Titanic (1997)

Legendary writer/director James Cameron is forever pushing the boundaries of filmmaking. Whether it’s the liquid metal of the T1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day or the fully realised world of Pandora in Avatar, Jim is crafting visual spectacle after visual spectacle So it was perhaps inevitable that he would choose to create a romantic blockbuster set aboard the RMS Titanic. Of course, the story behind the production is well known and documented at this point. James Cameron has had an interest in shipwrecks for years, particularly the aforementioned vessel, and essentially drafted the script to finance an expedition to the site of the greatest tragedy in cruiseliner history. Then the film itself went on to become one of the most successful of all time, winning 11 Academy Awards and grossing $1.8 billion in it’s initial theatrical run (the first film to ever do so). In the years since, it’s received several re-releases including in 3D and 4K, which has resulted in the box office takings increasing to $2.2billion. However, the thing that is perhaps most amazing of all is just how respectful James Cameron is of the subject matter.

The love story itself, between First Class teen Rose and Third Class rapscallion Jack, is entirely fictional. It often receives the most praise and with the most consistency, which is for good reason. It’s a beautiful Hamlet-esque romance between two teens of different stature who can never be together but with the added tragedy that we know how the overall tale ends. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are perfectly cast and fill these characters with such life and love that it’s difficult not to root for them despite it all. Yet, surrounding this fake tale, is one that is horrifically true. The RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton on April 10th, 1912 with around 3,330 lives aboard and sank 5 days later having struck an iceberg. There were 706 survivors. The ship herself now sits in two separate pieces at the bottom of the Atlantic, having split across the bow as she went under. These words really don’t do the event any justice but witnessing a recreation of it really hits home. It hits even harder when experiencing it on the big screen, which fully envelops the audience in all aspects of the horror…including the noise.

Despite featuring a fake love story, the accuracy of this depiction is as close as it’s possible to get. From the measurements of the boat, to the lack of lifeboats, to the amount of lives aboard, to the physics of the crash and timing of the entire ordeal. Underneath the “Hollywood Blockbuster” of it all is essentially a docu-drama, but Cameron didn’t stop with the statistics. Reportedly, many of the extras who had lines in the aftermath of the crash were based on relatives of actual survivors and several well documented fates made their way in too. The most well known of these is the elderly couple laying on the bed as the water gushes in, who were Rosalie Ida and Isidor Straus, owners of Macy’s department store in New York. Moments like these are utterly heart-wrenching to watch because they make the disaster much more personable. There’s a danger around great tragedies of history that over time they will be reduced to statistics, even the deaths, but keeping these stories alive prevents that from happening. It’s hard to empathise with statistics but with real stories come real emotions. That’s what Titanic does, underneath everything else, is memorialise those who were lost and honours those who were lucky enough to make it back.

It also does an excellent job of demonstrating the class divide. Roses story hinges on just how stuffy and overbearing a first class life can be, especially as a teenage girl whose only job is to get married, have children, and maintain respectability. Her explanations to Jack at supper in First Class about how this society functions are enlightening and act as a perfect contrast to the parties enjoyed by those in Third Class. There, they spill their beers, dance like nobody’s watching and holler to their hearts content…living life to the fullest. Their sensibilities are also well demonstrated after the crash. While those in First Class have no idea that anything is wrong, only experiencing a slight jolt, those in Third Class are already ankle-deep in water and making their escape. As is always the case, the poorest experience the problems long before the richest. Though the film features them being held behind gates, there’s no evidence that Third Class passengers were prevented from reaching the lifeboats, but since they were so far down they (and the stewards) would have been the last to get there.

It’s one of several inaccuracies, which like the event itself are well documented. There’s no proof that the Titanic was ever called unsinkable, or that Captain Smith chose to go down with her, or that the final song played by the band was Nearer My God to Thee (although it was definitely one of the last.). These are all just small artistic liberties, added into the plot to give it more weight and finality, which it does superbly. The sinking of the ship, intercut with the band playing that fateful hymn, and Captain Smith awaiting his fate on the bridge, are some of the most impactful moments ever put to screen. One of the most frequent criticisms of the film, and of Titanic stories in general, is the villainisation of J Bruce Ismay, the president of the company that built the Titanic. In the film, he is shown ordering the captain to use every one of the engines to get the ship to full speed, but again there’s no real proof that this happened. This idea seems to be based on his survival and, at the time of the tragedy, anger that he had taken a spot on lifeboats designated primarily for women and children, although reports of how this happened are foggy. Either he was ordered to by a steward, or he was one of the first to board, or he waited until the last possible second – which is the interpretation that Cameron goes with. This version of Ismay isn’t evil, just a conflicted man determined to show off before humility overcomes him. The final shot of him isn’t one of a coward or a villain, but of a guilt-stricken survivor.

James Cameron’s Titanic remains a masterpiece. It’s a marvelous love story, beautifully shot and stunningly scored. It’s also a respectful reminder of those lost and those who survived.


