In 1997-1998, every girl wanted to be Rose Dawson.
Sure, a lot of that had to do with the Leomania that was sweeping the nation. Rose Dawson was a (fictional) girl who got to lock lips with Leo and canoodle with him in the back of a Model T.
But even after the phenomenon of Leomania died down, new generations of girls watching Titanic for the first time still wanted to be just like Rose.
And we think that's fantastic. Because Rose is more multi-faceted than a blue diamond.
Part of the depth of her character comes from the fact that she changes more throughout the film than any other character. (Unless you're counting the Titanic as a character—it doesn't get more changetastic than the move from "fanciest ocean liner ever" to "hunk of creepy metal at the bottom of the ocean.")
When we get our first glimpse of her, we think we've got her figured out: she's wealthy and beautiful, and she's got a hot fiancé. In short, she has it all.
Or she would have it all, if being a bored housewife were all she aspired to. But Rose is no flower to be stuck in a vase and admired. She wants to write her own destiny.
In an early conversation with Jack, Rose half-jokingly calls herself a "poor little rich girl," acknowledging that her new friend might have trouble believing that she has any problems at all. (No one believed in the gospel of mo money mo problems back in 1912.)
However, she lets him in on the secret: she's freaking miserable. In fact, when she first met Jack, she was trying to get up the nerve to throw herself off the back of the boat—that's how desperate she was to escape her life.
ROSE: Look, I know what you must be thinking. "Poor little rich girl. What does she know about misery?"
JACK: No, no, that's not what I was thinking. What I was thinking was, "What could have happened to this girl to make her think she had no way out?"
ROSE: Well, I…It was everything. It was my whole world and all the people in it. And the inertia of my life. Plunging ahead and me powerless to stop it.
Okay, that sounds bad…but it also sounds a wee bit nebulous. What exactly are Rose's problems?
The drama in Titanic doesn't stop, not even in its backstory. Rose's father lost the family fortune and then died, leaving Rose and her mom with massive debts. As far as her mother is concerned, marrying Cal is the best way to solve that problem.
Unfortunately, Cal's personality ranges from "snob" to "sociopathic jerkface." Even on his good days, Cal's only interested in having Rose around as arm candy—he doesn't want her to be the thinking, feeling, dynamic person that she is. So, when the movie begins, Rose's best-case scenario is a life of dull conversation and sitting around.
No wonder she thinks that a deadly dip into the Atlantic sounds like a preferable option.
The color red has a lot of romantic and sexual connotations (just walk into a CVS in the weeks before Valentine's Day), so it seems fitting that Rose is more red-iful than Melisandre.
Not only is Rose named Rose—subtle, James Cameron—but she would probably tie with Merida in a "Best Curly-Haired Fictional Ginger" contest.
But all of this fire is subdued until the night Rose meets Jack…and just happens to be wearing a flaming red dress. Jack brings all kinds of passion—sexual and otherwise—into Rose's life.
Sure, she's resistant at first. She wants to be a good girl and do her part to rescue the family from poverty…but before you know it, she's running around the ship with Jack learning to spit like a man, having sex in cars, dancing, drinking, and speaking her mind to Cal.
Oh, and she also has Jack draw her naked wearing only a necklace that Cal gave her, and leaves the picture and necklace in the safe, accompanied with a sick burn:
ROSE'S NOTE: Darling, now you can keep us both locked up in your safe.
The message is clear: nobody puts Baby in a safe.
Unfortunately, Rose's new spunky attitude gets only the briefest of test drives before some bigger problems come down the pike. Pretty soon after she and Jack cement their romance with a little backseat lovemaking, the Titanic hits an iceberg.
With the crisis, we really get to see how much Rose has grown in the short time she's known Jack. When Cal and Lovejoy cook up some bogus charges to get Jack arrested, it doesn't take Rose long to realize—without being told—that Jack was not guilty.
She seems to come to this realization while watching Cal and her mother being unbearable snobs while trying to make their way into lifeboats:
RUTH: Will the lifeboats be seated according to class? I hope they're not too crowded.
ROSE: Oh, Mother. Shut up. Don't you understand? The water is freezing and there aren't enough boats...not enough by half. Half the people on this ship are going to die.
CAL: Not the better half.
MOLLY: Come on, Ruth, get in the boat. First class seats are right up here.
CAL: You know, it's a pity I didn't keep that drawing. It'll be worth a lot more by morning.
ROSE: You unimaginable bastard.
She leaves them to go find Jack, and puts herself at great risk going below deck to save him.
Unfortunately, Rose and Jack spend the rest of the movie trying to rescue each other/themselves, but both eventually go down with the ship. Rose ends up clinging to a floating door, while Jack dangles in the water.
