Themes and Motives in James Cameron's Titanic

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Words: 1674 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Jul 30, 2019

Words: 1674|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Jul 30, 2019

Mise En scene: The Titanic

In James Cameron’s academy award winning film The Titanic (1997), themes of good versus evil awry when Jack and Rose fall in love aboard the sinking ship, and complications of social stratification becomes apparent both in the musical scoring by James Horner and the epic scenes in the film. Jack and Rose face issues as a duo due to the difference in social classes which is the ultimate evil of the film. The heart wrenching score is the ultimate tearjerker specifically whilst the ship goes under, and the melancholic “Hymn to the Sea” towards the end of the film synchronizes beautifully with the characters and audiences emotions. The Titanic is abundant with instrumentals, vocals, and specific themes for each character that follow them throughout the film.

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In the beginning of the film, a gloomy, melancholic theme is used to express the tragic side of the titanic, and this theme is foreshadowed throughout the film and expresses the sorrowful moments. This brief score correlates to the Hymn to the Sea theme and features pipes and soft vocals. This theme is also heard towards the end of the film as the ship goes under. The soulful score is derived from Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, and appears across the film in consistent intervals. The nostalgic theme of the film affiliates with the epic love between Jack and Rose and their hardships associated with the unfair social classes. The sentimental theme rests in the major key for a majority of the film, and the leitmotif chorus changes the tone to the minor key. This score highlights numerous instruments and orchestral aspects, including violin, piano, and strings. Vocals from Sissel Kyrkjebo and Celine Dion intrude in some parts of the film-when the ship is first seen by Rose, boarding the “Ship of Dreams”, and at the tragic end. Horder fosters a whole new feel for the score when he incorporates a dramatic range of orchestration and vocal textures, he creates a sounds that is both mournful and beautifully haunting. This soulful melody follows Jack and Rose through their battle of social stratifications.

The motif of good versus evil bodes well with the ideological theme of class status. As class status is a major element in the romantic film, this complication does not fault Jack and Rose’s love. The Titanic has a separation between the lower and upper class citizens of the ship and when the two are merged together via Jack and Rose’s love, the result is cruel. In The Titanic, the realities of the characteristics of the different classes and how people are treated based on the economic, social, and genetic status. The film illustrates the prejudiced treatment of people derived from their social standings. The film shows that even people with money, or “new money” are treated differently because of their economic status, and exhibits the haughtiness of the upper class. However, Rose falls in love with Jack despite his lack of finances and social status, she gains interest in Jack and loses interest in her fiancee because he lacks self awareness and only cares about money and status.

The 1912 film is rich with visual styles that exude the differences between the two classes. James Cameron dresses the two classes in very different styles to keep a barrier between the two visually and socially. Rose’s family is lavish with royal colors- emerald greens and deep purples, whereas the lower class citizens, like Jack, and dresses in very plain and monotonous colors. These colors illustrate the obvious difference between classes and the audience can easily see the grand difference between the dullness of Jack’s class and opulence of Rose’s. Lighting also becomes a key factor in visually contrasting the two classes. The very noticeably fluorescent lighting is seen when showing Rose’s family and highlights their faces to show splendor, despite that the lighting is very different when the lower class is shown. Regular, more subtle lighting is shown on the common people. Cameron cleverly distinguishes this visual design in order to additionally separate the two classes.

The strong leitmotifs established throughout the film develop a deep association between the score and the cinematic components. The musical ideas in the film relate to specific motifs, concepts, and characters throughout the movie. The score and the leitmotifs in the move are seen through many different instruments, including the use of piano when Rose reminisces about the titanic, and throughout the film when Rose is seen his theme plays. This theme is also heard when Jack and Rose are on the bow of the ship where Rose says the iconic line, “I’m flying!” Horner gives different meaning to each scene while using specific themes for each part. The “ship theme” for example, is also correlated with a love theme because of the dramatic flare and chorus accompanies with it. Also, when Jack escorts rose to a “real party” after the grand dinner scene, diegetic music plays and the audience witnesses Jack and Rose falling in love in those tender moments. This third class dance scene demonstrates happy irish dance music playing including horns, string instruments, and the fiddle.

The sound of the film differs depending on the scene. Diegetic music is used in the third class party scene and the voyage, and non diegetic sound is used in romantic scenes such as the “flying” scene and the sinking scene.

