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A Feminist Analysis of "Titanic:" Seven Ways That the Movie Empowers Women

Nalini combines her love of meaning, analysis, and critical thinking with movies, media, and discussion to bring a different perspective.

The movie Titanic gets a lot of flack for its unrealistic and pointless romance as well as for its flat characters. However anyone who argues that the romance served no purpose or that the characters were flat, is not looking closely enough at what messages are being conveyed.

In this article I will explore and analyze the character Rose and her relationship with her fiancé Cal, using a deleted scene for reference. This scene was the scene that prompted thought and analysis for me in relation to other scenes and developments in the film.

This video does a good job of highlighting certain aspects of my argument and summarizes some of the conflict in the story.

I can see why they took this scene out. However, it's interesting that by doing so they changed the terms of the relationship and the dynamic between Cal and Rose; albeit only slightly. In this scene we see Cal tastelessly state "when I crawl between the sheets tonight, I'll still be the first. The first and the only. Forever."

Without this scene we have the scene where Cal and Rose are having breakfast on the private promenade deck the morning after Rose had gone to the lower decks and Cal tells Rose how he thought that she would come to him last night. This could arguably imply that they were already intimate and that marriage was merely a formality. Given his character and temperament, this means that he already "owns" her, which makes Rose's situation even more precarious.

Taking out “The First” scene makes the scene with Rose's mother talking about "the legacy of bad debts hidden by a good name" being "the only card they had to play" even more significant because if Cal and Rose were already regularly intimate or even intimate just once, that card being the only card they had to play would essentially be non-existent since she, her reputation and her value (since virginity was much of where a woman's value lay even when there was a good name involved) were in Cal's hands.

That card being the only card they had to play would only be a card if she was virginal, did not go to him that night (as would have been the case had this scene remained), and would not have already been intimate with him (as is arguably the case in the released version).

Had they kept this scene in, Rose would have avoided playing "the last card she had to play," (in what was viewed as her value as a woman), and the deal (and her enslavement to the marriage) would not have been fully sealed.

Since this scene was taken out and Rose does break free from Cal risking many things in the process (her life, her likelihood of surviving the tragedy, the life she will be able to live if she does survive the tragedy, etc.) she grows, gets stronger, and further develops as a character. When the ship is sinking, Cal disparages Rose as he questions "Where are you going? To him? To be a whore to a gutter rat?!" and Rose exclaims "I'd rather be his whore than your wife," we see Rose not only grow as a character, but also empower women. She verbally and physically breaks away from Cal. By doing so she takes control of her life in a time and within a story where she had none and where doing so provided an uncertain future.

#1. She shows that a woman's worth does not lie in whether or not she has had relations.

In the released version of the movie, the audience is lead to infer that Rose is already intimate with her fiancé. Understanding this, we see her leave her fiancé to pursue a healthier relationship showing that she has worth and value outside of the relationship to her fiancé and that she has worth and value outside of having been previously intimate.

Even if they had left "The First" scene in the movie, this point would still be supported as Jack sees Rose as a valuable human being without asking her about her intimate experiences, without having intimacy with her, and without being fixated on being "the first" or "the only." While we are lead to infer that Jack is well-traveled and from his travels also well-experienced, and while Jack could safely conclude that Rose is inexperienced, he never once makes it an issue and is respectful of Rose's boundaries throughout the film.

#2. She shows that it is possible to leave unhealthy relationships.

Cal on the surface is a "fine match." He has money, status, power, and is physically attractive. He can provide for the present and the future. He is socially accepted and acceptable.

However, upon closer inspection he is a man who views women as objects to be owned, used, and controlled. He does not respect women (including his fiancée) and takes his anger out in a physical manner (physical intimidation, slaps Rose, resorts to using a gun to deal with jealousy, etc.). Outside of the precariousness of her position as a woman and financially, Rose is in a precarious situation with her future husband. Given all of this, she still finds strength and courage to leave an unhealthy relationship even though her survival depends on it.

#3. She shows that some men can seem like a "fine match" but to watch for warning signs (even when already deep in the relationship).

