Study Guide

Titanic Analysis

  • The Diamond

    Rose's big, fat diamond necklace is definitely a big, fat symbol as well—and both the diamond and the symbol are multi-faceted. (Diamond pun!)

    When Cal first gives it to Rose, it's clearly a symbol for him of their status. As he says,

    CAL: It's for royalty. We are royalty, Rose.

    No, Cal: what you are is an insufferable snob.

    From Rose's reaction, you know she's none too pleased about getting this royal treatment. She looks kind of ill—or at least unhappy—as she reaches up to touch it. In fact, she grabs the necklace it as if it were strangling her.

    For her, in that moment, it seems like the necklace is a symbol of being bought and sold—bought by Cal after being sold by her mother, that is. Seems ironic that the diamond is named "Heart of the Ocean"—isn't the ocean one of the biggest symbols of freedom, rather than of confinement?

    Well, good news: Rose ends up changing the meaning of the diamond. First of all, she decides to buck convention and poses nude for Jack while wearing the rock, which immediately links the necklace with her rebellion.

    Then, when she accidentally ends up with the diamond in the confusion before the ship sinks, she holds on to it—she doesn't sell it and she doesn't give it back to Cal. Toward the end of her life, when she ends up on Lovett's ship above the wreck of the Titanic, she releases the necklace back into the water.

    She's giving the Heart of the Ocean back to the ocean…and she's giving her heart back to her first love, Jack.

    The diamond had been a symbol of Rose's bondage with Cal at first, but by chucking it into the Atlantic—and by preventing people like Cal and Lovett from having/profiting from it—she makes it more a symbol of the free-spiritedness and love she achieved with Jack.

  • The Ship

    Rose refers to the Titanic as the ship of dreams…and that's pretty much what it represents to a bunch of the characters.

    Why? A few reasons, based on real life for added oomph:

    • The Titanic was a huge step forward in terms of nautical technology. Not only was this impressive on its own (who doesn't like boats?), but it also foreshadowed the wave of technological innovation that would occur in the 20th century. Yeah. People knew that the times, they were a'changing.
    • The ship represented opportunity. Don't forget that transatlantic travel wasn't nearly as common in 1912 as it is today, so the opportunity to cruise on over from Europe to America was a big deal. And to do it on a fancy new ship? A total adventure.

    The Ship of Nightmares

    Of course, there's another side to Titanic's symbolism that has nothing to do with ingenuity or adventure. For people like Cal and Mr. Ismay, the Titanic is all about basking in luxury and showing off your status and power to other people. Fun times.

    Rose finds Mr. Ismay's obsession with Titanic's size so off-putting that she suggests he go read some Freud:

    MOLLY: Hey, uh, who thought of the name Titanic? Was it you, Bruce?

    ISMAY: Yes, actually. I wanted to convey sheer size, and size means stability, luxury, and above all, strength.

    ROSE: Do you know of Dr. Freud, Mr. Ismay? His ideas about the male preoccupation with size might be of particular interest to you.

    Oof.

    And then, of course, there's the fact that the ship sinks, which kind of undermines its power as a symbol of hope and opportunity. Nonetheless, at the end of the movie, Jack claims that he's still super glad he got on the Titanic, because of the (brief) opportunity it gave him to know Rose.

    Aww, dang. That's some Romeo and Juliet-level morbid sweetness.

    Perhaps the bottom line is that the Titanic is a metaphor for life's big adventures: however they turn out, they should be cherished for the opportunities they provide for human connection and adventure—and not, you know, for showing off how rich you are.

    After all, Mr. Ismay's desire to show off Titanic's speed pretty much led to the ship's downfall. And we mean "downfall" literally, as in the ship literally fell down to the bottom of the sea. Splat.

  • The Ocean

    We don't know if you've noticed, but the ocean is a pretty potent symbol in film and literature.

    You see the Big Blue pop up in all sorts of canonical works. The Old Man and the Sea. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Waterworld. (Ten points to Gryffindor if you can tell us which of those texts is not considered a groundbreaking work of art.)

    It's totally massive, which means it's a great symbol of everything that's overwhelming or unknowable. Just look at someone Brock Lovett, who has the best technology available for exploring the ocean—even he can't find everything he's looking for in the deep waters around Titanic.

    Of course, that's largely because Rose has been secretly holding onto the diamond Lovett is looking for, but the point is that the ocean is just too freaking deep and large to understand completely.

