(To celebrate "Titanic" and its impending 25th-anniversary re-release, we've put together a week of explorations, inquires, and deep dives into James Cameron's box office-smashing disaster epic.)
The year was 1998. The MTV series "Total Request Live" determined what was cool, "Dawson's Creek" aired its first episode and inspired a whole generation of overly eloquent teens, and "Titanic" was the biggest movie of the year. It felt like "Titanic" was the biggest movie of all time, because, well, it was. After it premiered in 1997, it stayed at the top of the box office for a ridiculously long time. "Titanic" fever was a thing, with reminders of the movie wherever you turned. Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" was everywhere — the radio, the mall, and of course on TV — and getting away from Rose (Kate Winslet), Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), and that big sinking ship was pretty much impossible.
"Titanic" was aimed at audiences of all ages, but I was pretty primed as an 11-year-old who was just starting to appreciate the idea of romance. Not only that, but DiCaprio circa 1998 was absolutely dreamy, and his doe-eyes and pouty lips adorned Tiger Beat magazine covers and pull-out posters, making him the latest and greatest object of teen girl desire. So it's not a huge surprise that I saw "Titanic" in theaters three times during its nearly 11-month first run, but that third showing changed the course of my life and made me a moviegoing rebel for the first time.
Titanic And A Taste Of Teenage Trouble
Years before I would be escorted out of the movie theater by security for trying to sneak into "Kill Bill Volume 2" because I was too young to buy a ticket, I was spending time with a new school friend for her birthday and we decided to go see a showing of "Titanic." This wouldn't have been too much of a problem, except that I was supposed to be dropped back home around 8 p.m., and we snuck out to a 9:30 p.m. showing. My parents had no idea where their preteen was and were absolutely frantic. Meanwhile, I was sitting in the glow of Leo and Kate and that big blue diamond, shoveling buttered popcorn into my mouth. This was before cellphones, mind you, so when I finally arrived back at my parents' home after midnight, I was in kinds of trouble I had not yet experienced.
"Titanic" is three hours and 14 minutes long, which is significantly longer than the kids movies I was used to, and somehow my brain had only factored in showing up at home around 11:00, which seemed less terrible somehow. My terrified and furious parents kept a slightly tighter leash on me after that, and we ended up moving across the country in an attempt to correct the direction my life was going. (While I thought it was a severe overreaction at the time, as an adult I understand how scary it would be if your 11-year-old came home at nearly 1 a.m., regardless of the reasoning!) I may have gotten in a lot of trouble, and I felt terrible about scaring my parents, but that night also made me see movies as a form of rebellion.
An Unusual Gateway To Cinematic Rebellion
After we moved and I tried to settle in and make new friends, I mellowed out (a bit), but my love of movies and willingness to get in trouble or go to great lengths to see them was cemented in me for life. Movies became a part of my identity, and I loved the idea of testing boundaries and limits through cinema. I was pretty much constantly getting in some kind of trouble with my mom, my school, or the local theater because I wanted to see something or show my friends something that wasn't deemed appropriate for whatever reason. Whether I was showing the opening of "The Animatrix" to my class to explain the improvements of technology in cinema and getting in trouble because it was "lewd" or my mom was yelling at me to take my viewing of "Dumplings" down to the basement so she didn't have to see it, the feeling of cinematic rebellion was the same. It was childish and silly, the same kind of thing that the cultish sprocket holes of "Cecil B. Demented" might preach, but it led me to seek out more controversial films. If I hadn't gotten in trouble for staying out too late watching James Cameron's three-hour epic, would I have ever figured out the sublime joy in cinematic disobedience? Maybe, but it wouldn't have been the same.
It's funny, because as an adult, I don't care for "Titanic" all that much. My love for Leo has dissipated with each girlfriend he breaks up with (seriously, who treats their love life like they're the producers behind Menudo?) and my taste in romance has changed dramatically, but I'll never forget my first cinematic act of rebellion courtesy of James Cameron's epic film.
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