Outside of being in trapped in a marriage and life she did not want, Rose had several warnings about the kind of man Cal was (even though they came while she was in the relationship). Cal's comments, interactions with her and others, and dynamic were all involved in points in the story where important aspects of Rose were characterized and built upon. These were important in her development as a character but also in assessment of her partner and of the situation.

#4. She shows that women can take charge of their bodies and their lives.

In the movie Titanic we see Rose go from being obligated to have relations with a man and having her body used as a man saw fit to wanting to have relations with a man and using her body as she wanted to. In the carriage scene she is the one to lead into physical intimacy and is the one who gives Jack the verbal and non-verbal go-ahead to take their intimacy further.

Women being able to have control of their bodies is still a big issue for women today (given everything going on the world, the laws that are being passed, s-shaming, victim-blaming, etc.) and would be pretty much unheard of (and would have had severe repercussions) in the Edwardian era in which Rose lived.

The ending of the movie has several moments of poignancy. One of them is when she is in New York staring at the statue of liberty contemplating the meaning of everything, her life, freedom, etc. and where she takes on the name and identity of the woman she wanted to be and the life she had hoped to live. As we enter Rose's dreams or death, we see pictures of the life she lived and of the confident and fulfilled woman she became. She took charge of her body and her life to move forward.

#5. She shows that a woman has to make the decision for herself and that the man can't save her.

This one will seem contradictory given that the poetic closing of her storytelling ends with "And now you know that there was a Jack Dawson; and that he saved me, in every way a person can be saved." This is beautiful and sweet and poetic and true but--

When Jack is trying to save her off the back of the ship she has to turn around and decide that she does want to be saved and helped back on board. When Jack corners Rose in the exercise room trying to get her to see things differently and to realize that she will die (internally) in the life that she has, she tells him straight up that it's not up to him to save her and to which he agrees. She turns away from him and leaves.

She has to decide to save herself at least three times more. Once when she decides to look for Jack and finds him on the front of the ship, once where she breaks away from Cal in order to save Jack from the lower decks, and once when Jack is frozen and floating and she needs to get the attention of those in the lifeboat in order to save her life.

In each of these instances no man saved her and she had to come to decisions (and to self-saving) herself. Yes, Jack had a role and influence in these things and yes it makes a beautiful, poetic, meaningful, and tragic movie, but in each of these instances if Rose did not decide to fight for, fend for, decide for, and think for herself she would not have been saved no matter what Jack said or did.

#6. She shows that women can survive without relying on a man.

This one relates to #4 but also to the subtlety in two scenes towards the end of the film. While Rose is on the rescue ship Cal goes looking for her. She hears him, shields her face with a blanket, and does not reveal herself to him. At this moment she has the opportunity to go back to Cal, be provided for, have protection, clothes, etc. (even if it would be under worse terms than the original marriage would have been) and she does not take it.

Later, before old Rose drops her Heart of the Ocean into the water, we get a glimpse back to her poignant moment at the statue of liberty. She feels something in her pocket and realizes that the Heart of the Ocean is in there. Selling the Heart of the Ocean would have been a way to survive given that she was in America as a woman during the Edwardian era with even less to her name than before. Selling the Heart of the Ocean would have also allowed her to be tracked/found by Cal should she have fallen on hard times or should she have changed her mind against not marrying him.

But even though it is safe to assume that she encountered hard times before her fulfilled life, she did not sell the necklace or return to Cal, showing that women can survive without relying on a man.

That is not to say that she was an island or that there were no men in her life ever who she did not work cooperatively with; that is to say that she survived on her own and made the journey on her own somehow and that we are lead to infer that whatever reliance she had on a man was a positive, cooperative, healthy, and mutually beneficial one (given all her smiling pictures and her endearing mention of "your grandfather" in her "a woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets" speech).

#7. She shows that women can lead happy and fulfilled lives after tragedy, hardship, and loss.

This also relates to #4. but extends further in that it is not only about the fact that women can take charge of their lives but also that there is still happiness to be found afterwards (and not necessarily alienation or isolation). Rose comes to live a full life, is independent, forms another relationship, has grandchildren, etc. even after tragedy, hardship, and loss. She does this after the odds may have not been great and when she had every reason and opportunity to be sad and to live an unfulfilled life.

And the nice part is that she manages to do all these things and empower women in these ways all while being a fictional flat character in a movie that has a pointless romance!

