Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Unsinkable Titanic

Last April, on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I watched the 1997 James Cameron film that was based on that event — and, ultimately, matched records for both Academy Award nominations and wins.

That film was released to theaters 15 years ago today.

I guess I hadn't watched that movie all the way through since I saw it on the big screen, but the movie brought back all kinds of memories of the time when I saw it.

I was deeply, passionately in love with a woman from my office, and we had just begun what turned out to be a very brief relationship — sort of like a shooting star one sees on the deepest of dark nights. It was a confusing, mysterious relationship that ended abruptly and painfully. Even now, there are things about it that I don't understand — and I'm not sure I want to so I don't think about her much.

But the centennial earlier this year of the actual Titanic's sinking — and now the anniversary of the release of that record–setting movie — have forced me to think about Liz and that time in our lives.

When "Titanic" made its debut, she had left town to spend the Christmas holidays with relatives in another state, and I didn't know she had returned until I received an e–mail from her. She was almost casual in her e–mail. She didn't announce "I'm back!" She just launched into a conversation.

(If she is still living, that's probably how she texts with the people in her life when she returns from a trip somewhere. She probably just picks up threads of weeks–old conversations — as if the intervening gap had never happened.)

"Have you seen Titanic yet?" she asked me. "I saw it the other day. It was really good."

I hadn't seen the movie yet, and I tried to get her to go see it with me, but she declined. She encouraged me to see it, but once was enough for her, she said.

So I went to see it alone — and first thought, when I walked into the viewing room at the multiscreen theater, that I had walked into the wrong room by mistake. On the screen were scenes from an undersea exploration, and I didn't make the immediate obvious connection — that this was a modern–day expedition to the wreckage site on the ocean floor.

I almost walked out to look for the correct viewing room when I saw some of the ship's wreckage, and I put two and two together.

Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio): Do you trust me?

Rose (Kate Winslet): I trust you.

Actually, I saw the movie twice in the first few months of 1998. The second time was with a woman who had been my first serious girlfriend many years earlier. She and her husband were in Dallas for some sort of professional conference, and I wound up taking her to see "Titanic" one Saturday afternoon while he was in a conference session.

That was weird and wonderful at the same time. I had rarely seen her since we broke up, but we got caught up on things quickly, and going to see a movie with her again really felt like old times — minus the awkward pressure of the teenage years. We treated each other like the old friends we were instead of the old lovers we used to be. She had been married for several years by that time, anyway, and she and her husband had had two children together.

Our lives had gone in different directions, and we both knew that. There were no attempts to recapture a past that was long gone, but we both were interested in each other and earnestly hoped the other was happy. I confided in her that I was in love, but, at that point, the relationship was sputtering. In my heart, I didn't think it would last much longer.

And it didn't. It went down — although not quite as spectacularly as the Titanic did.

But that's another story, anyway.

The re–creation of the sinking of the Titanic was about as accurate as it could be. I had read quite a bit about that event before I saw James Cameron's movie, and everything I saw lined up with what was known at the time.

The success of "Titanic" brought international acclaim for Leonardo DiCaprio, who was not nominated for an Oscar for his performance. His co–star, Kate Winslet, was nominated, but her performance was not generally well regarded. In fact, she was panned by many.

But, frankly, any talk that linked DiCaprio and/or Winslet to the blockbuster was a shot in the arm for their careers.

DiCaprio and Winslet were just appearing on moviegoers' radars at the time. Consequently, they generated the most talk.

But I felt that perhaps the most unheralded member of the cast was Gloria Stuart, who was a mere toddler when the actual Titanic sank and whose career began decades before her co–stars were born.

She played the old version of Rose, who appeared on the screen more often in the person of Winslet.

But Stuart's Rose had the wisdom that comes with age. Winslet's character was a teenager, flighty and uncomprehending about many things. It was hardly surprising when the dialogue that came from her mouth was inane.
Rose (Kate Winslet): It's so unfair.

Ruth (Frances Fisher): Of course it's unfair. We're women. Our choices are never easy.

Old Rose, on the other hand, had this reasonable response when told that no evidence of Jack being on board the Titanic had ever been found.

"No, there wouldn't be, would there? And I've never spoken of him until now. Not to anyone."

That, I suppose, was the net result of the Rose character's wisdom as she matured.

But even Stuart was capable of similarly schmaltzy dialogue — thanks to the writers.

"A woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets."

That was a bit much for me, but it came near the end of the movie — and apparently it struck a responsive chord with many of the women who saw it.

And I had to admit that it didn't take anything away from what I thought had been a pretty good performance.

The Academy apparently agreed. Stuart was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (she lost to Kim Basinger). The actress who played Stuart's younger self, Winslet, also lost (to Helen Hunt).

Those were the exceptions to the rule. "Titanic" was nominated for 14 Oscars — and won 11.