“What’s compelling is the fantasy, of being loved for who you are by someone who doesn’t want anything other than to love you — someone who would rather literally die than let you experience a living death. It fulfills the human desire, as Ebert put it, to be cherished, the experience of having someone look at you as if you fill their whole field of vision and spill over the edges.”
– Alissa Wilkinson, The Vox
The “Flying scene” is one of the most iconic film scenes of all time, if not, the film’s most famous and beloved. It comes in a close second for me, with the ending scene at #1, just one-upping it for the whole…you know…eternal life, complete-promise stuff. But, the flying scene offers so much more than meets the eye.
Rose finds Jack at the bow of the ship after Fabrizio and Tommy told her that he might be up there. The bow was where Jack had previously declared he was “King of the world.” Its safe to say he returned for a pick-me up after Rose turned him down during his last ditch effort to convince her to break free.
Her pivotal line is not even remotely remembered, yet it is the turning point for the entire film (other than the iceberg of course). “I changed my mind” is my favorite movie line of all time. Rose’s delivery of it makes the line. She shrugs her shoulders in surrender to her deepest wishes, to her heart, and simply says it as though she surprised herself. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than someone realizing they can take off their own shackles, and that they had the power to all along.
As she steps forward into her own liberation, Jack shushes her. He grasps how perfect this moment is, and doesn’t want to waste it. Only two scenes ago, Jack was pleading with Rose for her to choose better for herself. Jack expressed that all he wanted was to know that Rose would be alright. He placed the value of her life over his love for her, as he did throughout the entire film, and in this scene it really gets me.
Moments ago, Jack was probably feeling pretty low. Here comes Rose, and instead of seeking the validation from her to make himself feel better, he knows instantly what he wants to do in this moment. In other romance films, this is when the male protagonist would sweep the woman into his arms for a passionate kiss. Instead, Jack empowers Rose so that she can come into her new-found freedom after making one of the scariest choices of her life. While Cal only offered Rose royalty in the form of materialism, Jack offered it in experiential freedom. He offers Rose the highest form of happiness he knows, and anoints her Queen along side his King, at the bow of the ship.
He provides her with an experience exploding with exhalation. She doesn’t have to imagine what flying free feels like, because she is. Jack’s presence supports her first flight until their feelings for one another can longer remain contained.
In a slow, continuous motion, their bodies morph into one another, joined at the lips.
Placing his own love after Rose’s liberation is what makes this scene so extraordinarily exceptional.
April 13th, 1912
Just a day prior, Rose attempted suicide. Things felt that bleak, and then someone re-ignited her flame. Just like that.
It’s so easy to forget why we’re here. Some of us never even try to answer that question. It’s no wonder so many of us turn towards maladaptive coping mechanisms. We’re asking ourselves to live a life we don’t want to lead, just like Rose.
Rose’s father is hardly mentioned in the film. In the deck scene, Jack casually tosses in that when his folks died he decided to leave Chippewa Falls. I wonder, was Rose’s father a sensitive topic for her? Was she close to him? As a therapist, I see and love the memes that have us circling “Dad” no matter what the client says. But there is some truth in it! I’d like to think Rose’s father was a caring, passionate man. I’d like to believe that’s where she got her fire from. And that when he died, a part of her did too. It would make sense why she could quickly connect with Jack. It was in her all along of course, just recently stifled.
Maybe I’m projecting here. Probably.
In a deleted scene Rose says, “The next afternoon, I remember feeling how the sun felt, as if I hadn’t felt the sun in years.” Although these are candid polaroids, I feel like these photos emit that on her face.
And suddenly, she has a fire to live.
Perhaps her father’s death left her with unresolved trauma. Jack’s promise to her would be a corrective experience, teaching her that no matter how hopeless life gets, there is always a reason to move forward, to take in beauty…
to make it count.
Here’s to Rose.
“Part of the popularity of the film is no doubt related to the fact that viewers are encouraged to see Jack as an autonomous individual who occupies a social space not defined by rigid class labels- a living symbol of the American Dream.
Jack inspires Rose to see herself in the masculine spirit of the American Dream, but his character is what captures her heart.”
