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    An Examination of Existentialism in the Film,Titanic by James Cameron

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    Titanic, the ship of dreams holds till this day, the memorable and touching romance of Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater created by the noteworthy James Cameron [1997]. Regardless of being a fictitious romance, Rose and Jack express existential features that can relate to the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. The contrast between the poor, yet talented free soul of Jack Dawson, and the wealthy but imprisoned Rose highlights a premise for discussing master and slave morality in the romantic and timeless Titanic. Likewise, the entire tragedy of this “unsinkable” ship plays a role in emphasizing ‘Being towards death’, as taught by Heidegger. The makers and passengers of this ship have a stubborn confidence that, in a way, they are escaping the possibility of death by riding this enormous ship across the glacier filled Atlantic Ocean. The public helps alleviate anxiety towards death by hubris pride on the ship’s quality and sturdiness.

    However, the film features small, yet memorable characters, which express true authentic being towards death, when the ship unfortunately begins to sink. These few characters can relate to Heidegger’s thought of facing death with true authenticity. The role of the romance between Jack and Rose illustrates an opportunity for freedom, ironically, in the sinking of Titanic. Comparably, the function of the sinking ship is seen as a chance for many to find within themselves the bravery and responsibility of their own concluding life.

    Authenticity towards death, according to Heidegger, allows a person to be “whole”. As the story finishes, it becomes undoubtedly noticeable that surviving character, Rose continues her life without the boundaries of the ‘first class’ but with her own endless freedom. The Death of Titanic (herd morality)- The Responsibility of Freedom Jack Dawson is introduced in the film as a poor young man who won his ticket in a dockside card game to ride the modernly striking, ‘Titanic’, in a voyage to New York City. His character is vibrant and enthusiastic. Although Dawson is severely poor, he seems to find enthusiasm in plain and simple living.

    His character, in contrast with characters from first class of Titanic, can embody the master morality teachings of Nietzsche. Values of art and compassion come from within, instead of conforming to the public and their “class” standards, something that Rose adheres to. His compassion first appears in the scene “You Jump, I Jump”, where Rose attempts suicide in the aft deck of the Titanic. Clearly, this is the first time Jack has met rose; however, his true compassion saves her from committing suicide, and after that, the journey begins for Jack to save Rose in not only the physical sense, but turns her life around by providing her the knowledge of her own freedom. “You Jump, I Jump” scene also highlights the fearlessness of Jack when he risks his own life for Rose, a sign that his compassion is true. Jack’s role in the story is ultimately to save Rose, as he did thefirst time he met her, and after the Titanic sank. He died for her to continue living.

    Jack, although the savior of Rose in countless circumstances is referred to as ‘evil’ by so many from the first class, especially Rose’s mother and fiancé. Nevertheless, with regards to Nietzsche’s master and slave morality philosophies, the concept of evil only comes from the slave themselves. The slave points out the flaws in the noble person, and infers that they themselves are correct. In Titanic, after saving Rose from suicide, Jack is invited to a first class dinner on behalf of rescuing Rose; however, Rose’s mother, Ruth, asks a question with negative connotation, in attempt to degrade Jack. In this quote, Jack singlehandedly summarizes his character and the freedom and bravery he possesses.

    Even though Ruth pretends to have power, class, money and morality, Jack replies with: “Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now, here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” Jack’s authentic being towards death has saved him from the circumstances of abiding the morality of the herd and suppressing passion.

    On the other hand, Rose is introduced in the film as an oppressed fiancé, who can’t find the courage to step out of the world where wealth rules the public. She is constantly faced with internal issues as she longs for a life with meaning. For instance, the first night out at sea, Rose attends a first class dinner when she states to the audience, “I saw my whole life, as if I’d already lived it. Always the same narrow people, the same mindless chatter.” Arguably, her character represents the opposite of Jack and his freedom because she is being suppressed by all public morality. However, when Jack and Rose meet, both of their ‘worlds’ (what is perceived) change, a teaching of Heidegger. The death of tolerating meaningless ‘herd’ morals all came from the ability to ‘leap ahead’ into personal freedom.

