On the twenty-first day of Halloween: TITANIC (1997)
While marketed primarily as a historical romance, fans of disaster horror movies fully recognize Titanic (1997) as an outlier installment of the genre. But what if that’s not the only horror subgenre that could hold James Cameron’s blockbuster? What if Titanic is also a stealth rape revenge? Before you blow a gasket, allow me to explain.
One of the most shocking moments in Titanic is when older Rose (Gloria Stuart) reveals she’s had the valuable Heart of the Ocean necklace all along, and drops it into the water where the ship sank. Why would she do that to a necklace worth upwards of $350 million? Simple: Revenge. After all those decades, Rose was still quietly furious at her abusive fiancee Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). And she refused to let him win, even in legacy. There is a key moment in the film that supports this theory of Titanic as a stealth rape revenge movie.
At breakfast one morning before the iceberg, Rose (Kate Winslet) attempts to stand up for herself to Cal, who gets so furious at her audacity he overturns their breakfast table and menaces her with the lines, “My wife in practice if not yet by law, so you will honor me. You will honor me the way a wife is required to honor a husband.” Thanks to Winslet’s commanding performance, a look of intense shame passes over her face, knowing what a scandal it is that she’s already sharing a bed with her husband-to-be. The abject shame suggests this arrangement isn’t her choice at all. And anyone who’s a survivor of domestic violence knows the look well.
Rose carries that shame-rage for the rest of her life to the point where when given an option to return her ex’s jewel to his family — and likely receiving a huge finder’s fee in return — instead she dumps it where it’ll never be found. Her final “fuck you” to Cal before passing away herself. This isn’t a romantic moment, even though it’s been coded as one.
Domestic violence is actually a huge part of Rose’s storyline and character development from the beginning. After all, when she first meets Jack she’s attempting suicide. But the abuse aspect of Titanic is whitewashed by the romance plot as well as overshadowed by the the sinking of the ship, effectively erasing its painful reality, very much like what happens with domestic violence in real life.
For Halloween, we can reframe Titanic as not just a disaster horror movie, but also a key example of the horror of domestic violence and partner rape. And Rose’s dropping of the Heart of the Ocean back into its depths is her final act of liberation wrapped in a revenge bow.
✨Unsinkable Molly Brown/5 stars. Recommend men stop being shitheads to their partners.✨