Jack and Rose

Titanic’s “Profit Over People” Theme Is Sadly Just as Relevant 25 Years Later

It's still hard to watch - for better and for worse.

I was nine years old when Titanic first debuted in theaters. Most of the girls in my grade were obsessed with 21-year-old heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio, squealing at the lunch table about the “dirty parts” of the movie. I wanted to be like them, so I squealed, too, even though I had no idea what I was squealing about.

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Unlike them, however, I couldn’t convince my parents to ignore the PG-13 rating, so I had to live with the FOMO. When I finally saw Titanic myself, all I saw was the love story – the rich heiress falls in love with the poor artist and abandons her life of luxury like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet (which Leonardo DiCaprio also starred in). It was all about the hunky headliner for me. 

But with the film returning to theaters to celebrate its 25th anniversary, I wondered – how does Titanic hold up today? And I have to say – it hits differently now. I’m sure part of the reason for that is that I’m older and no longer pretending to like boys to fit in with the girls (thank god). But Titanic is also a story about wealth and (in)humanity that feels more relevant now than ever.

Titanic Is Too Old to Date Leo

Image Source: Getty Images

Unfortunately for Leonardo DiCaprio, his personal life has pulled some of the focus away from this month’s Titanic theatrical re-release. In case you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that Eden Polani, his new girlfriend, is so young that her high school years got interrupted by the pandemic. 

Of course, this isn’t anything new for Leo – he’s literally never dated anyone older than 25. What is different, however, is his age – he keeps getting older, and his girlfriends don’t. He’s now 48 years old – three years older than Frances Fisher was when she played Rose’s mother – dating a woman two years younger than he was when he played Jack. 

Let that sink in for a second. The age gap between Leonardo DiCaprio and Eden Polani is five years greater than the gap between him and Rose’s mother. Woof. But when I managed to see past that (which was admittedly hard to do), I realized that the true story of the Titanic is as relevant as it’s ever been. 

Profit Over People – A Tale as Old as Time

Image Source: The Bulletin

The movie Titanic tells a story within a story. There is, of course, the story of the ship itself and the people aboard. But we only get to learn about Jack and Rose because some treasure hunters looking for a payday drag 100-year-old Rose out to sea to help them find the Heart of the Ocean, a blue diamond believed to have gone down with the ship. 

They show her a digital reenactment of how the ship sank, eagerly describing every excruciating detail as though it were a football game. Rose thanks them for the retelling but reminds them that living through the very real trauma of the experience was quite different.

The self-centered carelessness of the treasure-hunting team searching for the sunken Titanic mirrors the attitude of its captain, whose cockiness and refusal to use any degree of caution doomed the ship and its passengers nearly a century earlier. Weaving together the two related stories presents a stinging reminder that some things never change.

And another 25 years after James Cameron brought the tragedy of the Titanic to life again, that fact feels clearer than ever. Some of the more influential passengers urge Captain Smith to press the ship even faster despite other ships in the area reporting icebergs. 

Meanwhile, Titanic’s designer, Thomas Andrews, tells Rose that there are hardly enough boats for half of the passengers aboard. He says there were supposed to be more, but they didn’t want the decks to be cluttered. Even as the ship is sinking and knowing that over a thousand people are doomed to die in the middle of the Atlantic that night, the crew still sends out half-full lifeboats. The wealthy women and children don’t want to be crowded, after all. 

The ship finally disappears, and all that’s left is the sound of people screaming in the ocean, and still, no one wants to go back to save them for fear that they’ll swamp the boats. So they sit there and listen to their husbands, brothers, fathers, and strangers slowly freeze to death in the dark.

Having lived through the last decade of political turmoil, pandemic, and economic collapse in the United States, all this was especially painful to witness. All you have to do is turn on the news to listen to wealthy people making dangerous decisions, knowing they’re not the ones who will have to suffer the consequences of those decisions. Abortion rights, healthcare, police brutality, gun control (or lack thereof), anti-trans legislation – there are too many parallels to list. 

Maybe that’s why younger people today are so determined to change how the world works. We’ve already seen this movie, and we know how it ends. But older folk who have become set in their ways and no longer believe in change are steering the ship; they aren’t listening because they know their money will buy them a seat in the lifeboat. So we’re taking the helm ourselves. They don’t keep us safe – we keep us safe.

Settling the Debate

Image Source: People

Except for Jack. We couldn’t keep Jack safe. Or could we? After years of outrage and debate over whether Jack could have survived with Rose, allowing them to live happily ever after, James Cameron finally caved to public pressure and put the door to the test. 

The verdict? I’m afraid you’ll have to check out “Titanic: 25 Years Later with James Cameron” on National Geographic and Hulu to find out for yourself.

But for what it’s worth, Cameron never really cared whether Jack could have survived on the door with Rose. Jack would not have done anything that would potentially endanger Rose, even if it meant a chance at saving himself. Jack’s selflessness makes him the hero we need in a world where the rich people in lifeboats are listening to the rest of us drown. 

Cameron wanted it to be a Romeo and Juliet love story, but Titanic is better than that because, unlike Juliet, Rose goes on to live her best life, finally throwing that awful diamond back into the ocean where it belongs as a final “fuck you” to the wealth that imprisoned her. And that’s the kind of ending we need in 2023.

Experience it for yourself – catch the remastered 25th Anniversary Edition of Titanic on the big screen in theaters now, or stream it in its original glory on Amazon Prime. 

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Juniper Finch
Juniper (they/them) is a lifelong gamer, starting with Mario 64 way back in the day. They love all things cozy, from relaxing farm sim games to endlessly rewatchable comfort TV. Their all-time favorite games are the Sims, Stardew Valley, Skyrim, and Assassin's Creed: Odyssey.