    For Rose, old traditions were reduced to nothing and nothing became the means that being reveals itself [Nietzsche]. After the Titanic sunk to the bottom of the ocean, Rose goes on without the suppression of the They and is closer to achieving authentic self. Nietzsche’s “open sea” is presented after all is gone. After the Titanic sinks with it’s herd morality, Rose rises with a new way of being. Then lastly, when Jack passes away and sinks into the water, Rose is enlightened with authenticity towards all death and gains attunement with the responsibility of her own freedom. She finally has the courage to be saved. As Rose grows old, she remembers Jack and fulfills one of Sartre’s claims: ‘freedom and the past’. Rose is her past because she accepts that Jack Dawson saved her life countless times, yet Jack is dead. So she is her past to a certain degree of recognition, yet she is not her past because Jack is now dead and long gone.

    “A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets. But now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me… in every way that a person can be saved. I don’t even have a picture of him. He exists now… only in my memory.” -Old Rose Dawson

    As previously discussed, Jack Dawson illustrates a character who faces death authentically and who possesses responsibility over his own freedom. Jack also bestows Rose with the awareness that she too is free, and doesn’t have to adhere to the norms and morals of the herd. However, Jack wasn’t the only character in the film to demonstrate a sense of understanding towards death. Equally important, in the scene “Nearer my god to thee”, a group of musicians, the captain, Mr. Andrews (One of the creators of the Titanic), and an elderly couple, face the inescapable death with relying on what they found most passionate in life.

    The group of musicians, regardless of chaos and hysteria on the ship, continue playing the song titled ‘Nearer My God To thee’, while the film focuses on other characters previously mentioned. To begin, the role and responsibility of the captain was to sail the ship across to New York; however, since the glacier caused the ship to begin sinking, the captain felt that the only thing to do now was to die with his ship. He closes the door behind him, takes the wheel, and allows himself to drown with his ship. It is vague whether the captain was addressing his death in an authentic manner, since his role in the film was so small, but what is understood, is that the captain made the decision to die there with the Titanic.

    Heidegger addresses anxiety as being related and stemmed from the fear of death. When the captain chose to sink with his ship, he chose because he has the freedom to do so. This act signifies that, regardless of how the captain was to die, he was able to obtain the freedom to die with his value and passion for the grand Titanic. The captain’s decision to face death is synonymous to the other characters facing death: the musicians, Mr. Andrews, and the elderly couple. They all chose to face death with their most cherished passions and values. The musicians kept playing classical music till the harmonious hour of death. Mr. Andrews stayed in a lower lobby changing the time on a clock so that the ship’s time was correct the second it sunk. And finally, the elderly couple chose to face death with each other. Their most passionate and highest values are appreciated the moment when death becomes visible.

    The Titanic, a noteworthy film by James Cameron, illustrates the romance between a striving, yet poor, artist Jack Dawson who embraces his freedom, and the wealthy Rose DeWitt Bukater who is trapped and unconscious of her slavery to the herd and their values. Regardless of tragic romance, Rose and Jack express existential elements that can recount to the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. The lovers live in a completely separate world, yet the two of them can embody the philosophies of Nietzsche’s ‘master and slave’ morality. The role of the romance plays as an opportunity for the both of them to obtain freedom and authenticity towards death. As the romance comes to an end, it becomes clear that surviving character, Rose continues her life without the boundaries of the ‘first class’ but with her own endless freedom and authenticity towards death.

    Furthermore, the death of the Titanic can be illustrated as a mock of humanity when assuming that an ‘unsinkable ship’ can alleviate the anxiety of death being anywhere in the near future. The film similarly focuses on smaller characters that choose their location and setting of death, with considering their highest values and passions. According to Heidegger, authenticity towards death allows a person to be “whole”. James Cameron’s film essentially is full of existential elements, not to one specific character either. As the film has shown, the nearness and immediate presence of death causes havoc and high anxiety in many, yet a few characters, including Rose, benefit from the experience after the death of the mighty Titanic.

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    An Examination of Existentialism in the Film,Titanic by James Cameron. (2022, Nov 29). Retrieved from

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