In the comments on Dalrock’s post “The one that got away,” which discusses a woman’s penchant for holding on to memories of a previous lover even if married to a man who gives her everything she could ever want, anon66 criticizes the movie Titanic, saying:
This is why I dislike the movie Titanic. At the end of the movie Winslet’s character ends up back on the ship with DiCaprio to which I ask “What about her husband?” Was a very short fling on the doomed ship more important to her than a lifetime of marriage and children.
Commenter vitabenedicta replies:
What’s interesting is that the fiance is an alpha–socially powerful, violent, largely indifferent to her–while her paramour is more of a beta–a sexually timid white knight who dies saving her life. After he dies she marries another man, who also appears to be a beta, but he can’t ever inspire the passion that the first beta did. So the movie isn’t so much about getting “five minutes of alpha” as it is an instruction manual on how betas can succeed with beautiful women. (Basically, target young women who have never been in love before; be different than the men in her usual surroundings; and be an artist. It’s a bit of a tall order.)
I started to write a reply but then realized that it was getting long and detailed enough to merit its own post here. Since the movie will be re-released in April of this year (with a 3-D conversion, of course) to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the ship’s sinking, let’s take a look at the real alpha/beta dynamics in the film.
For those who are unaware (either having never seen the film, or have forgotten the details, or were too young to see the film when it was released [oblig. THAT MAKES ME FEEL SO OLD UGHHH]), here’s the plot: Rose DeWitt Bukater is an upper-class 17-year-old Philadelphian engaged to wealthy heir Cal Hockley. They are traveling with Rose’s mother from Southampton, England, to New York City on the Titanic. Rose feels trapped because she does not love Cal, and he sees her as a prize possession rather than a person. On the first evening of the voyage, Rose meets Jack Dawson, a penniless American sketch artist who won his steerage ticket in a game of poker. He seems interested in her as a person, and she sees an opportunity at a new life. They fall in love, the iceberg hits the ship, the ship sinks, and Rose survives empowered to live life to the fullest.
This story is framed in a flashback, with Old Rose telling the story to a treasure hunter looking for the diamond necklace that Rose received as a gift from Cal. At the end of the movie, having now spilled the secret she held so long, Old Rose drifts off into sleep (or death?) and finds herself young and back on the Titanic, where Jack is waiting for her.
It’s still hard for me to believe that the guy who wrote and directed Terminator and Aliens is the same guy who wrote and directed this grade-A chick crack (and the plot description reads like the romance novel that female romance writers all wish they could have written), but there you go.
Going back to the above comments from Dalrock’s, I disagree with vitabenedicta that Cal was alpha and Jack was beta. In actuality, the reverse is true. Titanic is actually a testament to inner game and is a celluloid representation of Roissy’s insistence that money and social status alone are not enough to win a woman’s affections.
Jack is more beta on the surface, but he has strong inner game. It is actually this strong inner game that provides the basis for the emotional through-line of the movie. When Jack and Rose first meet, Rose is about to commit suicide by jumping off the back of the ship at night. Jack is able to talk Rose out of suicide using some light negs, nonchalantly reminding her of how cold the water is and how he’s gonna hafta jump in to save her, subtly shifting the power in his favor by insinuating that she’s being silly and emotional. What he does NOT do is act like what she’s about to do is SRS BSNS. A lesser man would have acted frightened that Rose would jump.
Jack is also unapologetic about his station in life and sees it as a good thing. He does not try to seek Rose’s approval (or even make any pledge or attempt to better himself for her).
He is unruffled by Cal’s continued attempts to belittle him and charms all of Rose’s upper-crusty dinner companions. He tells her what to do (“meet me at the clock”) rather than requesting behavior of her. He never panics when the ship begins to sink but remains level-headed and provides guidance to Rose the entire time. And (SPOILER ALERT) in the end he does what every woman wishes the man she loves would be willing to do for her: sacrifice his life in order to save hers.
In contrast, Cal, while having an alpha social position, has little inner game and thinks that bullying is a substitute for alpha frame. He is domineering rather than dominant. He acts defensively and lets little things bother him, and he spends most of the movie in a petulant mood, being rude to Jack because he can sense Rose’s attraction to him, and paying his #1 minion to spy on Jack and frame him for theft. When he loses his temper with Rose, it’s not one of Roissy’s occasional outbursts to correct bad behavior, it’s a man trying to intimidate because he can sense that he’s losing the woman and intimidation is the only tool he has left in his arsenal. And once it’s really and finally clear that Rose has chosen Jack for good, Cal completely loses it and picks up a pistol and chases them around the sinking ship shooting at them. These are not the actions of a man with inner game, who is in control of himself and the situation around him.
(Of course, in case we weren’t able to figure out already that Cal isn’t The One, James Cameron reveals Cal as the ultimate coward, first trying to bribe his way onto one of the lifeboats, and when that doesn’t work, actually picking up a random child and pretending the child is his so he can get onto a lifeboat. And just to make really, REALLY sure we know that Cal is a loser, we find out that Cal ultimately committed suicide when the stock market crashed in 1929. Stuff like this is why James Cameron, despite being one of the greatest action directors of all time, and one of the few blockbuster directors who actually writes his own films, will never be considered by tastemakers on par with guys like Christopher Nolan or Peter Jackson.)
In light of the differences between Jack and Cal, and the fundamental truths of Game and female attraction so simply presented, it’s not surprising to see why Titanic became such an international phenomenon. It worked because the truth of human experience is not bound by culture or nationality. Not that the nice, shiny package of a lavish period drama of class warfare that was also an action movie that was also a disaster pic that was also a “first love” love story that was also Leonardo DiCaprio at his most beautiful and charming didn’t help. But if more writers were able to access the truths of human existence, I think the box office would be doing a whole lot better.
As for the claim that Rose was some sort of awful woman for meeting Jack in Titanic heaven and not her husband, I think there are a couple of different ways to look at this. One is that yes, it’s kind of horrible that Rose still carried Jack in her heart, a man she knew for only a few days, rather than the man who was her husband and gave her her children. But Jack was a first love, and first loves have a way of sticking that later loves can never quite displace. Isn’t that why manospherians are so much about keeping numbers low? (And really, how can any man compare with a man who literally talked you off a ledge and saved you from freezing to death in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean while the luxury ship you were sailing on was sinking AND sacrificed himself in the process? Okay, and also that you had your first orgasm with him in the back of a car.)
The other way to look at this is that having Rose meet Jack in Titanic heaven is really the only way the story could have ended satisfactorily. The story was about Rose’s emotional emancipation. Jack was the agent of change. He was her savior (and Rose even says at the end of the movie that he “saved [her] in every way a person can be saved”). Having her reunite in death/dream with her late husband (whom we hadn’t even seen), right after she has finally relieved herself of the secret she has been carrying with her since she was a teenager, would have been bizarre. I can’t imagine anyone would have walked out of the theater rejoicing that Rose showed what a loving and faithful wife she was if THAT had been the ending.
It’ll be interesting to see how the film affects a new generation of movie-goers. In the age of Twilight, Facebook, and reality TV, will Jack and Rose be able to enchant today’s teens, or will the bulk of moviegoers only be nostalgia-trippers?