Magazine article Tikkun

Titanic Love

Magazine article Tikkun

Titanic Love

Article excerpt

It was a dark night when I saw Titanic recently in Yonkers, escaping briefly through the rain to a local theater with my friends from the hospital where we are training in child psychiatry. Depleted by the endless procession of damaged innercity children who have nothing to cling to but a few impoverished cultural activities-Nintendo games, drugs, bad movies hypnotic in their violence-and to whom we can give little, I came with criticisms prepared before the opening credits. Suspicious of a Hollywood romance that had bewitched so many of our adolescent patients and resentful of the vast cost of the film-dreaming bitterly of what Titanic's $250 million cost could have done in the struggling communities that surrounded us-I was unprepared to be deeply shaken, unready to be haunted by ghosts of sadness and hope, despair and love.

Yet, from the moment of the film's opening with its sepia-colored shots of travelers and immigrants waving their good-byes from the ship's deck, sailing to their deaths in freezing and lonely water, I too was transported. And this despite registering the heavy-handed dialogue and the characterizations that verged on caricature, the very modern sensibilities of the supposedly Edwardian lovers, despite my awareness of the box-office consciousness that fills each frame. In the weeks since, my haunting by Titanic goes on. I still find myself completely occupied at odd times by feelings stirred by it, almost bewildered by its power to conjure ghosts in me. Somehow Titanic transcends itself. How is it that it has taken me and countless others into such deep waters?

For its breathtaking financial success, predictable Oscars sweep, and the emerging stories of people seeing it for the dozenth time, suggest that Titanic has haunted and inspired us as a nation. Teenagers mouth the dialogue by heart. In coffee time work conversations we marvel at its three hours that pass in a moment, celebrate the romance, regret the terrible loss of life. The film has created a cultural space in which a powerful experience is shared, as we shake off both the freedom and tyranny of our currently exploding technologiescable, video, the internet-that foster an ever greater specialization of interests and an ever-greater fracturing of communal consciousness. "Wasn't it incredible?" people breathe, and for a moment we unite in a common memory. There is something liberating and utterly necessary for our souls' nourishment here, something akin to falling in love.

Fundamentally, of course, Titanic is a love story: or, rather a story of numerous loves, some doomed, others potentially freeing and transformative. History has given director and writer James Cameron a rich, multi-layered text of romances to envision and intertwine with that of the fictional Jack and Rose: man and the conquest of the sea, man and technology, immigrant and New World. As tarnished as the romances culturally available to us may be, we still fall in love-as the Titanic's passengers must variously have been-with the dream that our technologies will protect and fulfill us, with the hope that we will finally master nature, with the delights made possible by wealth, with America as the location of freedom.

Most powerful of the love stories that shadow that of the young couples is our desire for technology. A magnificent and invulnerable ship, beautiful and fast, is the object of desire, a ship of dreams: technology making new dreams possible. We know this love story well; in different forms it continues its hold on us. And yet just beyond the usual articulation, there lies a collective fear that this romance-dazzling as it is-may be doomed, and that our scientific venture could founder. The narratives of our relationships with technology and with wealth are usually triumphant, their anxieties rarely made explicit; but under the surface, submerged and silenced in darker waters of our consciousness, are stories of destruction and loss. …

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