The James Cameron romantic epic, “Titanic,” is not only the top grossing film of all time, but also the winner of some 11 Academy Awards since its 1997 release. This romantic drama centered around the fictional romance between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson and Kate Winslet’s Rose DeWitt Bukatar (who meet and fall in love on the maiden voyage of the ill fated cruise liner) It is one of the most ambitious pieces of historical drama in cinematic history. But, how much of the movie is real and how much is fiction?
Now the story line itself is completely fictional. The characters of Jack and Rose, along with Rose’s mother Ruth and her fiancée Cal among others were not real passengers from the ship’s manifest. Likewise, the heart of the ocean diamond does not exist. However, Kathy Bates as Molly Brown was a real life Titanic survivor and historic figure. Also, Captain Smith, Thomas Andrews, Bruce Ismay, and others were all on the ship.
Many other elements in the movie were real as well. Most of the interior design of the film versions of the ship were reconstructed under the supervision of the original companies who furnished the Titanic. That means everything from the carpets to the chandeliers are almost exact replicas. In fact, there was even really a car in the cargo bay (though whether or not it played to what Jack and Rose did inside it is anyone’s guess). A full size ship exterior was even built in replica of the original.
Additionally all of the costumes and set designs were recreated using photographic resources to be as accurate as possible. This is another incredible and time consuming feat. However, the grand spiral staircase during the ballroom scene is quite a bit larger in the film than it was on the ship. Of course, a little dramatic license is an indelible part of Hollywood cinema.
Cameron even shot real footage of the ship wreckage to include in the film as well. Everything seen in the present day portions of the movie were shot over the course of twelve dives using a special camera developed specifically for this project. Cameron even went down to the wreckage himself on three separate occasions.
As far as the plot itself goes, there is mixed accuracy in what transpired on that fateful night. As for the ship breaking apart this portrayal seems to be accurate according to the way in which the wreckage was discovered. And, the orchestra really did play as the ship sank. While Cameron’s choice to depict “Nearer My God, To Thee” as their final song may not be accurate, it is an incredibly moving story to have included in the film.
One major inaccuracy was Murdoch accepting a bribe and then committing suicide. Not only does this not seem like an accurate character depiction but his cause of death is unknown. While there are a few first hand accounts that attest to a shot being fired there is no way to prove what exactly happened or if it was even related. On the other hand, Lowe firing his revolver to move passengers along is taken directly from first hand accounts and seems very likely.
“Titanic” is a gripping and ambitious cinematic project, laudable for its intense efforts to maintain a certain level of authenticity towards the original ship and its story. The wonderful story, the music, and even the acting, is worth watching and appreciating over and over again.