The Corner

Titanic Decoded

I don’t THINK this is the same reader who explained to me in 8,000 words why

“Cool Hand Luke” was the New Testament in allegory, but I wouldn’t swear to


“Dear John Derbyshire – The fact you think Titanic is a cinema masterpiece

is an indicator of your sophistication and taste. Titanic is indeed a great

work of art, despite a few instances of stinker lines. James Cameron is one

of the most solid screenwriters working today, most of the dialogue in

Titanic smacks of realism. People who criticize the sappy romantic dialogue

of the two main characters are forgetting just how sappy two kids in love

can be, and I wonder whether any critic of that dialogue has ever had a

whirlwind young romance of the type experienced by them.

“I want to make an important, I think vital, point about a metaphor that

exists in the movie. It’s no secret that Cameron intended the Titanic to be

a big philosophical movie – in the film, the Titanic is America, a luxury

liner filled with idle rich partying it up on their journey across the ocean

while the underclass and immigrants are crammed into steerage. To Cameron, a

liberal apparently appalled by the materialism of the mid-90s, the iceberg

that lay in it’s path was any number of leftwing horror scenarios – global

warming, environmental change, class warfare, etc. (It’s important to note

that Cameron is an apocalyptic film maker – see Terminator 1 and 2; Strange

Days and The Abyss. In all the world is either ending or teetering on the

brink of some kind of transformation or evolution.)

“We can forgive Cameron for never realizing that the real iceberg was 9-11 –

an event that as sure as anything ended the partying, materialistic Clinton

90s. Watch Titanic again, and meditate on the visual imagery – the

unsuspecting travellers, jarred by a violent collision; the sinking ship

that becomes a tower slowing collapsing into the sea; the doomed clinging to

the side, letting go and falling to their deaths – as someone who was in

Arlington on 9-11, watching the towers collapse on TV as the Pentagon burned

5 blocks away, it’s almost too hard for me to watch. Cameron’s artistic

achievement with Titanic is eeriely presient, and I can’t imagine why no

major writer about film has ever commented on this.

“To me, Titanic is a stunning achievement, more insightful and presaging of

the imminent challenges to civilization than similar works of art like The

Magic Mountain or The Rules of the Game. In 100 or 500 years, when future

students want to understand the mindset of America in the late 20th century,

they will watch Titanic.

“It’s an amazing film, the most important American film in decades. Again –

my compliments on your taste in cinema.”

Er, thanks, Chris. Let’s not get carried away here, though. It was just,

you know, a movie.

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