Movies based on real events can assume their audience knows the story, which is a key reason why Titanic spoils its ending in the first ten minutes.
When Titanic was released in 1997, even moviegoers who were unfamiliar with the historical event were told right off the bat that the ship had sunk, effectively spoiling the ending in the first ten minutes. In fact, the opening takes place in the then-present day, placing the viewers on a level playing field with the treasure seekers who discover Rose’s necklace. From there, most of the story is told as a flashback.
Together, the viewers and the explorers learn the story of the day the Titanic sank from one of the fictionalized survivors, Rose herself. They learn the details of her experience on the vessel and the intense connection she forms with Jack in a short period of time. However, thanks to the beginning of the movie, audiences know exactly what’s coming and for very good reason.
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The sinking was included early on in Titanic both due to the widespread knowledge of what happened to the ship and to raise the stakes for the main characters. At its core, the film is a love story between Jack and Rose. Pitting them against a sinking ship works wonders to create tension and raise the stakes. By letting the audience know early on that these lovers are doomed to go down with the ship, it adds a layer of anticipation and drama to the entire story. It’s not just about star-crossed lovers meeting by chance; it’s also about two people whose love story was tragic from the start. This dramatic turn goes from a shocking twist to a heartbreaking inevitability that draws the audience closer to the main characters. Suddenly, it’s not just another romance; it’s a romance that is hurtling toward an unavoidable conclusion.
The decision to let audiences know the ship would sink does double duty in that it also prevents any viewer who knows the history of the ship from being distracted by the inevitable outcome. They don’t have to spend any time wondering how and when this event will occur and instead are free to get invested in the two leads. This shifts the story form being focused on the historical event of the sinking Titanic to the very personal experiences of the people on board.
The audience spends the first half of the film not only experiencing the whirlwind romance of Jack and Rose but also knowing what lies ahead for the couple. When the ship does finally hit the iceberg and tragedy strikes, Rose makes the decision to go back for Jack, proving her true love for him in spite of the almost certain death that a decision like that would lead to. Of course, the original and modern audiences are well aware that it’s Rose who survives the events of Titanic thanks to that “spoiler” of an opening. And although this ending comes as a devastating blow to anyone rooting for the couple, it provides a perfectly bittersweet conclusion to Titanic when Jack and Rose are finally reunited in the afterlife.
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