Saturday, April 5, 2008

Greatest Movie #83: Titanic

Last night Sarah and I watched the modern classic romance Titanic. (Thanks KyungRan for the loan.)
However, I have to say that this time, both Sarah and I found the movie to be more about social critique than romance. Sure there is the steamy 24 hour romance between Jack and Rose, but that is kind of an overlay on a deeper social commentary. And even that romance serves a salvation function to rescue Rose out of the dead-end, dead-life system of the upper class rich folk, with all of their arrogance, gossip, indulgence, mutual expectation, and prejudice. Jack opens her eyes to a whole new world of possibilities, a whole new realm of experiences, free from the limiting system in which she felt trapped.

The ship itself is a microcosm of society. The different levels of the ship are stunning in their representation of our world. At the top are the first class passengers. They experience the height of luxury, prestige, and arrogance. Their rooms are suites. They travel with their own armies of servants and gear. Next come the second, third, and steerage class passengers. They are the middle class folk who somehow managed a ticket on this historic venture. They share rooms in bunk beds and eat in large dining halls where social rules are nearly non-existent. Next comes the engineering level. We see stunning shots of the machinery which makes this ship go and also of the neatly uniformed people who manage these well oiled pistons and levers. Finally, in the belly of the ship are the coal ovens. Here people labor in swealtering heat shoveling coal to fuel the massive steam engines, which fuel the pistons, which turn the propellers, which enable this voyage involving such luxury hundreds of feet above. This class of people sweat and ache and struggle 12+ hours a day covered in dirt and grime for the express purpose of enabling the frivolity of the people several stories above them.
This is a humbling and sobering picture of our world. Instead of being separated by levels of a ship, we are separated by levels of society, national development, careers, education, opportunity, etc. The people on the different levels do not have different values - despite the explicit claims of the first class passengers. Yet the underclasses labor away at jobs that serve the express purpose of making luxury possible for the people who were lucky enough or well positioned enough to make it to the first class seating.

A few other metaphors struck me as I watched this movie. I won't have time to flesh them out fully, but here they are in a nutshell.
1. Jack is a Christ figure - wooing us out of our broken systems to experience true life. His venture to help us experience true life and to win our love costs him his own life, but finally wins the reward of the affection of his beloved and her freedom to experience true life.

2. The Titanic is an emblem of our broken systems, including the church. The old ship is going down. The old systems are broken, but people are complaining about the cold and noise involved in getting into the lifeboats. Also, we request that our people keep playing, keep serving brandy, and keep up all appearances that everything is OK. This desire for stability is a direct contributor to the losses we will necessarily experience for not heeding the warning signs to adapt to change and to abandon the sinking ship.

3. 2,200 people were aboard the Titanic. 700 people made it into 20 lifeboats, which could have accommodated 1,400 or more. However, after the ship sank, only 1 boat came back to collect more passengers, and that was only after so much time had passed that most of the passengers had frozen to death in the icy waters. The boats had the potential to save 700 or more additional people, but they only pulled 6 live people from the water. Most of the boats stayed away from the swimming passengers because they were afraid the other passengers would swamp their boats and sink them all. The great irony is that most of the boats were only half full, and there was little risk of them being swamped. So they stayed at a comfortable distance listening to the screams and whistles of hundreds of dying people, knowing they could help, but afraid of the potential cost to themselves. This is SOOO like our world, where we are afraid to get involved in the plight of our starving, struggling neighbors because we are afraid they will swamp our boats. "We can't save the whole world, right?" Maybe, maybe not. But there are sure hundreds of people out there in the water who can get into our boats ... if we don't wait too long.
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