A soundtrack – be it music or other effects creating the ambient atmosphere to the visual component – has become an integral part of each film since the introduction of the talkies. The case is the same with one of the most important motion pictures of the 20th century “Titanic”. The music is not the central element to the film per se although the song “My Heart Will Go On” has become one of the film’s symbols, firmly ingrained into the public conscious of cinema visitors around the world. Even the love story of two main characters, Jack and Rose, is not at the forefront exactly.
The centrepiece and, quite incredibly, the background is the ship itself – Titanic, the swimming palace and one of the symbols for the outmost grandeur in the pre-First World War 20th century. Nonetheless, the music is a most powerful element in one of the film’s sequences closer to the end of the ship when a band of musicians decide to keep on playing to soothe the passengers in the wake of almost imminent death. Their sacrifice made a particular piece of music forever tied to the story of the ship and its significance.
Almost all of the music in the film is aimed to evoking emotions from a viewer through beauty and lyricism. There are four principal themes within the film, which are usually heard in pairs (Hickman 2005). The Titanic and Southampton themes accompany the views of the ship underlining its grandeur. The music creates an incredibly optimistic feel, so that those not quite aware of the story may still acquire faith that a happy ending might be in order for this Hollywood interpretation of the story. The pinnacle of optimism is reached at 31:15 mark, when something most optimistic happens – biggest manmade objects moves very fast across the Atlantic (Hickman 2005). The composer managed to fuse the themes into one at that point perfectly. Keys of C major and F major have the ability to blend well. The same is done with the Rose and Love themes. Melodies of each respective theme work perfectly by themselves. When united, they create even a mightier impact.
The next important influence of music on the film is within “Rose” and “Love” themes. The love story of Jack and Rose is the central plot element driving the story of the characters forwards. The fate of the ship is presupposed by history, but some of its imaginary inhabitants created specifically for the film develop and evolve thanks to the newly developing relationship of Jack and Rose. The “Love” theme plays during some of the most important romantic scenes in the entire film: the iconic last sunset when two lovers are standing at the bow of the boat and kiss each other for the first time (1:20:20) and the moment of Jack creating a fully nude portrait of Rose (Hickman 2005). The “Rose” and “Love” themes are also at the foundation of the song “My Heart Will Go On” sung by Celine Dion. “Rose” theme is used as an instrumental break at the intro and subsequently between the verses. Interestingly enough, the song, which garnered such popularity and praise among the critics and the audience, was not initially intended for the release.
The director, James Cameron, was concerned that he would be criticized for finishing the film with a commercial wannabe hit pop song. Nonetheless, he had to permit its inclusion in order to appease the producers and the film making company, who were getting extremely nervous about already sky-rocketing costs of production. The effect of the song is doubtless. It finishes the film in a bitter sweet mood and is rather catchy. It is easy to memorize and the chorus is bound to become stuck in one’s mind for a long time. With that said, in the opinion of this reviewer, the song is rather cheesy. Yes, the story of Jack and Rose is incredibly romantic beyond any doubt. There was no need, it seems in the retrospective, to rub it in yet one more time with a sweet pop song albeit used on very beautiful themes. Hence, the song becomes perhaps the weakest point of the film, because it ruins the mood and detracts attention from the entire tragedy of the ship and its passengers to this particular made up love story. Had these exact themes that made up the song been presented in the instrumental fashion like they were throughout the film, the impression would have been much more positive. In any case, the song turned out to be very popular and brought the companies even more revenue with the soundtrack album selling very nicely. The song on the other hand is rather cliché. What is particularly tacky is the hackneyed trick of changing the key to a higher one throughout the chorus. This method had already been used to death in pop music by the end of the 90s.
The most important musical element in the film, which impresses the most and even brought tears to the eyes of this reviewer, is when the musicians decide to keep on playing at the poop deck. At first, their initial decision to play for the public seems logical. Back then, it was not apparent that the ship was doomed. When the situation clearly became grave, they decide to disperse. The primary violinist remains ad starts playing “Nearer My God to Thee”. Other musicians join in shortly. While the hymn is played, many things are shown: Captain Smith meeting his end at the bridge, Andrews looking at the clock, the Straus couple lying on the bed having opted to die together, a mother trying to make her children fall asleep by reading them a story. This moment epitomizes the tragedy. It is incredible to realize that right before the bitter end, most people had a chance to hear this beautiful music. Moreover, the sacrifice of the musicians is truly staggering – they remained faithful to the music regardless of what was happening around them. This episode shows that even despite apocalypse (and this was an apocalypse for all people on the board), there would still be place for beauty produced by a human being. This is even more optimistic than the happy themes in the beginning of the film.
The music plays an integral role in “Titanic” as well. Themes complement moments and make them more special. The final song with the titles spoils the impression and the mood somewhat. Thankfully, one can always leave the cinema right before the singing starts.