After viewing The Graduate, I knew that I had seen a movie with a very similar plot centered on coming of age, familial rebellion, and fulfilling parental expectations. After muling over a myriad of films for several weeks, it finally dawned on me – Titanic! When analyzing the films side-by-side, I found similarities in the overarching themes and character development. Though 30 years apart, the parallelism between these films is truly amazing.
When comparing Ben to Rose of Titanic, it is easy to identify the harrowing expectations each of their families impose on them. Ben’s parents groom him and present him in a way that highlights his accomplishments and depicts him as the ideal son to their friends. They expect him to marry Elaine, attend graduate school, and perpetuate the materialistic lifestyle that he was raised in. Similarly, Rose has been coached by her mother all of her life on what it means to be a proper young lady in society. She is arranged to marry for wealth, and she is expected to be present and pleasant at lavish dinners. Both Ben and Rose object this luxurious lifestyle, and have no interest in living the lives their parents are painting for them.
Loss of Control and Blank Stares
Both Ben and Rose lack control of their lives; just as the airplane takes Ben on a journey he does not wish to embark on (back home to be subject to the expectations of his parents), Rose is trapped on a ship, pulling her to a life she does not wish to live. Both yearn for a deeper meaning to life, but are forced to go with the motions and listen to what Rose refers to as “mindless chatter” among their materialistic and vain families. Rose even states that she, “…saw [her] whole life as if [she’d] already lived it,” underscoring the notion that her fate is already determined by someone other than herself. The result – Ben and Rose feel empty, helpless, and discontent, as shown by the drawn out shots of the two blankly staring in their forced environments.
It is interesting to note that while Ben finds solace floating above water — above the expectations and the life his parents have planned for him — Rose looks to escape the confines of the floating ship and her meaningless lifestyle by taking her life and jumping under the water’s surface. Nevertheless, both Ben and Rose are quite literally drowning in their parents’ expectations. Ben’s parents disapprove when he shows hesitation to attend graduate school, just as Rose’s mother disapproves when Rose shows an interest in Jack over her arranged fiance or straying from the pristine image she is forced to uphold.The ship can also serve as a metaphor for the pressure Rose is facing, as the weight of it sinking pulls her down and nearly drowns her. Neither seem to have a voice among their families in both films. Ben is unable to speak in the scuba suit that his father insisted he wear, and Rose nearly takes her life because dead or alive, no one seems to hear her. The lack of fulfillment and meaning in their lives leaves both of them nearly lifeless.
While it is ambiguous if the relationships between Ben and Elaine and Jack and Rose are based on love, rebellion, or a mix of the two, both couplings emit a sense of betrayal against their families. Elaine’s parents would of course never support the marriage of Ben and Elaine after news of the affair surfaced, just as Rose’s mother would never approve of Rose marrying a third-class freelancer. Furthermore, Ben’s relationship with Mrs. Robinson was founded on rebellion as well, as any form of love is completely absent between them. The stringent expectations outlined for both Ben and Rose encourage them to break free and literally run from the confines of their parents’ wishes.
The Significance of Cars
One last detail that I almost overlooked was the symbolism of cars in both movies. Ben has his first meaningful conversation in the car with Elaine, as they are both far from the suburbs, and Ben is finally behind the wheel of his own life. Similarly, Jack and Rose make love and confirm their relationship in the automobile on the ship, representing that together they have the control to steer their lives in the directions they wish.
The parallelism between the two films remains even at their conclusions – in both cases, rebellion does not lead to eternal happiness. Ben and Elaine are on a bus bound for the life they can’t seem to leave behind, and Jack dies from hypothermia, leaving Rose alone and heartbroken. Both films do not tell us how one can successfully paint his/her own life.