Christopher Nolan is often praised as a visionary director and master story teller. Today he is most commonly thought of as the mind behind the Dark Knight trilogy, but I seem to be part of a minority who think that those films were over-hyped and that they pale in comparison to his other work. I believe that if you want a true demonstration of Nolan’s visionary directing, you need look no further than his 2010 blockbuster Inception. Shot, edited, and released in the 4 year gap between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, I believe that Inception should have eclipsed both of those films in popularity, but it only seemed to be a hit during its initial release. Since then it has been relegated to the realm of “pop culture moments to reference for an probably-not-funny joke” and I think it deserves a bit better than that.

We follow a rag-tag team as they attempt to plant an idea in the mind of a CEO through dream sharing technology. In charge of the mission is Cobb, who as well as stealing corporate secrets with this technology for a living, is grappling with the death of his wife Mal. At its core Inception is a very human story, centering on Cobb and how he deals with (or fails to deal with) a tragic life. Whilst Mal is dead, he refuses to let her go, meaning that within Cobb’s mind there is a projection of who his wife used to be. This projection seems entirely focused on making Cobb suffer as much as possible, even willing to go as far as murder, which puts the entire team at risk. A death in the dreamstate would mean death in reality, which is a fantastic addition to the story because it provides a further sense of urgency and means that the team needs an element of luck. This team is already fighting against the clock, and the CEO’s subconscious defenses to this unstable variable adds a final layer of tension. It also adds a layer of intrigue to Cobb, whose character we gradually learn more about as the plot progresses. Who exactly is he? What is he running from? What did happen to his wife? All we really know is that he cant return home to his two children in the USA, and that his wife is dead. But all is revealed as the film nears its end.

Cobb remains the focus of the plot, but he is only one member of a larger team. It’s clear that Arthur, his associate and the closest thing to a friend Cobb seems to have, and who is responsible for all of the pre-mission research, knows enough about Cobb to know that Mal’s projection is a colossal risk, but he doesn’t feel comfortable enough calling him out on it, opting to prioritise the mission. The role of professional forger is filled by Eames, who specialises in identity theft making him ideal for impersonations within the dreamstate. The beautiful thing about dreams is that you can look however you want, and Eames has mastered this technique which allows him to look like however he needs to for the mission. To maintain the dreamstate for an extended period of time requires a special concoction, which is where Yusuf comes in; not only does he provide the necessary delicacies, but he accompanies the rest of the team into the first level of the dreamstate. This entire operation requires no small amount of funding, which is brought by Mr Saito, whom Cobb had previously tried to steal secrets from. His inclusion here is penance for that, and the CEO being incepted is his rival. The final addition to the team is Adriane, who is the only newcomer to this realm of dream espionage, and is brought in to design the dreams themselves. She is what we would describe as the “audience stand-in” who exists primarily to explain the nuances of the plot. There’s no reason that there couldn’t already be a professional dream-builder, but I will cut Nolan a little slack here. Inception is not difficult for me to understand, having grown up with films featuring time travel, but I can understand why some audience members may need a little bit of assistance. Some people may see the inclusion of a character to explain the plot as slightly pretentious, and occasionally it may feel that way, but I have seen audiences confused by simpler plots so I’ll give Nolan the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps the largest impact that Inception had on mainstream media came from its score. Composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer and featuring Edith Piaf’s song Non, je ne Regrette Rien, the score is now best remembered for its BWONG. If you’ve seen any action movie trailer or watched any action movie released after 2010, you’ve heard the infamous BWONG, although my personal favourite remains in a 2014 YouTube sketch by Thomas “Tomska” Ridgewell titled The Hole. The incorporation of elements from Non, je ne Regrette Rien into the score is a wonderful example of the score complimenting its film, as it plays a pivotal role in the plot. The timing of this song is what allows the team to know how long they have left in each level of the dreamstate, where each level dilates time further and further. An hour in reality is 12 hours at the first level, which is six days on the second level, which is two and a half months at the third level, which is two and a half years in Limbo (essentially dream purgatory). It’s quite an extreme length to go to in order to squeeze as much time out of two and a half hours of runtime, as possible and I kind of love it. Credit is also due for the effects team who, as in all of Nolan’s films, rely primarily on practical effects. The stand-out moment remains Arthur fighting in the spinning corridor which remains a magnificent feat of filmmaking.

I have done my best to keep the review free of spoilers, but for this last segment it is unavoidable. If you still haven’t seen it, then I highly recommend it, but this is your last SPOILER WARNING.

Christopher Nolan has said that of all his work, he gets asked about the ending to Inception the most, and has stated that the ending is deliberately ambiguous. The final shot is of Cobb finally reuniting with his children while his spinning top spins in the foreground, seemingly perpetually. The spinning top never topples in a dream, so the implication here is that Cobb is still dreaming, and I think it’s important to note two things. Firstly, whether or not it topples here is irrelevant because Cobb isn’t paying attention to it. He has finally moved on from Inception and his wife and hiding in his dreams. He doesn’t care if this is a dream, because he is with his children and they are his reality. Regardless of the circumstances, he is finally ready to move on and be happy with his family. Secondly, the spinning top wobbles in the final seconds of screentime which it could only do in reality and anybody who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.

Until Next Time…