Last weekend, I celebrated Valentine’s Day by going to see the 25th-anniversary theatrical release of Titanic in 3D. Reader, I had a blast. And that movie stuck to me. I keep thinking about it this week.
Among other things, I was impressed with the brilliance of the storytelling on a structural level. Yes, the framing story is absurd and the love story is juvenile; the moral is cheesy; the dialogue is quotably corny, and this damages some of the actors’ performances; and the runtime is well over three hours. But the narrative is tight, propulsive, and genuinely heartbreaking.
Consider what a remarkable thing that is.
The audience knows almost exactly how the ship will sink. The framing narrative reveals the fate of at least one protagonist before anything happens. Even some of the dialogue has been heard almost verbatim in previous movies because it comes from historical accounts.
From the start, this is a story in which almost no surprises are possible. Titanic’s success looks like a psychological impossibility.
And that’s why historical storytellers, including history teachers, should study it. We can benefit from understanding why this movie works as we tell other familiar true stories.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve come up with so far.Continue reading “‘Titanic’ and the Art of Historical Narrative”