The flying scene in particular perfectly sums up the theme of good versus evil and Jack and Rose against the social stratifications imposed onto them. In this specific scene, Jack and Rose share a sweet moment at the helm of the boat where they both feel the sensation of flying together. Cameron uses several cinematic techniques to achieve this scenes wonder and sense of intimacy. The grandness of the ship is set in the middle of them and draws them fill circle to where they meet in the middle of both classes and that even with the weight of something like the ship, it cannot fault them. Many visual elements are present in this scene, many that sense what the characters and the audience feel at this stage in the movie. The colors demonstrated in this scene shows the sunset-oranges, pinks, purples, that create a sweet backdrop to set the atmosphere of the love gelled scene. This color pallete further demonstrates their happiness and the expressions on their faces glow as the sun sets. The feeling of this shot implies power and control over their situation. This scene is foreshadowed earlier in the movie when Jack exclaims, “I’m king of the world!”, and in this scene he has found his queen. This idea presents a sense of freedom and with the two hovering over the railing together, they are taking dominance over the stubborn class roles on the ship. This scene is an appearance of their newfound independence strength to take on the world together. The music in this scene bodes well with the feeling of the two and is both sentimental and lyrical. The song, “My Heart Will Go On” is played slow and instrumental here. This musical piece is very beautiful because it mirrors the splendor they both feel and clearly shows the harmony between the Jack and Rose. the sweetness of the music compared to the scene of the ship breaking water, allows the scene to be slow and tender. The two characters spend many of their most intimate moments on the edge of the ship, like when she was going to commit suicide, to the flying scene, to where they stand on the railing of the boat when it is about to sink.

In the final scene of the titanic, the sinking scene, Jack and Rose spend their last moments together. Rose refuses to go on the lifeboats reserved for the upper class and decides to stay with Jack instead. In the water they bob to stay afloat in the ice water she lays on a door to stay alive. He loves for her so much he does not lay on the door aside her so she can stay afloat. This action sadly caused Jack’s life and ended up saving Rose. Soft voices are heard when the ship is moving through the sea of dead bodies. As rose lays on the door, she recites the song lyrics “Come Josephine my flying machine”, the same song Jack was whispering to her on the helm of the ship as they were flying together. When the rescue boat passes her, the hymn of the ocean starts to play and vocals and instruments are heard. This dramatic ending further highlights Rose’s sorrow as she discovers that jack is dead in the water. This heart wrenching news has Rose screaming “come back!” to the rescue boat and she struggles to find her way to it. As she bobs in the water, suspenseful strings are played and when she finally reaches a whistle, a higher tone is recited that gave off a beacon of hope for Rose. The hymn of the ocean is heard until the end of Rose’s recollection of the titanic’s sinking and the vocals give off a promising vibe. Rose’s leitmotivic theme plays mostly towards the end of the movie and when they finally reach New York, she claims herself as Rose Dawson, and the light instrumentals fade out. In the end of the film, Rose walks towards the end of the ship and steps onto the railing for the last time and throws the heart of the ocean away as her theme plays and gives the audience a sense of closure.

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In the end, The Titanic is an academy award winning film both for its clever directing by James Cameron and insightful scoring by Hordor. The tear jerking film rests abundant with instrumental, orchestral, and vocal scoring that makes the film a cinematically great. Scenes like the flying scene and the ending scene further creates pathos among the audience and are important scenes that stand out in the film musically and cinematically. After being out for over two decades Titanic is still one of the greatest movies to ever reach the theaters and as well as one of the most loved, Titanic was truly the king of the world! The exhilarating romance between Jack Dawson and Rose Dewitt Bukater, the tragedy of the sinking ship, Titanic brings many different emotions to everyone single person who watches the film. The movie itself was number one on the charts for fifteen straight weeks after coming to theaters and gained eleven Oscars throughout it’s time.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Themes And Motives In James Cameron’s Titanic. (2022, July 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 14, 2024, from
“Themes And Motives In James Cameron’s Titanic.” GradesFixer, 01 Jul. 2022,
Themes And Motives In James Cameron’s Titanic. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 14 Jun. 2024].
Themes And Motives In James Cameron’s Titanic [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Jul 01 [cited 2024 Jun 14]. Available from:
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