    For this reason, Rose compares its watery depths to a woman's heart:

    ROSE: […] And I've never spoken of [Jack] until now. Not to anyone. Not even your grandfather. A woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets.

    To paraphrase Mean Girls, that's why the ocean is so big: it's full of secrets.

    Perhaps that's why she sends the diamond back into the water at the end—it symbolizes her love for Jack, which she kept private for most of her life, and so she wants to return it to that same obscurity.

    Pretty crummy for Brock, but it makes a certain amount of sense. The ocean, like life (including the heart), is not ever really supposed to be known, possessed, or understood completely.

  • Hero's Journey

    Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

    About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

    Ordinary World

    Rose's ordinary world is a pretty bleak one: she's going back to America with her mother and her crummy boyfriend, whom she's being forced to marry in order to save her family from financial ruin.

    While everyone else is excited about getting on Titanic, she's anything but—she dreads what comes at the end of the journey.

    Call to Adventure

    When she meets Jack Dawson, however, all that changes for Rose. As an artist traveling in steerage, Jack doesn't seem like an obvious friend to the well-heeled Rose—however, they're thrown together when Jack comes upon her trying to kill herself and prevents that from happening.

    Having established their unlikely friendship, Jack immediately sets to work trying to get Rose to break free from her controlling mother and horrible fiancé.

    Refusal of the Call

    Rose is a well-bred girl, so she initially tries to keep her distance from Jack. For example, she bristles at his personal questions about her feelings for Cal.

    However, given that she clearly endures (rather than enjoys) the company of her fellow Richie Riches and has trouble keeping her less appropriate thoughts to herself, it's not hard for Jack to coax her into some adventures aboard the ship…

    Meeting the Mentor

    This stage is already covered in "Call to Adventure." Jack is clearly Rose's mentor throughout the film, consistently pushing her to realize and acknowledge her own strength and ability to break free from everything that is holding her back, from family ties to social conventions.

    Crossing the Threshold

    Rose ends up just giving in to Jack and heading down to party in steerage, where she has a significantly better time than she was having with the folks in first class. After drinking and dancing for a while, Rose and Jack run around the ship getting into all kinds of trouble/adventures.

    Rose lets her guard down entirely when she asks Jack to draw her in the nude (except for the giant diamond necklace Cal had given her), and they later get busy in the cargo hold in a stored car.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    Unfortunately, Cal and his valet, Lovejoy, quickly realize that Rose is off carousing with Jack—and they don't approve. Lovejoy spends a lot of time chasing them around the ship and trying to keep Jack away from Rose.

    Then, everyone ends up with a much bigger problem: the ship hits an iceberg.

    Rose and Jack decide to stop screwing around long enough to go warn the others that the ship's in big trouble. Rather than appreciating the heads-up, though, Cal just focuses on getting Jack away from Rose. To do that, he frames Jack for theft, ensuring that he'll be detained below decks…which, of course, is where water is busily flowing into the boat.

    Approach to the Inmost Cave

    Although she's initially distracted by the whole "boat sinking" thing and kinda/sorta seems to doubt Jack's innocence, Rose quickly realizes that Jack has been framed and sets about finding and freeing him before the boat sinks.

    When Jack asks how she figured out he wasn't a thief, she says that she realized she always knew. Aww.

    Ordeal

    Now Rose and Jack have the teensy problem of getting themselves off the boat. Jack (and Cal) both try to convince Rose to take one of the lifeboats alone, but she jumps off at the last minute.

    They end up going down with the ship.

    Jack coaches Rose through surviving the entry into the water and then gets her aboard a piece of floating debris (a door). They wait for the other lifeboats to come back to rescue at least some of them. As they linger there in the cold water and Rose seems to be preparing for death, Jack makes Rose promise never to give up, no matter how tough things get.

    Reward (Seizing the Sword)

    Some time later, Rose is nearly frozen to death when she realizes a lifeboat has come back looking for survivors. She tries to get Jack's attention to let him know they're going to be rescued, but unfortunately he's frozen to death in the water.

    She's distraught, but she hasn't forgotten her promise to keep on going no matter what, and so she gets the attention of the lifeboat and is rescued.

    The Road Back

    Rose boards the Carpathia, the ship sent to help the Titanic survivors, and heads to New York City. She manages to avoid Cal, who's also on the boat looking for her.

    Resurrection

    As the Carpathia arrives in New York City, a man is going around collecting passenger names. Rose reinvents herself, giving her name as Rose Dawson…in honor of Jack.