– Laurie Ouellette, Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster
“At the end of Titanic when Rose dies and reunites with Jack in the afterlife, how is it cool that she’s making out with a 19 year old homeless dude that she knew for a few days back when she was a teenager, rather than the father of her children?”
A friend of mine asked the above question and I agreed to answer it to the best of my abilities. That said, a fair response deserves a fair question, and the above question is not so. I can’t begin to answer the question by referencing Jack as a “teenage homeless dude,” for he is not that in both (what I’ll call), the “external-movie” and “internal-movie.”
The “external-movie” shall encompass all components that went into making the actual film. So I’m speaking about primarily, the screenplay, but also the conventions that influence the way movies are made. The “internal-movie” shall be seen as the fictional world in which the characters live.
To call Jack a “19-year-old homeless dude” that Rose knew for a “few days” is to negate his characterological purpose in its entirety, and in so, the purpose of Titanic’s emotional plot lines. Unlike most films, Titanic consists of two emotional plot lines: Rose’s love affair with Jack, and her self-actualization towards living a meaningful life.
Jack is a literary device to aid her in that journey, and in some ways resembles the manic-pixie boy archetype. Thus, if his presence in Rose’s afterlife is going to be questioned, it must be questioned taking into account his actual purpose, both within the fictional world of the movie, and outside it. However, once his true “internal” and “external” functions are acknowledged as so, the question itself, is no longer logically necessary to ask.
What does this mean? Well let’s start with the external-movie. Now, a ‘passable’ screenplay follows Hollywood conventions, and this affects Jack and Rose (and Calvert) in two ways:
Movies are stories. Stories do not include every detail in a protagonist’s life. Instead, the stories told in movies focus on a particular aspect of the protagonist’s life. In Titanic, Rose’s ‘story’ is more abstract when it centers on her romantic relationship with Jack and how his love for her transcends his own life to give meaning to hers.
Since that is the focus of the emotional plot, the screenplay does not spend time describing Rose’s subsequent years of marriage to a man under the name of, Calvert. Consequently, it appropriately avoids wrapping up “Jack and Rose’s” story with a man that the audience has never even met. Imagine instead of Jack welcoming Rose into the afterlife, an unfamiliar face greeted our protagonist. The ending would have never passed screen tests.
The second point in defense of Jack and Rose’s ‘afterlife reunion’ from an external-movie perspective looks at the movie paradigm. The movie paradigm, or “three-act structure,” states that if a character’s lowest moment is on pg. 90 in the screenplay, then he/she will get their happy ending and vice-versa. Well, it’s safe to say Titanic puts all of its characters through a perilous hell, including Jack and Rose throughout the second act. Jack’s death occurs at the “pg. 90 moment” for Rose’s story line, and so according to screenplay law, she deserves a happy ending within that story line.
Again, going back to the above, real-life would argue for the case of Calvert, a life-after-love perspective. But that’s not the story “Titanic” is telling.
To repeat myself, the story “Titanic” is telling, is Jack’s transcendent love for Rose and how it helped create a new life for her. So what sort of endings can be drawn up from that, given that Jack is now dead? An ending that not only depicts how dramatically Jack’s love transformed her life (as seen in her bedside photos), but that is also proportionally equal to the “adversity” they faced earlier in the film. With both Jack and Rose spending the second act fighting for their lives, it only makes ‘screenplay sense’ that in the third act, their love is no longer in threat of sinking ships, and class boundaries. Thus, an ending depicting a ‘Titanic heaven reunion’ directly parallels the film’s rising action of a sinking ship tearing its characters a part.
From the “powers that be” that dictate Hollywood film conventions, it makes the most “external-movie” sense for Jack to welcome Rose into the afterlife.
I’ll preface this part with, I believe the external-movie’s ‘needs’ often trump the internal-movie’s realities. In so, the above segment carries more weight because, “That’s Hollywood, baby.” Additionally, this part naturally lacks information outside of the context of the film’s story, so I cannot speak on behalf of Calvert, or Rose’s marriage and life spent with him. However, we can take a look at why Jack makes the cut for Rose’s afterlife, given the information the film gives us.
Although their actual time spent together was brief, Jack’s impact on Rose had life-long effects because he unconditionally loved her when no one else did, and that love consisted of a natural bond inexplicable by the likes of me, or anyone….because love.
