Written by Jennie
Recently I listened to two friends have a conversation/argument over whether Jack from “Titanic” could have survived if Rose had shared her little raft with him when they were in the water waiting to be rescued. One argued that it was at least possible that he *might* have. The other insisted that it would’ve only led to both of their deaths; they would’ve each had to be at least partly in the water, which would have quickly led to hypothermia and death.
I was amused by how vociferous each was about their positions, but also about the yearning with which my one friend seemed to ponder the question, “What if Jack had lived?” I think the “tragic ending” aspect of “Titanic” is one thing that contributes to its timeless appeal. Even those of us who find the film a bit overwrought and cheesy at times feel a little frisson at the ultra-romantic and timeless love of Jack and Rose,
I think “Titanic” is one of those “what if?” films. To generalize a bit, women seem to like happy endings – witness the success of the romance novel industry. And yet, it’s often films like “Titanic” – those with bittersweet if not tragic endings – that stay in our memories.
My “Titanic” is a 1966 film called “This Property is Condemned”, starring Robert Redford and Natalie Wood. It’s not a particularly good film; it’s a rather melodramatic adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play (if “melodramatic” and “Tennessee Williams” in the same sentence doesn’t render the whole sentence redundant). Redford is a railroad employee who has come to a small Depression-era Mississippi town to lay off railroad workers. Wood is the party-girl daughter of the local boarding house proprietor; her mother more or less prostitutes her and Wood’s character, Alva, wants desperately to escape her dead-end small-town life and go to New Orleans.
Wood and Redford fall in love, of course. (How could they not? They are both about 1000 times better looking than anyone else around.) But the course of true love is predictably unsmooth, and ultimately, tragic. I never watch the movie without (warning, spoiler ahead; those of you who have been meaning to catch this movie for the past 43 years but haven’t gotten around to it should skip the next bit) hoping that somehow it will end differently, and Natalie Wood won’t run out into the rain in New Orleans and catch pneumonia and die.
Yet I know that this movie would probably not have nearly the resonance it does for me if it ended differently. Undeniably, part of its appeal is both its tragic ending and the sense I get that maybe if I watch it just one more time, it will come out another way.
What about you? Are there any movies that you love and will watch over and over, somehow hoping they will end differently, even when you know that’s not possible? Do you think tragic endings are somehow more resonant than happy endings? Or do you stay away from sad movies, figuring there’s enough of that in real life?