Movie Review Extra–Titanic: An Idol worth Seeing as a Parable

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I took the family to see the 25th Anniversary re-release of James Cameron’s “Titanic.” On second viewing, as a more mature viewer than I was on the film’s maiden voyage a quarter century ago, it says more to me about idolatry than it did about that sinking ship. The real sinking ship is where we humans choose to put our love.

The movie shows how the rich people who booked a room on that ship’s maiden voyage also loaded it with their riches so they could take their wealth with them to “The New World.” If ever there was a parable about the theme “You can’t take it with you,” this is it.

Jesus taught against idolatry several times, but most memorably in the gospels about the rich man asking Jesus “What good must I do to gain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16-30). Jesus tells him to keep the commandments of love, including “honor your father and your mother” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The rich man says, “But I do these things already.” Then Jesus says, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The young man went away sad, because he had many possessions—like those folks in the upper staterooms on the Titanic. Many of those possessions were works of art prized more for their price tags than their beauty. That’s the definition of idolatry—what can it do for me? That’s just what the rich young man saw in the commandments—what can they do for me?

But also aboard this ship was a pair of lovers who loved each other for who they were, not for what they were. One was a rich young lady being forced into an arranged and loveless marriage in order to save her family from poverty. The man she truly loved was an artist who had nothing to give her BUT his love. He shows his love by sketching her and giving her this work of art. What separates this sketch he did of her from idolatry is the loving strokes he gives the canvas as he renders her image—as if he were caressing her. In this parable of the Titanic, this is the only piece of art that survives the wreckage because its object was love, not a price tag.

Chapter 14 of the Book of Wisdom deals with idolatry. One can use it to compare the maiden voyages of the Titanic (the ship its designers bragged even God couldn’t sink) with that of Noah’s Ark:

“Again, one preparing for a voyage and about to traverse the wild waves cries out to wood more unsound than the boat that bears him. … But your providence, O Father guides it, for you have furnished even in the sea, a road, and through the waves a steady path, showing that you can save from any danger, so that even one without skill may embark. But you will that the products of your Wisdom be not idle; therefore people trust their lives even to most frail wood, and were safe crossing the waves on a raft.”

Titanic is more a parable about love than a historical saga about human engineering gone bad. As a happily married man for 41 years, I now see this story as a parable about that sacrament by which my wife and I chose to keep God’s commandment to love one another. It’s a love that also taught us how to love our children and our neighbors as ourselves. This ark of love can seem fragile as it frequently takes us through rough seas. But those who ride it out, rather than taking pride in their navigation skills but instead trusting God to take them home—those are the ones more likely to stay afloat in the Kingdom God surrounds them with on earth.

If you saw Titanic when it was released 25 years ago, it’s worth another viewing– but this time, when you put on those 3D glasses, try to see it is a parable for your own life and those of the human life preservers God blessed you with.

–Tom Andel

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