When the ship docks,
I’m getting off with you.
You have a gift Jack, you do. You see people.
I see you.
You wouldn’t have jumped.
You have a gift, Jack. You do. You see people.
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.