Jack takes the opportunity to remind Rose of the importance of not giving up (remember how they met?):
JACK: You must do me this honor. You must promise me that you'll survive. That you won't give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise.
ROSE: I promise.
JACK: Never let go.
ROSE: I will never let go, Jack. I'll never let go.
Ugh. We still know that there was room on that door.
But it's a good thing that Jack gives Rose a pep talk, because Rose is about to face another huge challenge, this time solo. When Jack turns into a Jacksicle, Rose is devastated. Even though there's a lifeboat nearby, it seems like Rose is so plunged into grief that she can't think about rescuing herself.
But she comes to her senses, repeats her vow to Jack as she releases his body into the water, and gets the attention of the passing lifeboat. She is saved.
Apparently, she never talks about Jack to anyone again—even the man she later marries.
At the end of the film, we see Rose asleep in her bed as the camera pans over a series of photos. The display shows us that Rose lived the full, adventurous life that Jack had wanted for her—she "made it count," to use his words. It actually appears that she dies in that moment, as warm and cozy in her bed as Jack predicted.
The film ends with a P.O.V. shot roaming through the halls of the Titanic, which has been magically restored to its former self. The view is revealed as Rose's perspective, and we see her dressed all in white as she approaches Jack through throngs of other lost Titanic passengers.
The other passengers watch and applaud as Jack and Rose kiss. Given the white dress, it's almost like it's Rose's wedding…
Before Leo was the darling of Martin Scorsese, he was the darling of…every single teen girl in America.
And that's all because he played Jack Dawson, a.k.a. the most perfect fantasy boyfriend ever.
Rose may be the protagonist of the film, but Jack's definitely the man behind that woman. He's pretty fundamental in Rose's growth throughout the film, and he does his best to ensure her safety…even at the expense of his own.
And so, without further ado, the many faces of Jack Dawson.
Jack ends up on the Titanic by winning the tickets in a poker game just a few short minutes before the ship's departure. Jack shouts as they rush onto the ship, just in time for departure:
JACK: We are the luckiest sons of b****es in the world, you know that?
He echoes that feeling later while he's dining with Cal, Rose, and all their rich friends, telling them:
JACK: I won my ticket on Titanic here in a lucky hand at poker. A very lucky hand.
Of course, that seems pretty ironic to the audience, since we know the ship is going down—but Jack doesn't change his tune even after the ice hits the fan and he knows he and Rose (and a bunch of others) are headed into the ocean.
He still thinks winning those tickets was lucky because it brought him and Rose together; in fact, he tells her:
JACK: Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought me to you. And I'm thankful for that, Rose. Thankful.
We wouldn't say Jack is some wide-eyed, naïve optimist—he just seems able to see the good and the beautiful in unlikely places. Which brings us to his profession…
Rose affectionately nicknames Jack "Mr. Artiste" when he draws her (and blushes—she's naked, after all). Jack's art is actually what ends up thawing Rose's reserve toward him. We know from her collection of Picassos and Monets that she loves art, and even though she's trying to maintain the distance from Jack that society/her class demands, her walls come down when she realizes how talented Jack is at drawing.
As Rose soon learns when she starts asking him a zillion questions (yup, reserve totally abandoned), Jack is most interested in people—and not necessarily the kind of people you would normally expect.
For example, when Rose finds several drawings of a single girl, she jumps to the natural (if a little cliché) assumption that this woman was Jack's lover. However, she's totally wrong. As Jack quickly clarifies, the woman was a one-legged prostitute he knew, not a girlfriend, and he drew her because she had beautiful hands.
Also, there was a woman he dubbed "Madame Bijoux" who would dress up in all of her jewelry and go sit at a bar. What's the point? Well, that he fixates on one particular feature (e.g., hands) or quirk (i.e., putting on all your jewelry to go sit in a bar alone) and draws it out of a person via a picture.
In short, he definitely likes to watch and analyze people, and his art is one of the major ways we see that tendency.
Another way we know Jack loves people (and is good with them): he does his best to help them, even when it screws up his own life.
Jack and Rose meet when he finds her trying to get up the nerve to throw herself off the back of the boat. You can see him carefully reading Rose and trying to find the right way to coax her back over the side—and he eventually succeeds by telling her how cold the water is and how painful her death (and his attempt to rescue her) would be:
JACK: I can't. I'm involved now. You let go and I'm going to have to jump in there after you.
ROSE: Don't be absurd. You'll be killed.
JACK: I'm a good swimmer.
ROSE: The fall alone would kill you.