Their relationship launches from a unique situation, which entails Jack saving her life. Prior to Jack, Rose felt so insignificant to those around her it led her to attempt suicide. Therefore, Jack became the first person in her world to care, to see her, and to advocate for her. For a 17-year-old aristocrat in 1912 with no say in her future, Jack promised a future, one with choices, and we have to assume that that was heavily intoxicating and alluring for an impressionable Rose. Anyone who has ever fallen in love can speak to its exhilarating ways. Jack and Rose’s love was merely set against extremes.
When was the last time you attempted suicide, were talked out of it, nearly died going back over the rail, bonded with a complete stranger, fell in love for the first time, lost your virginity, made a conscious choice to leave your family and life behind, fought for your survival on the FREAKING Titanic, had your first love die so that you could live, and then enter New York City with nothing of your own accept the chance of a new start? Phew. It’s exhausting even saying it, I can’t imagine living that over the course of a few days. The point is, none of us can. So if empathizing with Rose on this is actually outside of your scope, I don’t blame you. But it must be noted, this incredibly, rare and unique chunk of time in her life irrefutably influenced her life moving forward.
Jack’s death, as well as the sinking were traumatic events that Rose had to endure. Trauma effects people in different ways, but for Rose, she chose to honor Jack’s life by carrying on his legacy. In Jack’s final plea to Rose, he tells her she is going to have a life beyond the Titanic and beyond him, that she is going to marry and have kids with another man. He does this because he fears if he doesn’t make this clear, she would succumb to her own death beside him. This is depicted clearly when after Rose learns of Jack’s death, she briefly rests her head beside him in surrender. Her eyes only snap open once she remembers that he made her promise she would go on without him. Rose’s trauma then becomes a driving force in her life to honor a man who saved her in more ways than one.
She does presumably find happiness in a relationship with Calvert. Does her relationship with her husband differ from that of Jack’s? Yes. To compare the two would be a mistake. I believe that every single person has a side of him/herself that is unlocked through another person, that different people allow us to express different parts of ourselves. Rose’s husband may have unlocked Rose’s caregiving side, her practical side. Jack unlocked the passionate side of Rose, but primarily, he tapped directly into her soul. If you think that soulmates exist, Jack was her soulmate.
A Final Word
If you only believe in pragmatic love or if you feel incapable of suspending your disbelief, then I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you don’t bother watching “Titanic,” other romance films, or maybe films in general. All movies ask us to suspend our disbelief in one way or another. Some do it through unlikely chance encounters. As unlikely as it was for the real Titanic to sink, it did. If Jack and Rose’s love did not transcend the living world in Titanic heaven (how epic), would their storyline have carried its own weight against the actual story of an unsinkable ship sinking, taking 1500 lives with it?
I have a theory that we are only capable of taking away from movies, what beliefs and values already reside within us, that we ‘project’ on screen what we want to see. So I ask you, what do you want to see?
Titanic – Growth & Gain
In any good script the protagonist grows in some way throughout the story, rising up to face the challenges that the plot places before him or her. In Titanic, Rose doesn’t simply grow, she significantly transforms in a metamorphosis of her life’s direction and purpose. Her transformation is written seamlessly into the rising action of the ship’s perilous sinking, and her star-crossed love affair, and yet it manages to hold its own as a major story line in the film.
To tell the tale of Rose’s metamorphosis in tandem with the other two major plot-lines, Cameron opts to narrate this storyline predominantly with symbolism. As the other two plot-lines progress, Rose has visually and symbolically shed her chrysalis. Subtle choices to have Rose remove gloves, shoes, her engagement ring, and finally take off everything serve to illustrate this plot-line. It is no coincidence that Rose’s choice to be with Jack and to create a new life for herself is visually accompanied by the symbolic image of her flying on the bow of the ship.
Rose soars through the painted-pink sky with the support of her lover behind her. Obviously the movie doesn’t end here signaling to viewers that neither has her journey or growth. They key detail in the flying scene is that Jack is physically and symbolically supporting her as she takes her first flight. Even after emerging from its chrysalis, a butterfly’s wings are not yet strong enough for flight. The wings are small and must be exercised in order to develop to their full size. Similarly, Rose must face many challenges to exercise her own growth, both with and without Jack.
