Why I Hate Rose Dawson of “Titanic”

by: Nico Lang

Last night, I saw Titanic for the first time on the big screen, in all 3Ds of Celine Dion octave-jumping. I’ve seen it about twenty times on home video, and I actually still remember the original box set of the film my grandparents bought when it first came out on VHS. However, seeing a beloved film in the theatres can completely change the experience for you, like when I sat through a retrospective of the Godfather series a couple years ago and was forever scarred by how bad Sofia Coppola is in the lesser-loved Part III. Sometimes the big screen can really bring out the total ineptitude of a character, and when I saw Titanic again, I wasn’t struck by how gorgeous Cameron’s sets are or how masterful his use of light is. I was too wrapped up by what a total toolshed Rose Dawson is.

If there’s any female character in history definitely in need of a Sassy Gay Friend, it’s Rose Dawson (née DeWitt Bukater). Although the movie seems to think of her as being strong-willed and fiery, we only really see that in two scenes—one where she drinks beer (wild woman!) and another where she makes a joke about the size of the boat and men’s Freudian preoccupations with size. (Better tell that Dorothy Parker to watch her back!)

For the rest of the film, this “pistol” allows herself to be pushed around by whatever male or authority figure happens to be in charge of her. She’s not exactly Xena: Warrior Princess. First, she’s controlled by her mother, who orders her to marry a rich man she doesn’t love to keep Rose and her mother from becoming seamstresses. Because she can’t do anything for herself, I’m guessing Rose wouldn’t have an aptitude for any sort of labor, and so I see where the mother is coming from.

However, Rose’s fiancée is so cartoonishly horrible that I wondered why Rose didn’t even try to bring up how detestable he is. Sure, the woman is kind of a selfish prude, but Rose’s mother isn’t a monster or a Culkin parent, and it doesn’t sound like Rose tried to reason with her much about the situation. Maybe you might want to explain that the guy she’s marrying you off to is a potential wife beater and clearly a sociopath? Just a thought.

And while were on the subject of Cal, I have a hard time seeing what Rose could ever see in him in the first place. Throughout the entire film, Cal is the worst person in existence and barely tries to hide it. What about him denigrating someone for being poor, stealing an orphaned child to get a seat on a boat, flipping over a table and calling her a whore (but in fancy language) or trying to shoot her ever said: “Marry me!” I know that it’s the early 20th century and things were different for women back then, but marrying for money never had to mean shacking up with Phil Spektor. Weren’t there any other non-psychotic rich dudes to choose from?

Some may argue that Rose starts off as spoiled and selfish as Cal is—based on her comments about Titanic not being that impressive—but Jack shows her how to not be a total tool. And that’s good. She learns.

But she doesn’t really. She just gets pushed around by a new guy. She does that thing that a lot of people I know do and starts becoming more like whomever she’s seeing, which includes dancing the jig, spitting and engaging in some rumpy pumpy in a Model T. All of this sounds like a lot more fun than trying not to pass out because your corset and class options are too constricting, but Rose still has a long way to go before she we can call her “empowered.” After they meet, Jack spends the rest of the movie politely ordering her around, and during the last third of the film, he’s all but pushing her through the boat to help her not drown. “Swim, Rose!” “Jump, Rose!” “Chop off my handcuffs with an ax without making me a lefty masturbator, Rose!” How about: “Do something for yourself, Rose!” or “Stop standing around like a ninny, Rose!” I longed for Katniss Everdeen to burst in and shoot something with an arrow.

Some might say that her moment of choice—the moment where she decides to become her own woman and not be controlled by other people—is when she chooses to go off with Jack and not live the life her mother has planned for her. I have some problems with this. First, if you’re going to go off with a guy you’ve only known for, like, two scenes, maybe you want to do a background check first—because if not, you get into some serious Bella Swan or Juilet territory. (Is he co-dependent, a serial murderer or a vampire? It might be good to find out.)

And it seems to me that if one plans on doing the Juliet thing and running off with a guy you just met, maybe one wants to actually help him live. At least Juliet had an excuse because she was 13 and too busy thinking about Justin Bieber concerts to have common sense, but what’s Rose’s problem?