JACK: It would hurt. I'm not saying it wouldn't. Tell you the truth, I'm a lot more concerned about that water being so cold.
ROSE: How cold?
Unfortunately, Jack's reward for helping Rose is the threat of arrest, when he is mistaken for trying to attack her. This is the kind of thing that happens to Jack over and over—he can't win for trying.
Sure, he pursues Rose because he's totally into her, but he also really wants to help her—and his refusal to leave her alone gets him in trouble time and time again. Cal doesn't really appreciate Jack's attentions to his fiancée, of course, and—very long story short—he and his valet end up:
And then, of course, there's the fact that Jack eventually dies trying to save Rose. Although he finds his ladylove a piece of debris (a door) to float on, he stays in the water…which means he freezes to death.
That all said, you get the sense that Jack believes he's gotten a lifetime's worth of fulfillment from meeting and loving Rose, if only briefly, so that adds some comfort at the end of the film.
And of course, he takes a suicidal, snobby girl and convinces her to turn her life around, which is a pretty amazing feat. It's hard not to feel good about that.
Cal Hockley. Smirking, art-history-illiterate Cal.
How do we hate Cal? Let us count the ways:
We're probably forgetting something, but you get the point—Cal's not a nice guy.
Of course, like most people, he has another side to him as well…or at least, we think he does. We get a hint that Cal might actually have a heart somewhere in there when he passes up an opportunity to get on a lifeboat and save himself so he can go find Rose (and make sure she's okay/try to convince her to get on a lifeboat herself).
LOVEJOY: I found her—on the other side, waiting for a boat. With him.
ISMAY: All aboard, Mr. Murdoch.
MURDOCH: Women and children? Any more women and children? Any one else, then? Anyone else?
CAL (resisting the urge to get on): Oh, God damn it all to hell!
Considering that Rose has basically abandoned him at this point and made her (negative) feelings for him super clear, it's really incredible that he risks his own safety to go back for her.
Maybe he was just trying to make sure that his property (since that's how he thought of Rose, right?) was safe, but it seems to be more about making sure she's okay…which says to us that perhaps he wasn't 110% bad.
Maybe just 109% percent.
Molly gets to eat and sleep on Titanic among the rich folks, but, as Rose's narration tells us, she is "new money," which means that the old blue bloods on the ship (like Rose's mother) don't really accept her.
They maintain a bare minimum level of politeness, but sometimes go out of their way to avoid her at lunch.
Which is a crime, because Molly's a smart cookie. She doesn't seem to be under any illusions about her peers—after all, she refers to them collectively as the "snake pit" when Jack is preparing to eat dinner with them.
MOLLY: Uh, son. Son! Do you have the slightest comprehension of what you're doing?
JACK: Not really.
MOLLY: Well, you're about to go into the snake pit.
She doesn't fit in…but she doesn't seem to mind. Sure, she'll seek out the ladies for company at lunch or during a walk, but you get the sense she's almost doing it because she knows it bothers them.
She certainly doesn't seem to adjust her behavior to increase her popularity. Whereas the other "ladies" are quiet and uptight, Molly tells stories loudly (and with a lot of laughter). Also, she's not afraid to speak out when she thinks something is unjust.
At the end of the film, she and Rose's mother, Ruth, end up on a fairly empty lifeboat, and Molly pushes to go back and get more people. However, all the other passengers remain silent. Molly is quick to tell them what she thinks of their selfishness:
MOLLY: I don't understand a one of you. What's the matter with you? It's your men out there! There's plenty of room for more.
Molly's definitely the helpful type herself, which is why she pulls Jack aside and gives him some advice (and decent clothes) to help him get through dinner with Rose and her family and friends.
In summary: Molly's good people.
Ruth Dewitt Bukater is Rose's mother…and she's not exactly the most likable of women.
First off, she's a snob; she doesn't like "new money" like Molly and she doesn't bother to hide her disdain for Jack (or the other steerage passengers, for that matter). Also, she doesn't seem to have much regard for her daughter's feelings or happiness, which definitely turns us off her early on.
After all, Ruth is a big fan of Cal—how can she possibly be a nice person?
Well, just to be a little bit fair here, we have to mention that Ruth's late husband had racked up a bunch of debt and then died, leaving her (and Rose, too) to clean up the mess. They're on the brink of losing everything, which is why Ruth is so big on Rose marrying Cal—Cal's money would prevent all of her worst fears from coming true.
Foremost among those fears? The prospect of having to take up a profession, presumably for the first time in her life. She tries to get Rose to understand her POV, asking her daughter:
RUTH: Do you want to see me working as a seamstress? Is that what you want? To see our fine things sold at an auction, our memories scattered to the winds?