A Porcelain Doll becomes an Action Heroine
We see her wingspan exercised throughout the sinking. Beginning when Jack is handcuffed below decks and she must stand up to her mother and Cal before rescuing him, Rose embarks on discovering the depths of her independence. The image of a reserved porcelain doll styling the overwhelming, violet, hat fades from our minds. A fiery-haired heroine emerges sans her doll-like wardrobe in exchange for matted hair and an ax. Disheveled, but as ever determined, she races through Titanic’s sinking corridors like an obstacle course to rescue her love. As a butterfly works to expand the size of its wings, Rose works against the sinking ship and her increasingly threatening fiancé to ensure her survival.
A Butterfly is Born
Although her jump from the lifeboat back onto the ship serves as one of the highest plot points for Jack and Rose’s love, its a sign that she is still not ready to take flight (endure the sinking) without Jack. It’s not until she has no other choice that her wings expand fully. When Jack dies, Rose lays her head down next to him, presumably contemplating her own death. However, surrendering to death would take our protagonist back to the beginning, back to when she attempted her own suicide. But now Rose makes the hardest choice she has had to make yet: choosing to live now that Jack is dead. She has lost a life of comfort, and she has lost a life with love, embodied in Jack. Yet, she chooses to open her eyes and live.
It would not be true metamorphosis without a total loss of one life in exchange for a completely new one. In so, Rose has the most transformative growth any protagonist could possibly have when she goes from attempting suicide to escape a life of comfort, to fighting for her life when she has lost everything, including her biggest source of love and support. Alas, an entirely new woman stands before us on the Carpathia. Liberated from her old life, Rose emerges into New York a new woman, ahead of her: a new life.
We all know Rose and Jack meet when he gently talks her out of committing suicide by throwing herself off the ship. Classic rescue-romance, right?
Later, she says he must have been thinking, “’Oh, poor little rich girl. What does she know of suffering?’” And Jack, compassionate, honest Jack, replies that that’s not what he thought at all. What he thought was, what could have made her desperate that she thought there was no other way out?
Later, when he sees how constricting her high society life is and Rose gets scared and tries to break off their friendship, Jack tries to talk her out of it, saying that he knows will slowly kill her inside, and “that fire that I love about you, will go out.”
This is where it gets interesting: When Rose sees his drawings and realizes that he has a gift, that he “see[s] people,” he responds “I see you.” “You do?” Rose asks, intrigued, and props herself up asks what does he see about her?
Jack looks at her for a few minutes, and says, “You were never going to jump.”
Rose glares at him. It’s played for laughs, but it reveals something very poignant and game-changing about their entire relationship: When Jack “saved her” from committing suicide, he knew she was never going to jump. He hinted as much when she petulantly declared she’d jump if he got any closer, and he responded that she would have done it already. But he still cajoled her into agreeing to step down, instead of waiting for her to change her mind.
On the surface it looked like Jack was cautiously talking a suicidal girl out of ending her own life. Her physical life is in his hands; one wrong move, and its snuffed out.
However, Jack sees people more deeply than that. He knew she was never going to physically jump (at least not without provocation or accident), so he wasn’t saving her physical life. So, why did he physically step in?
Because he knew whatever it was that was driving her to want to commit suicide (even if she didn’t have the wherewithal to follow through) would be waiting for her once she got off the ledge. That she’d have to return to the life that made her feel desperate, miserable, and lonely enough to want to end her own life. That whatever it was that was killing her would eat away at her inside until “that fire that I love so much [goes] out.”
It adds such a nicer, subtler, deeper layer to their romance. It’s not just “boy sees beautiful girl, boy saves girl from suicide, boy falls in love with girl then saves girl from her miserable life.”
It was always about seeing a trapped, miserable, yet fiery and free-spirited girl, and helping her realize that she’s not alone, that she has a friend in the world, and that doesn’t have to stay in a situation that makes her feel so inescapably miserable. About making her see that she can do so much more than just do what she’s told by other people at the cost of herself.
It was always, from the very beginning, about saving her emotional well-being, not just her physical well-being. And that’s what makes this movie romance shine above the rest.