“Is ‘Titanic’ important or is it romantic?”
Something about this question bothered me when I was listening to the “Titanic” episode. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but as time has passed, I realized the frustration is that the question indicates that a movie must be one or the other. That if a movie is romantic, it becomes less important. As a woman who loves movies and loves romance, I would like to challenge that idea.
It may seem odd to mention that I’m a woman, but that feels very much at the heart of this conversation. Women were not reliably able to open a checking account in America until the 1960’s and it was the year I was born, in 1974, that women were first allowed to apply for a credit card in their own name without a male co-signer. Needless to say, with limited access to spending money, studios would gear their big-budget films toward the supposed tastes of the person controlling the purse strings, while television would focus more on the person staying at home, focusing on stories of romance in the form of the soap opera, eventually giving way to the Hallmark romance movies.
Because budgets tend to be tight on these productions, they are usually of poorer quality. But romance isn’t always confined to a low budget. Films like “From Here to Eternity,” “Casablanca,” and “Gone with the Wind” all had significant budgets among their contemporaries and all are, at their core, romantic movies. They may all include a war, but the reason we love these films is because of the deep, romantic connections we see in the leads.
From where I’m sitting, the set pieces for these movies - war and the tragedy of the Titanic - allow the directors the ability to command a large budget. But when we think of each of these movies, it’s not the grand scale events that come to mind, but rather the romance. We think of Milton and Karen so focused on each other that they don’t even notice the waves breaking over them. We think of Ilsa’s shock as Rick puts her on a plane to save her life. We think of Rhett pulling Scarlett into a passionate kiss before going off to war. We think of Jack and Rose on the bough of the ship, kissing in the golden hour.
There certainly is more to each of these movies than “just” romance, but few stories are ever that monochromatic. An action movie can have an exciting chase scene and still be an average movie if what’s driving the hero isn’t compelling. All of the special effects in the world won’t make a so-so superhero story better if we don’t care about why the hero chooses that path. Yet romance, as a traditionally feminine genre, is rarely given the budget that many of these mediocre films obtain.
Yes, the circumstances that the couples face in all of the previously mentioned Oscar-winning films are tragic and painful, but those circumstances aren’t what give the stories meaning. What connects us to these films and keeps us coming back to them over and over is the passion we see. The desperate desire to be together, even when everything is against them. And when I say us, I don’t mean just women. It’s all of us. We all crave connection, and romantic love is a powerful connection.
One might even say it’s important.