Well, it's hyperbole, but hyperbole with serious moral feeling behind it. Here, from my review of Titanic
, is my defense, such as it is.
Note that even Cameron has acknowledged having wronged one of the Titanic
crew members. The wider "crime," though, IMO, is that not only has the film wronged the dead (as well as survivors) by depicting the worst of the behavior to the exclusion of the best, but that, "robbing heroism of its nobility," the film "has in effect robbed generations to come of an opportunity to admire and respect selflessness and courage under fire."
Perhaps the most melancholy thing about Titanic is its celebration of romantic ideals to the exclusion of such self-denying virtues as honor, duty, and heroism. Jack may sacrifice himself to save his beloved — but is anyone seen nobly risking or sacrificing his life for a stranger? Is anyone lauded for devotion to duty or selfless courage under duress? On the contrary, despair, resignation, guilt, self-interest, or at best concern for one’s loved ones consume nearly everyone.
As seen here, Capt. Smith (Bernard Hill) retreats into paralysis and confusion as the crisis mounts. First Officer William Murdoch (Ewan Stewart) takes a bribe, shoots passengers, and eventually shoots himself in despair.* Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber), designer of the Titanic, helplessly apologizes to Rose for failing to “build you a stronger ship.” The musicians, instead of nobly playing throughout the crisis to maintain calm, are depicted concluding that no one is listening to them anyway, but deciding that they would like to keep playing anyway. They might as well be (as the expression goes) rearranging deck chairs.
Cameron even denies the laurel of heroism to upper-class men who willingly went to their deaths while third-class women and children were saved, making them seem ridiculous rather than noble. Thus we have jolly-good what‑ho Benjamin Guggenheim (Michael Ensign) retiring complacently to the saloon to await the worst, airly brushing aside suggestions that he don a lifejacket with a cheery request for brandy instead. When the rising flood waters actually reach the room, Cameron zooms for a closeup on Guggenheim’s wide-eyed face, as if suggest that the silly old fool had no idea what his grandiose notions of heroism would actually mean when it came to the point.
As crises often do, the Titanic disaster exemplifies both the best and the worst in human nature. Alas, Cameron’s film revels in exposing cowardice and hypocrisy — certainly part of the story — while robbing heroism of its nobility. Titanic has in effect robbed generations to come of an opportunity to admire and respect selflessness and courage under fire.
* There is apparently no evidence that Officer Murdoch actually committed any of these acts. The studio has apologized for the film’s portrayal and funded a memorial honoring Murdoch’s efforts to save passengers. I am also informed by a reader that in the special-edition commentary track Cameron himself apologizes for the inaccuracy and refers to Murdoch as a hero.
Edited by SDG, 02 April 2012 - 08:33 AM.