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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that James Cameron's King-of-the-World saga Titanic is one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and is still sure to attract young teen and tween audiences. There's brief nudity (a topless Rose poses for a nude drawing) and sexuality (Jack and Rose make love in the backseat of a car), but the forbidden romance between the main characters (played by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) is otherwise rather chaste by today's standards. It's the epic Titanic sinking scene that may make this movie too intense for younger kids. Throughout the mass chaos, people are fighting, shooting at each other, plunging to their watery deaths, and in some cases, even committing suicide. The fact that this is based on a historical event may be too intense for sensitive children, but mature kids fascinated with the Titanic will find it compelling to watch.
What's the story?
Director James Cameron frames the story of the TITANIC in the late 1990s, when a high-tech underwater mission uncovers hidden treasures from the legendary ship, including a nude drawing of a beautiful girl. A nearly 100-year-old woman (Gloria Stuart) reveals that she's the woman in the drawing, and the audience is then immersed in the events on board the ship from her point of view. She was Rose (Kate Winslet), a lovely young woman engaged to one of the richest men on the ship, the cool and calculating Cal (Billy Zane). Unhappy with her forced engagement, Rose briefly considers launching herself overboard but is saved by the witty, handsome Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a third-class passenger who won his ticket in a poker game. As the two grow closer, Cal frames Jack for stealing, and the ship hits an iceberg, throwing everyone into a catastrophic, life-and-death situation where relationships are tested and courage is rare.
Is it any good?
One of the highest-grossing movies of all time, this enthralling saga is often considered a guilty pleasure in certain serious movie-lover circles, despite its 11 Oscars. But the universal appeal of Cameron's epic blockbuster is undeniable. There's an irresistible love story starring two of the best actors of their generation; dazzling visual effects that involve the most famous ship disaster of all time; a smug, rich villain so easy to hate that he should be sporting an evil, twirling mustache; a soaring James Horner score coupled with Celine Dion's hokey-but-touching "My Heart Will Go On" theme; and some fine performances by supporting actors like Kathy Bates as the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, Frances Fisher as Rose's snobby mother, Bernard Hill (known best as King Theoden in that other epic, Lord of the Rings) as Captain Smith, Victor Garber as the Titanic architect, and, of course, Oscar-nominated Stuart as the narrator, Old Rose.
As in most of Cameron's movies, the romantic relationship led by a strong central female character is the heart of Titanic, while the action and special effects are what draw in equal numbers of women and men. It's safe to say that many young teenage girls couldn't give a hoot about the Titanic breaking in half, whereas some guys will be counting the minutes until the ship starts to sink. But that's the magic of Titanic -- a young boy can gloss right over the romance and focus on the action, while a teenage girl can concentrate on the swoon-worthy love story, and grown-ups can sit back and enjoy it all -- even if they pretend not to later.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how in the face of catastrophe, people's true characters were revealed by their choices. How do different people on board the Titanic react to the ship sinking? Who were the bravest? Who were the most selfish?
Has society's emphasis on class changed since the time period depicted in Titanic? What are other social considerations that divide people nowadays? How does Rose's life after the Titanic pay tribute to her brief love affair with Jack?
James Cameron is known for depicting strong, fearless female characters. If you're familiar with his other movies, compare Rose to Ripley (Aliens), Sarah Connor (The Terminator), and Neytiri, Trudy, and Grace (Avatar).
- In theaters: December 19, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: September 10, 2012
- Cast: Billy Zane, Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio
- Director: James Cameron
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Humility
- Run time: 194 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language
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