Thursday, September 8, 2011

Entry 163 9.8.11

Entry 163, September 8th, 2011, 9:13pm (GMT +2)

I apologize for the lack of post last night; I had some fajitas in the mess that disagreed with me. I went to go practice after dinner, and after about fifteen minutes I realized that what I really needed to do was to go back to my cabin and stare at the wall for several hours. Ah, the perils of life at sea . . . I'm reminded of the russian roulette burrito stand near the old Eureka Street house. Delicious but deadly . . .

My neighbors, the dancers, had a get together last night to watch “Titanic” (I think they were inspired by the Celine Dion act we had on). I have no huge problems with “Titanic,” (besides the amount of bad luck they're incurring by watching that movie ON A CRUISE SHIP) but there is something that I have to get off of my chest.

I really don't like Jack.

“But you can't not like Jack!” “He cares about her, like, SO much!” “Oh, and Leo's so cute!”

I have no problems with Leonardo Di Caprio; he's done pretty well turning a tween heartthrob one-hit wonder into an interesting career. No, it's not him; I don't like Jack.

“But they're so cute together!” “And he cares SO much!” “And it's, like, totally so SAD when he dies! I just wish they could be together forever!”

We need some background to explain my disdain for Jack – specifically, we need to talk about the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” See the link:

“Manic Pixie Dream Girl” (MPDG) is a term coined by critic Nathan Rabin after seeing Kirsten Dunst's character in “Elizabethtown.” He describes the MPDG as:

“. . . that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

The MPDG is a female character introduced solely to prod the protagonist into growth; she has no dreams, desires, or thoughts of her own. She remains static throughout the plot; a cute, bubbly thing with just enough eccentricities to throw our dour hero on his head. To put it differently, a MPDG is:

“. . . largely defined by secondary status and a lack of an inner life. She's on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.”

Titanic could have gone this direction. Imagine a stifled, young, aristocratic Jack, meeting an energetic, pretty, but poor young woman who convinces him to live but dies before experiencing any character growth of her own. Conceivable, yes, but boring. Women would be only vaguely interested (see any Adam Sandler movie made in the past ten years – I'm looking at you, “100 First Dates”) and men would be bored waiting for the implied-sex scene and/or iceberg to come kill them all.

James Cameron's genius here is to switch the gender of the MPDG. Instead of a brooding young guy, it's an oppressed young woman meeting her Prince Charming. Bang! Instant blockbuster. I know that I'm generalizing here, but let's be honest – how many adolescent girls have felt oppressed by the society they live in? And how many fantasize about meeting a “Mr. Right” who will fix everything that's wrong in their lives? It's not a small percentage. Couple that with a visually stunning disaster movie and the chance to see a beautiful female lead topless, and Titanic's commercial success makes a lot more sense (throw in Harrison Ford and a Nazi plot to steal a powerful religious artifact and we start to have a pretty good movie (“Truck? What truck?!?”)).

So why do I dislike Jack? Because he's a Manic Pixie Dream Girl! Think about this: what do we know about Rose? Well, she's got all sorts of internal conflict. She wants to help her mother, but resents the loveless marriage she's being pressured into. She's afraid not to be rich. She's suppressing her sexual side as only a Victorian-era woman can. She knows her life is going the wrong direction but feels powerless to stop it except through suicide . . . I could go on, but you get the idea.

But what do we know about Jack? Well . . . he loves Rose. He's willing to give his life for Rose. And . . . um . . . did I mention that he loves Rose? Take her out of the movie and the only thing we know about him is that he's a poor American who likes gambling with his Italian friends and has really bad luck when traveling. You can remove Jack from the movie and Rose is still an interesting character (heck, the plot still works almost unchanged without him) but take Rose out and Jack falls over like the cardboard cutout that he is.

So perhaps what I really don't like about the movie is the relationship between the leads. It's not balanced; it's not healthy. One of them is a fully developed, flawed, interesting character. The other is merely a solution to all of her problems. She sucks him dry for every bit of character development he has, and when she's finally figured her shit out (and he's saved her life) the plot chucks him in the water and he freezes to death. “You're the best thing that ever happened to me . . .” Are you sure about that, Jack? Because it doesn't look like such a good deal from where I'm sitting, pal. Let's see: one fancy dinner, one topless drawing, one night of steamy car sex, and then – splash! – into the North Atlantic with you while she goes on to fly around the world and drop priceless jewelry into the ocean.

If his love for her was so magically life-changing, shouldn't he have changed just a little bit in return? Nothing big, necessarily, but couldn't the writers have thrown him something? Or even just given him a flaw – any flaw! Alcoholism, ugliness, temper – anything to turn Jack from a flat, two-dimensional pretty boy into a real live human being.

Imagine if Jack had survived the sinking, and he and Rose decided to stay together. They're happy for a few months, but things begin to unravel. The realities of the poverty Jack lives in are not nearly as romantic as Rose hoped, coming from such a background as hers. More importantly, Jack has awakened in Rose the desire to go out and achieve things for herself, but he's a two-bit painter and wanderer with no particular life goals. His lifestyle begins to annoy her – she's fallen in love with an idea, a person that only existed for a week aboard the Titanic, and the reality is much different. Maybe they scrape together enough money to travel on another ship to try to recapture the magic, but it isn't there. Eventually Rose meets someone else,
someone who is consumed with a passion for what they do and is headed up the social ladder. She falls for them, and Jack goes back to his Italian buddies (those who survived the sinking, that is) and drinks himself into a stupor before dying in WWI or of lung cancer. Not such a successful movie.

Clearly I care more about this than I thought I did. Somehow I doubt that my neighbors share my many concerns.


  1. So basically what you're saying is that the MPDG character doesn't annoy you as much when it's a woman, but when a male character lacks the proper development, THEN you're pissed! How very unfeminist of you. God forbid that a man should be deprived of depth!

    I'm joking...mostly.

    Although the MPDG theory is fascinating and spot-on. It mostly reminds me of Natalie Portman in Garden State.

  2. Hahaha that's a fair enough criticism . . . though I never said that it wouldn't annoy me if Rose was the shallow one! No, what I'm saying here is that while the movie world is saturated with MPDGs, Titanic is an interesting case because they switch the gender. It's just as annoying either way they write it.

    My brother actually showed me the MPDG theory. The website he got it from is fantastic -- they cover pretty much every plot device you've ever seen used in anything.

  3. Haha, true. I just wanted to give you a hard time.