Want some more Rose analysis?

Questions & Answers

Question: Could I apply Marxist theory to the movie Titanic?

Answer: I imagine that you could. You'd have to view the film through the Marxist lens and find examples of where the theory is supported and make connections to prove the arguments that you want to make.

© 2013 Nalini Marquez


Nalini Marquez (author) on January 19, 2016:

Hi Maria-Arg, I really liked Rose's character and character growth but I didn't see her as a feminist protagonist until later. In some ways, the feminism seen in Rose's character just seems like character growth and her feminism is understated; which is a strength to Rose's character in that she is a feminist protagonist and she does grow in the way that she does, but the audience isn't beat over the head with it and she isn't reduced to a stereotype. I liked getting a glimpse of the happy, fulfilled life she led after the tragedy too.

Maria from NJ on January 17, 2016:

I've always seen Rose as a feminist protagonist in the movie, which is why I really love it. The movie is coated with saccharine romance, but like you've written, there's such character growth with Rose. My favorite scene is watching old Rose sleep as we get a glimpse of the happy, fulfilled life she led after the tragedy.

Nalini Marquez (author) on January 07, 2014:

Hi gajanis786, thank you for the comment and for taking the time to read my hub! :-)

gajanis from Pakistan on January 03, 2014:

Very nice hub....yes I do agree with you that Rose's character in the film has depicted woman empowerment in many ways at many occasions. Thanks.

Nalini Marquez (author) on May 23, 2013:

Hello LailaK, thank you! I never thought of Rose in those perspectives either until I saw that clip and it got me thinking about Rose's character, situation, etc. It's neat how we can be familiar with something and then be able to see it differently. Thank you for reading the hub and commenting!

Nalini Marquez (author) on May 23, 2013:

Hello Thief12, thank you for reading the hub and commenting. I am glad you liked the analysis!

Nalini Marquez (author) on May 23, 2013:

Hi vibesites, I admire Rose's character too and am glad that my hub had a role in you being able to admire her more and relate to her. It is neat that we can learn from characters even if they are fictional. I think a lot of people see Titanic as a love story trapped in a disaster but looking closely at the film, there is more to it! That is one of the reasons I like the film. Thank you for reading the hub, commenting, voting up, and sharing it! I appreciate it!

Nalini Marquez (author) on May 23, 2013:

Hi BernietheMovieGuy, I also appreciated the strength of the two primary characters of the film, as well as how the forensic examination of the Titanic's demise was combined with a compelling tale of star-crossed lovers. This movie was so well done on several levels. Thank you for reading the hub, commenting, and voting up! I appreciate it!

LailaK from Atlanta, Georgia on May 23, 2013:

Wonderful and deep analysis! I never thought of Rose in those perspectives.

Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on May 22, 2013:

Great hub and a very thoughtful analysis.

vibesites from United States on May 22, 2013:

Your hub shows to me that Titanic is more than just a love story trapped in a disaster... you really look deeper into the character of Rose. I admire her in every way, especially at a time when a lot of women were trying to break free from the norms. Through your hub, I admire her more and can relate to her. Independence, strength and self-worth... those are the things Rose has taught us. Voted up and awesome, shared. :)

Bernie Ment from Syracuse, NY on May 22, 2013:

The strength of the two central characters was always my primary attraction to this film. Cameron managed to take a forensic examination of the Titanic's demise and wrap it within a compelling tale of star crossed lovers and that is the true magic of this cinematic gem. Thank you for this hub. Voted up!

Nalini Marquez (author) on May 21, 2013:

Hi Michelle, thank you for reading my hub and for commenting! I don't think I've ever had someone read and respond to a hub that I've written so quickly, so it is exciting! I like the points you made about her being cultured and educated (I had forgotten to look at those aspects when writing the hub) and I agree that even for women today, some of these things are extremely difficult. I think that these challenges persist more than we recognize.

Michelle Widmann on May 21, 2013:

I absolutely love this hub. I always thought Rose was a very strong female character, especially given the time period the movie is set. Not only is she cultured and educated (art and psychology, as we see in the film), but she has the inner strength to leave her unhealthy relationship, and break free of her class norms. Even for women today, some of those things are extremely difficult.