In one scene, Rose wastes up a spot on a lifeboat (by jumping off the damn thing) that could have gone to someone else…just to watch her new boyfriend die? How does that make any sense? Because after the boat sinks, Rose doesn’t seem that interested in her boyfriend’s well being or survival. He lets her sit on the raft—because he’s a much better person than she is—and then she slowly watches him freeze to death. Does she try to make space on the raft? Nope. There’s no way that raft could have held both of them, but it would be nice to at least offer to share. If not, she could have tried to find him his own raft. Rose is literally surrounded by people who are dying, sitting on rafts that are soon to be available. If there’s not a free raft right now, just wait five minutes and one will be.

I would cut Rose some slack here—because maybe hypothermia played a small role in her inability to do anything for anyone else—if a) she didn’t suddenly spring to live when her own survival was at stake and b) she weren’t a complete wet blanket the whole movie.

What I find most insulting about his death is that at the end of the movie, it’s all totally okay. Why? Because he lives on in her memories. I would be tempted to say that this is the most crazily selfish romantic fantasy I’ve ever heard, if I weren’t convinced that old lady Rose has dementia. By the end of the movie, I got so fed up with her feebly romanticizing the whole thing that I actually preyed someone would just push her off the boat at the end. Rose, you want that Heart of the Ocean to rest at the bottom of the sea? Good, because you’re going with it, and then we can all just go back to watching The Hunger Games, where no one’s even heard of Celine Dion.

Nico Lang is the Co-Creator and Co-Editor of In Our Words and a graduate student in DePaul University’s Media & Cinema Studies program. Lang is a Change Coordinator for LGBT Change, the Co-Founder of Chicago’s Queer Intercollegiate Alliance and a columnist for HEAVEMedia. At HEAVE, Nico writes a column on film called Found Footage and talks about nerd stuff on a weekly podcast called Pod People. Elsewhere in podcasting, Lang hosts Broad Shoulders, a monthly podcast for Chicago’s Live Lit community. Nico is also a contributor at Thought Catalog and the Huffington Post and has been featured in the Washington PostChicago TribuneLA Times, the New Gay and on their mother’s refrigerator. Follow Nico on Twitter @Nico_Lang or on the Facebook.

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17 responses to “Why I Hate Rose Dawson of “Titanic”

  1. Sweet baby Jesus in a peach tree! I thought I was the only one who loathed Rose Dawson! Thank you for validating my utter contempt for one of the most beloved characters in film history. I feel much better now.

  2. Um, if you watched the raft scene carefully, you would have seen that Rose actually did try to make room on the raft for Jack. When they weren’t able to stay afloat with him on it, Jack gave up his spot on the raft for Rose’s safety.

  3. OK the raft thing is becoming really tired at this point. While I agree with most of the points, this “They both could have LIVED thing” is lazy and wrong. Jack tried to get on the thing, it started to sink so it slide back off. It was a willing choice. While I am not a huge Cameron fan when it comes to his narratives, (or their ham handedness) it was shown that they both would have died. Constantly belaboring this point is a lazy and incorrect when there is so many other things to poke fun at aboard this boat.

    • I do poke fun of the other things, but I think the raft is important. It seems to me that if girl jumped off a lifeboat to get back to the dude, she might be interested in trying a little harder and not taking “I’m gonna chill here and die” for an answer. She doesn’t, because (like Rose) the movie doesn’t seem that interested in seeing him live. Had she been more proactive (which would have been out of character) he would have lived, and there would have been no tears and no $1.7 billion dollars.

      • I think you are painting the door raft section incorrectly, although these things are entirely subjective.The raft could not support them both and he demands she stop trying to pull him aboard the door she is floating on. People fight for this door issue because it seems such a “I would never do that moment.” Personally I thought the entire love story of the movie was forgettable but 1.7 billion things say others didn’t. :)

        More stuff on the door, albeit from deleted scenes which changed nothing but the pacing of the end and drove home the fact it would not support them both.However I believe this was cut for the pacing and because it was expected the audience would understand the lack of support after the first attempt.

        The physical shock of the water would go a long way to cut out any ‘trying harder’ that Rose is lacking. Honestly anyone making contact with the water was dead. Realistically she would have been unconscious in 5 minutes and dead in fifteen. Although that’s a level of realism that would be overly picky, similar to the whole buoyancy of the door / paneling thing.

        On the 3-disk Collector’s Edition DVD of Titanic, there are about 45 minutes of deleted scenes.

