The U.S. Titanic

by John Gay

The Titanic may have sunk deep into the Atlantic nearly a century ago, but it is hardly sinking today. Box-office revenue for the megahit movie Titanic has exceeded the previously #1 Star Wars and is refusing to slow down. When this ship will finally land, no one knows for sure. In the meantime, a sea of movie-goers continues to keep Titanic afloat, drawn to its nostalgia, love story, and special effects.

Public obsession with Titanic will no doubt be bolstered by the recent trophies added on her deck. At this year's Academy Awards ceremony, Titanic pulled away with a record-tying eleven Oscars, including Best Picture. To be sure, director James Cameron has achieved a milestone. Titanic is not only the highest grossing film of all time, it is also the costliest, with production expenses of over 200 million. The director should be applauded not only for starting such an enterprise, but for the tenacity to see it through.

As a craftsman, Cameron deserves kudos for his keen attention to detail. To make his movie as realistic as possible, Cameron had a replica of the Titanic built, one that was 75% to scale of the original. He also recreated to exactness all of the interiors of the original ship. Not only a craftsman, Cameron showed his skills as a pioneer, overseeing the invention of new underwater cameras and submarine devices to get exactly the shots and effects he envisioned.

But is there something beyond the perfect set design, the dazzling effects, and the box office receipts? Is there more to Titanic than meets the eye?

The Deeper Level of Movies

Quite possibly, Titanic and other contemporary films are reflections of the conscience and subconscious of American society. If you look at the films of the 70s and 80s, a predominant theme was the avenging messiah. In a host of movies (ones starring Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Jean-Claude Van Damme), the central character was a man who had been wronged by the system and/or evil men, who was often thought to be dead, and who came back to life or at least rose up to avenge those who had wronged him. In every instance, the man singlehandedly and almost supernaturally defeated his foes. In the 90s, the fascination has been with alien invasion (Independence Day, Men in Black, Starship Troopers, Mars Attacks!) and with worldwide catastrophe (Dante's Peak, Twister, Volcano).

It doesn't take a seminary graduate to see similar themes found in God's Word. The Book of Revelation speaks of the Messiah returning to earth to avenge His enemies singlehandedly and supernaturally (Rev. 19), of alien-like beings released upon mankind (Rev. 9), and of worldwide catastrophes par excellence. Is it possible that in some strange fashion the Bible's truths are weighing heavy upon man's conscience, at least here in America where mega-movies are produced? One movie soon to be released is titled Armageddon, and describes humanity's effort to stop a biblically prophetic comet en route to earth.

I believe a similar phenomenon is taking place with Titanic, and may account, at least in part, for the film's incredible popularity. There is a deeper level on which Titanic is working. It is not merely a film about a ship of long ago. Rather, it is also the story, though subconsciously so, of another "ship" that exists today: the United States of America.

Like the Titanic, the U.S. was glorious in its day. It was the talk of society, the envy of kings, the eighth wonder of the world. In some ways, it is still that today. But is it possible that the U.S. has hit something greater than itself? And is sinking as a result?

The Message of Titanic

Watching Titanic, it doesn't take long to realize that many of its central characters are one-dimensional, having only one facet to their personality and little or no depth. These characters are mostly those with authority or money. The ship's captain, the priest, the ship's architect, the ship's financier; these men are shown as foolish, lacking any redeeming qualities. To this list we can add Rose's fiancé (an uncaring cad without an ounce of goodness) and her mother (a weak woman only interested in marrying her daughter off to the evil, but rich, fiancé).

The love story of the film, involving the central cast's youngest members, Rose and Jack, provides the hub of the film's movement. The demise of the Titanic revolves around their brief infatuation. Rather than the other central characters, it is they--the youngest ones--who possess the greatest wisdom and virtue. Authority figures and the elderly have no real wisdom. Anyone with wealth is likewise foolish and without heart. It is only the youth who possess knowledge to life's answers. It is only youth who are the carriers of truth.

And that truth is an ever-changing one, a situational ethic. There is a situation in which it is okay to disobey your parents. There is a situation in which it is okay to break off your engagement. There is a situation in which it is okay to cheat on your fiancé. There is a situation in which it is okay to give yourself to someone outside of marriage. Titanic presents those situations. Immorality can be justified under some circumstances; for example, if your fiancé is a cad, if your mother doesn't care about you, if the ship is going down, or if someone is willing to paint you naked.

The message of Titanic seems to be that people in authority cannot be trusted. They either have ulterior motives or an incompetency that insures their failure. Too, anyone with wealth cannot be trusted, for wealth automatically means lack of virtue. Therefore, to find wisdom or virtue, we must go elsewhere. In the case of Titanic, that elsewhere is young people--teenagers who know more and are more moral than adults, even if that morality is a relative one.

The Deeper Meaning of Titanic

Titanic is a story about America. Though glorious in its day, she is sinking. Incompetent leadership and greed have allowed her to sail blindly. All the while, though, others have been too caught up in their own version of morality and truth to notice the impending collision. Generally speaking, for decades the United States has been steered by incompetent leadership, greed, situational ethics, relative morality and truth, cynicism of rules and authority, and postmodern thought.

"He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:6)
Though this promise is for Israel and not the U.S., maybe the principle still applies. If a society's adults are not sacrificially caring for the youth, and the youth are not submitting to the adults, there will be a crash. Relative love and relative truth send a society on a course for collision.

There is a problem with relative love and relative truth. That problem is absolute love and absolute truth. They form a rock that cannot be moved. If you come against it, it will not budge; rather, you will have to budge. Supremely, the most absolute of loves and the most absolute of truths is God Himself. He is the Rock. He is the One who was, and is, and will be. He is immovable. As our society has progressed more and more into atheistic and agnostic waters, and engaged in greed of all kinds and in its own postmodern love story, we have hit a rock in the water. That Rock is God. We hoped He wouldn't be there, but He was. He was waiting. And we cannot wish Him away. We cannot use our collective conscious to move Him. In the words of our society's most popular captain, we cannot "Make it so."

Without God's presence and guidance in a society--influencing its adults to greedless caring of its youth and its youth to submission to its adults--that ship will go down. We cannot reject God and His version of love and truth and still hope to remain the society we once were. It is God who raises up kings and nations, and it is God who strikes them down. Is America sinking? Is it possible that, just as moviedom has been subconsciously aware of a coming, avenging Messiah, an alien invasion, and worldwide catastrophe, American filmmakers and film-goers are subconsciously aware of the demise of the once-glorious-but-sinking United States of America?