Sermons

Summary: Although, stereotypically, we think that young women are looking for romance from films, while men crave for adventure, in fact all of us, if we are honest, long for both.

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1997, 20th Century Fox

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

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I wasn’t very keen to see Titanic when it first came out. A few particularly bad experiences of sea sickness in small boats, miles from land, coupled with thoughts of how terrifying it would have been to sink into the icy waters of the North Atlantic that fateful night in 1912, meant that I was not looking forward to watching the inevitable unfolding of a tragedy in which nearly fifteen hundred people died.

However, I was both surprised and moved by a film that turned out to be the most expensive to date, costing $200 million to make. The ill-fated voyage of the opulent ocean liner was represented on screen in all its glorious excess, thanks to the writing, directing and editing of James Cameron, together with a haunting soundtrack from James Horner. The film went on to receive fifteen Academy awards and was the top grossing film of all time, taking over $1.8 billion at the box office – double the amount of the previous record holder, Jurassic Park. It crossed the lines of age, gender and race in a way that few films seem to manage.

Titanic presents the fictional love story between Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) which takes place aboard the historical setting of the famously ’unsinkable’ ship. It is a story that perhaps we can all, in some ways, relate to. Although, stereotypically, we think that young women are looking for romance from films, while men crave for adventure, in fact all of us, if we are honest, long for both.

This is a film of contrast and comparison. Cameron gives us both intimate details of the voyage and the grand spectacle of it all. He is able to contrast all that is arrogant and selfish in humanity with the sacrifice and dignity that we can, at our best, embody so nobly. Commenting on the film, he said, ’Titanic is not just a cautionary tale – a myth, a parable, a metaphor for the ills of humankind. It is also a story of faith, courage, sacrifice and above all else, love.’

A Story of Towering Pride

Titanic really aspires to be not just a ’parable, a metaphor for the ills of humankind’, but a ’story of faith and love’, so it is certainly worth stopping to ask how such a movie compares with the Bible – the greatest story of faith and love, sacrifice and redemption. After all, Christians believe that the Bible is not only a ’story of faith’, but the story. It may well pay to compare the story of the Titanic with original script of the Bible.

Perhaps among the Bible’s many narratives, the one that compares most closely to Titanic is the story of the Tower of Babel, which is found in its opening book, Genesis. With the same ambition of the Titanic’s shipbuilders, the people of Babel decided to build a tremendous tower ’with it’s top in the heavens’. The moral of the biblical story is that humanity had decided, with new-found technology, to try to usurp God’s power. Seeing what was happening, God decided that such pride and arrogance could not go unpunished. The tower fell into ruin, and the proud people who tried to build it were ’scattered all over the face of the earth’.

I remember seeing a book illustration that helped you visualise the size of an ocean liner by standing it on end and comparing it to one of the world’s tallest buildings.

The Titanic was a skyscraper at sea. It expressed both the technological prowess of its day and the pride and optimism of the people who built her. The owner, J. Bruce Ismay, is portrayed in the film as saying that he selected the name ’Titanic’ to ’convey sheer size . . . and size means stability, luxury, and above all strength’.

The word ’Titanic’ is derived from the word ’Titan’, and the Titans were gigantic gods in Greek mythology. They were the twelve children of Uranus and Gaia – Heaven and Earth.

The Titanic was acclaimed for its great size and its seeming invincibility, and proclaimed to be the ’Ship of Dreams’.

Clip One: Setting Sail

It is the present day, and an elderly woman is talking directly to camera. She is reminiscing about the Titanic, ’the ship of dreams’. ’And it was. It really was,’ she says, wistfully. The picture fades, and we see the bow end of the old boat, resting, rusting in its murky, blue watery grave. And the picture again fades, to replace the underwater image with a gleaming, pristine boat, sitting in Southampton dock on sunny day.

The harbour is a frenzy of busyness and excitement, as passengers get ready to board, and friends and family crowd to watch them. A shiny red Model-T Ford is winched onto the ship, as below, a line of cars draws up. From one of them steps a beautiful and clearly wealthy girl, together with her fiancé and her mother. It is Rose. She appears quite unmoved by the amazing sight that towers before her, observing sniffily that the Titanic doesn’t even look as big as the Mauritania. Oh it is, replies her fiancé, smugly – in fact, it’s a hundred feet longer, and much more luxurious.

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