So, knowing all that, maybe it's a little easier to be a teensy bit sympathetic for Ruth.
Lovett is described in the script as a "treasure hunter." But he's not some beachcomber with a metal detector. When the films open, he's working in the present to find a very expensive diamond called the Heart of the Ocean, which he had reason to believe was on the Titanic when it sank.
While trolling Titanic's wreckage, he locates the safe that belonged to the diamond's last known owner, Cal Hockley. Naturally, Lovett thinks he's hit the jackpot, telling the others:
BROCK: It's payday, boys.
However, the safe turns out to be empty except for a drawing of some naked woman wearing the necklace. He gets news of the drawing out there, and soon enough, Rose (at 100+ years old) is calling him up to let him know that she's the girl in the drawing.
Brock doesn't seem like a bad guy, really—but he's definitely got a one-track mind about getting the diamond, which makes him come off as a little greedy. He also seems a bit arrogant—after all, he was so confident that the diamond was going to be in Cal's safe that he busted out the champagne before the safe was even open.
That all said, we see a softer side of Lovett at the end of the film, when he's heard Rose's entire story.
He tells Rose's granddaughter, Lizzy, that for all the time he'd spent exploring and studying the Titanic, he'd never "let it in"—and by that, we assume he means the human impact of what had happened.
It had been all about the treasure hunt up to that point for him, but Rose's story really brought home how many people died as a result of Titanic's sinking. He's transformed, and as a result, seems like much less of a jerk when the movie closes.
Lewis works with Lovett in this quest for the Heart of the Ocean. He's a funny guy who likes to keep things light, but his sense of humor can make him come off as a little crass.
Or a lot crass.
For example, when he's reviewing the events surrounding Titanic's sinking with Rose, he's pretty glib and adds a lot of unnecessary sound effects for flourish (and potentially humor), and caps off the narrative with
LEWIS: Pretty cool, huh?
…which isn't the most sensitive thing to do in general, but certainly not when you're talking to a survivor of the tragedy you're describing.
However, like Lovett and basically everyone else who hears Rose's story, Lewis seems a little more sensitive at the end of the film.
Andrews was the ship's builder, and he's a total teddybear. Not literally—that would make this movie a lot odder, and a lot less Oscar-bait-y. (Ted and Titanic mashup, anybody?)
He's extremely kind and gentle with Rose (and, well, everyone) and does his best to help her whenever she needs it—for example, when she's trying to find where the Master at Arms would keep a prisoner so she can rescue Jack from drowning while under arrest. He also reminds her about the limited number of lifeboats available in the hopes that she'll leave the ship safely.
Andrews is completely devastated when he realizes Titanic is going to sink, particularly since he knows there aren't enough lifeboats to carry all the passengers to safety. Even though he was not responsible for that particular decision, he apologizes to Rose for his role in the catastrophe, saying:
ANDREWS: I'm sorry that I didn't build you a stronger ship, young Rose.
Aww, Andrews. At least you'll be remembered as the nicest rich dude in the Titanic-verse.
Love is good. Joy is good. But somehow, the two of them combined are—in the context of Titanic—totally villainous.
Mr. Lovejoy is Cal's valet. The best thing we can say about Lovejoy is that he's extremely loyal to his boss…and that's about where the compliments end. He does his best to thwart Jack and Rose's romance, then frames Jack for theft (Cal's idea, but still), and then leaves Jack handcuffed below deck when it becomes clear that the ship's going to sink.
Yeah. We don't love this guy, and he brings us zero joy.
Ismay works for the White Star line, the shipping line that the Titanic was affiliated with. He's super eager to make a splash with Titanic's first voyage in terms of press coverage, so he pressures the captain to speed up so they can make it to New York early.
Of course, that decision is ultimately responsible for the fact that the Titanic hits an iceberg, so Ismay does end up getting those headlines…just not the way he wanted.
Lizzy is Rose's granddaughter. She accompanies Rose on Lovett's ship when Lovett flies her out to talk about the Heart of the Ocean. She doesn't really play a major role in the proceedings, but she seems like a sweet girl…and an awesome granddaughter.
As you probably guessed from his title, this dude is Titanic's captain. He seems like a decent enough guy, but he gives in to Ismay's pressure to speed the boat up…and he lives to regret it.
But he doesn't live that long after he regrets it. He goes down with the ship.
When Jack wins his tickets for Titanic in that poker game, he brings his friend and traveling companion, Fabrizio, with him. We don't get to see too much of him in the film, but he seems fun-loving and friendly. He dies when one of the ship's funnels collapses over him in the water.