    Return With the Elixir

    At the end of the movie, as we see Rose dying warm in her bed (as Jack had hoped), we see pictures of all the adventures Rose ended up having—adventures that never would have been possible if Rose hadn't met Jack and realized she had the power to live a life that broke the mold her mother and Cal had set out for her.

  • Setting

    The Titanic

    Yup, most of this three-hour movie takes place on a giant ship. It sounds kind of boring when you put it that way, doesn't it?

    But it's not boring at all, since a) this is a James Cameron movie, b) the ship is huge, and c) Rose and Jack's antics take us all over it.

    We get to see it all, from the "real party" atmosphere of steerage to the claustrophobic luxury of first class. The Titanic definitely lives up to all the hype about her size, speed, and luxury…you know, until she sinks.

  • Point of View

    Dramatic Flashback

    Titanic doesn't do anything super funky or exciting in terms of narrative. The film tells the story of the ship's sinking mostly via Rose's flashbacks.

    There's a "present day" storyline (in the 1990s), but the 1912 storyline takes up most of the film's airtime. There's some switching back and forth between the two time periods, of course (and a very cool visual transition from young Rose's eye to her older counterpart's), but it's largely told in a linear way.

    There's one thing that's pretty interesting about the film from a storytelling perspective, though: the fact that we know the story is going to end badly. The fact that the Titanic sank is really well-known and, even if you had somehow missed that memo before entering the theater, Cameron puts it right out there from the very beginning of the film, with Brock Lovett and his crew taking us through the wreckage.

    Lewis Bodine, a member of Lovett's crew, even takes Rose (and the audience) through a detailed forensic analysis of when and how the ship went down, just so there's zero mystery about what exactly is going to happen on that front.

    Why do that? Well, if your audience already largely knows what's going to happen, you kind of have to lean into it—and you could say that emphasizing the physical scale of what happened to the Titanic creates anticipation for seeing it portrayed on-screen.

    It also means that you pin your hopes for a happy ending on the love story—your call on whether that ends up being satisfying.

  • Genre

    Romance, Drama, Action, Tragedy

    This is a big film, so Cameron is able to cram quite a few genres into the story. There's love and romance, of course, since the central plot is the love story between Jack and Rose.

    Then we have tragedy—since, you know, the boat sinks and lots of people die (including Jack). That all said, there's also a lot of exciting action and special effects, since Cameron also likes to revel in the physics and pure spectacle of what happened to the Titanic.

    Really, there's something for everyone.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Well, the Titanic is the name of the ship that's at the center of the plot, so yeah, the meaning of the title is straightforward enough. Also, since the movie was such a gargantuan undertaking in terms of the filmmaking, it seems doubly appropriate.

    That all said, would you be surprised to learn that Titanic wasn't the original title? We were. Cameron had originally planned to name the film—wait for it—Planet Ice (source).

    If that seems absolutely ridiculous and implausible to you, it should—Titanic is a blockbuster and all that, but it's certainly not an intergalactic adventure. Relax: it seems that Planet Ice was just a code name to throw the press off of what Cameron was actually working on (source).

    Clever, since the fake title made it sound like one of Cameron's more space-oriented movies, rather than a period piece/love story.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Well, the bad news is that the ending is super-sad.

    We knew from the start that the ship was going to sink—that's just historical fact, folks—but then we lose Jack, too. We spend three hours watching Rose try to sabotage her own safety before she finally starts valuing life…only to lose her love.

    Of course, the ultimate sign that Rose has grown is that she decides to keep going, even though her life coach/boyfriend is no longer around, and the good news is that she uses that experience to fuel big changes.

    She abandons the whole life plan her mother had set out for her, as Cal Hockley's wife, and goes off to pursue all kinds of fun adventures. So, we get both happy and sad stuff in the film's final moments.

  • Shock Rating

    PG-13

    A lot of stuff in Titanic is G or PG—and there's really not that much swearing, when you compare it to most other contemporary films. Lewis and Fabrizio have some of the more colorful language, but they aren't major characters, and Fabrizio's cussing is all in Italian…so it's a-okay for English-only ears.

    That all said, the fact is that you're dealing with the story of a mass tragedy, complete with images of frozen corpses, and so that requires a certain amount of maturity to handle just from the get-go. And then, of course, there's some violence and (brief, and very artistic) nudity.

    That's pretty much the extent of the stuff that's likely to give you nerves, the blues, and/or palpitations.