it. But that's par for the course at my age!


LisAway said...

Totally agree with Cheryl.

It is weird how hard it is sometimes for me to imagine how other people can see things so differently than I do. (In this case I'm not talking about you, but about the people you mention in your post) Whenever I read somebody who is more liberal about nudity talking about those on the other side who declare that "the body is evil" it is just so frustrating to me. Even though I KNOW you don't think (I assume) that everyone who opposes most any type of modern nudity/immodesty must surely think the body is evil. It is hard for me to realize that you must be talking about actual people who do think that. I just DO NOT. Satan wants us to think the body is evil, and he's the only one. I have a hard time imagining an intelligent member of the church ever having that thought cross their mind. The word is sacred, and it's so weird that the idea of the body being sacred has somehow twisted, for some, into the body being evil. Satan is seriously clever.

I also think it's kind of funny for anyone to consider it an art scene. These two people clearly like each other. I find it hard to believe that a "take off your clothes so I can draw you" would ever be about anything more than lust under those circumstances. However, I am not an artist, so I can't really say

But I CAN say that I don't think any 13 year old boy needs to see that. (or 14, 15, 16, 17 etc. year old, either. All the way up to 110, actually). Or that any good would come of them seeing it (though I'm not saying ALL of them would rush home to see more on their computers)

And I have not seen Mama Mia, although I have wanted to very much, because I understand that it's the adultery thing. I think cheering for the adulterous couple is just not something I need to be tempted to do.

Pretty sure you knew you'd hear from me on this one. :)

Summer said...

"Just because something is portrayed in a story doesn't mean the creator is saying it's acceptable; in many cases, the portrayal is the reverse: a condemnation of that very behavior."

Love this line. It's frustrating to hear people condemning a series like the Hunger Games because of violence against children in it. It depicts certain undesirable acts yes, but it does not condone them. Quite the opposite. It's an example of the best and worst of the human race and the power of one person to bring about change for the better. It seems to be mostly Christians who have these issues with recent series, Harry Potter amongst them. They may as well shun the bible as well, what with all its stories of evil doers and witchcraft and war.

Now the Twilight series on the other hand shows an oppressive, lustful and co-dependant relationship as a desirable and romantic thing, but I suppose I better not get started there.

Anyway, I enjoyed this post. I myself have never seen Titanic. It came out when I was in High School and at that time I followed Jordan's line of thinking - If it's popular or trendy I want nothing to do with it.

Melanie Jacobson said...

Wow. I never even thought about that, but you put it really, really well.

I loved that movie when I saw it but now I think it's kind of ridiculous.

Amber Lynae said...

I love your comments on the movie. I just saw the trailer for it's rerelease last night.

Just SO said...

I didn't see it in the theaters either. I heard people talking about it and how they walked out because of that sex scene right at the first of the show. I still haven't sat down and watched the whole thing. I've watched it off and when it was on tv but I've always been doing things. And honestly I wasn't all that impressed with it BUT I didn't watch it up through the VERY end until last year because my daughter wanted to watch it. The end is beautifully sad.

You make some good points.

We won't be seeing it in 3D.

Jessica G. said...

I watched Titanic a few times in the theaters but that was mostly because the people I was with watched to see it. When it came out on a 2 tape set, I'd only put in the second tape to watch, the one where the boat actually sinks.

Carina said...

I was a newlywed :)

I am in total agreement with you, A.

Lara Neves said...

I like your thoughts on this a lot.

I remember when a girl I worked with went with her new husband to see some movie with a sex scene or three in it. She told me it was okay because "she was married now."


I find it interesting the ways we justify certain things. I have never seen Titanic...I was on my mission when it came out, and have never had a desire to see it since.

Julie Wright said...

love your comments. i thought the hand print on the steamed up window was pretty over the top and totally lame. On a side note--everyone in the theater hated me because my husband laughed as the ship went down. he said he couldn't help it because they'd thrown in the bong, bang sound effects in when people were falling and he thought that was hilarious. We almost didn't make it out of the theater alive. People were ticked because his laugh . . . not so quiet. :)


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