        One happens right after the ship sinks, and Jack and Rose reunite.

        Jack finds a piece of door, and allows Rose to get on top of it. He then tries to join her, but it can’t be balanced right with two people, and Jack ends up just upsetting the raft and tipping Rose into the water.
        He then proceeds to give up trying to get out of the water in favor of her safety, and she stays mostly dry atop the raft, with him hanging onto the edge.

        Another scene later shows a man attempting to commandeer the raft from the two, which results in Jack turning to him and saying, coldly but firmly, “This raft is for the lady.” Then man accepts this, wishes them well, and paddles out of the frame.

        Rose isn’t being selfish.
        They tried having both people on the raft and it didn’t work.

        oh PS – I agree 100% on the Cal thing, I mean, they came just short of showing him chucking puppies over the side in case his EVILNESS wasn’t clear enough. :)

      • Shelby, the comment feature is being weird and won’t let me reply below, so I apologize. But I think that my issue is that taken by itself, the raft scenario is not that damning. However, with the prevailing narrative of her character being something of a wet nap, that’s where I start to take issue. I find that her inaction in that scenario is similar to her inaction throughout the film. It’s not the raft in itself that’s the problem (and I think that devoting more time to trying to make Jack survive would have been helpful, especially considering how much time they spent on their survival beforehand and the hour-and-a-half-long sinking of a ship); it’s that scene in context. Because I, too, hate talking so much about the raft scene, as it’s just a tiny part of why I find her character so bothersome. There’s a lot to say. (I even mention this in my paragraph below the raft breakdown. Otherwise, I really would cut her some slack on the raft thing.)

        And, yeah, Cal. Is Cameron trying to say that all rich people (who aren’t sassy and from Texas) are evil? What does he have to say then about his own millions and millions of dollars? Did Cameron, too, run away with a twink boy in order to discover the meaning of life and that being alive is about more than your net worth? I smell some autobiography here.

  4. You…do realise that Titanic is set in 1912, right? Women HAD no rights. Rose was not her own woman. She was a seventeen year old girl in a society where men ruled. Jack asked Rose if she loved Cal and she couldn’t answer him because she didn’t, but she still had to marry him.

    I bet if you go back 100 or so years in anyone’s family, there is a woman who married against her wishes. Heck, it’s happening in today’s society still.

  5. Always i like to feel jacks love, never try to analyse my all time favorite movie titanic and the characters.. So i can’t find out any faults of rose but ur words.. Told me to think about it., now i don’t really love her(rose). Why she is not try to give some place for him on the raft..?? She is never try to inspire him.. If she inspire him then, she can also make some space or can share the raft.. Thanks Mr. Nico lang..

  6. How about the fact that Rose, in 1997 or whatever, knowingly lies to the people searching for the necklace, has them fly her out on a helicopter on (presumably) the explorer’s expense, and waists their time for hours telling them a story – in which she is lying. Then, after all that, throws the necklace in the water so that they’ll never find it.

    Furthermore, she spent a life married to another man to whom she most likely never fully loved and day-dreamed about some guy that she knew for, what?, a couple days max?

    Agreed. Rose is a bitch.

  7. Don’t forget about the fact that in the afterlife, she totally ignores her husband of x-amount of years and jumps into the arms of the guy she knew (as you said) for 2 scenes.

  8. I just watched this film for only the second time. I’m 36, and had no interest in what I figured to be sappy trash when it came out. I actually rather enjoyed the film when I finally did view it, but not really for the love story. It required too much suspension of disbelief. Rose was a selfish bitch. Now, I know this is just a movie and it wouldn’t fit the narrative, but why did she keep Jack a secret all those years? Didn’t she even consider that his family may want to know what happened to him? They wouldn’t have even known he was on the Titanic. Jack spent the last hours of his life trying to save Rose, so she returns the favor by allowing his memory to be erased by everyone but her? I imagine that if Jack had lived, their “love” would have fizzled in about a month or so. Rose, being the beyotch she is, would have ditched Jack when she tired of his lower class lifestyle. Jack could have done WAY better.

  9. Jack COULD have lived as well IF Rosé had not decided to get off the original damned boat to go back and be by his side or what have you. Had she really wanted him to survive she would have stayed on the boat and let him see himself to safety. Then shortly thereafter they would find each other again and run off into the heavily trademarked sunset.

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