on seeing Titanic for the first time 15 years after its release and 100 years since “the tragedy”
by Amy L. Hayden
I should have known it would be emotional. After all, I’ve been avoiding seeing Titanic since its 1997 release for that very reason. Of course, then I had a newborn son and post-partum depression (to say the least) and would have been a wreck seeing doomed children and dead babies floating in icy waters.
But tonight’s viewing of the movie in 3D—with Roger and Chaz Ebert sitting in the row in front of me, nonetheless!—was no less traumatic for me. It may sound silly, but a lot of it had to do with the Leonardo DiCaprio character being named Jack.
There are hints but not explicit mentions that Jack Dawson (Leo) was the impetus and catalyst for Rose (Kate Winslet) to leave her life of meaningless upper-class leisure and set out to make something of herself, even if all that “something” was a fool (a sort of 1912-cum-1997 version of “White Girl Problems,” I suppose). And in the end, Rose makes a promise to Jack after he tells her:
You must do me this honor. Promise me 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.
I know it’s only a movie, and I know it’s 15 years old this year. But this is the first time I have seen it, and it was difficult for me. It’s the first time in a little while I’ve thought about the actual affect Jack (my Jack) had on my life and my view of the world. Which, in case it isn’t clear, was tremendous.
Jack thought I was an artist and a writer. Every time he saw my take out my driver’s license or with my hair down or waking up in the morning he’d tell me how beautiful I was. When we saw The Notebook together and I cried for at least an hour afterward, he didn’t laugh a bit. Our lottery selections were based equally on intuition and number theory. We were both Mensa eligible but we’d both quit years before, not finding the sort of things we’d wanted there. He saw all of the good in me and none of the bad—or at least he never told me about the bad (when he was drunk, all he could see was the bad in everyone, and I’m grateful to this day that his friends kept him away from me during those times so that I wouldn’t be exposed to it). For all his foibles and fumbles, Jack was a good man. He made me want to be exactly as fabulous as he imagined me to be. Not just a better woman; a better version of myself than I’d ever have become on my own.
There are a thousand things I’ve done and a thousand things more I’ll do that never would have seen the light of day if it had not been for Jack. It’s not fair that he’s dead. It’s not fair that Rose’s Jack died (be it a story or not, I don’t care). Fair doesn’t come into the equation, as much as those of us left behind want to find ways to make sense of the senseless. But he touched my heart. He loved me the best he could. I tried to love him the same way. I hope he knew that while he was alive, while he was dying, in the moments before he slipped away. I’d hate to think he didn’t know that; I mostly prefer to assume he did, because otherwise it would be impossibly tragic.
But now I’m just rambling. What I’m trying to say is that I miss Jack terribly right now and I have been all week. I’ve spent most days in bed until after dinnertime for the past few days, probably my subconscious not wanting to think about all the ways in which Valentine’s Day just never made it into my experience with Jack. Every holiday we spent together was fraught with his alcoholism. I wish it had been different, but it wasn’t. And that makes me sad, especially on days when I see other people lucky in love and so smitten with each other.
It isn’t that I’m bitter because I’m single because I am not. I just miss Jack and I wish he were here and I wish I could tell him one more time that I loved him so terribly much. And that’s what Titanic stirred up in me tonight, 15 years after it came out and 100 years since the ship itself sank along with thousands of love stories and babies’ tears.