Titanic Plot Synopsis
James Cameron’s 1997 movie, bagged itself 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, when it released. Using a combination of fake and real characters from the doomed vessel, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio star as fictionalized characters onboard the Titanic in this romantic historical drama.
The story is split between two different time periods, with the first in the heart of 1996. A research vessel begins exploring the wreckage of the Titanic, led by Brock Lovett and his team.
They recover a safe in the hopes of it containing a necklace with a large rare diamond known as the Heart of the Ocean. Instead, they find a drawing of a young nude woman wearing that very necklace. The sketch is dated April 14th 1912, the same day the Titanic hit that iceberg.
Rose rings the crew, informing them she’s the one from the drawing. She’s brought aboard and recounts her tale of how she met Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the events that led to the ship sinking.
From here, we cut back to 1912 as we see a 17 year old Rose DeWitt Dukater board the HMS Titanic bound for America. But as she says herself, she likened the Titanic to a slave ship, taking her away in chains to marry Caledon “Cal” Hockley.
When Rose decides to commit suicide one night and jump off the back of the ship, she ends up befriending Jack Dawson, a poor young artist who won a third-class ticket to the Titanic in a poker game.
Why does Rose write her mocking note to Cal after the drawing?
As Jack and Rose grow closer together, Rose brings Jack to her state room and pays him to sketch her nude, wearing only the Heart of the Ocean necklace, something Cal gifted her earlier in the movie. She never particularly liked wearing it, claiming it was bulky and heavy – ironically symbolizing her own heavy heart at this proposed marriage.
After drawing her sketch, Rose leaves the drawing inside the safe alongside the diamond and a note, reading “Darling, now you can keep us both locked in your safe.”
This is, of course, her proverbial way of saying f*ck you to Cal and his controlling ways, with the safe serving as a metaphor for Rose’s life prior to entering the Titanic. This is her way of liberating herself, thanks to Jack’s help.
After the pair make love to one another, they head up on deck and watch the ship’s collision with the iceberg, overhearing officers discussing how serious this situation is.
While this is going on, Cal returns to find Jack’s sketch and Rose’s note. He has Lovejoy slip the Heart of the Ocean necklace into Jack’s coat, thus framing him as a thief. Unfortunately, he’s confined in the master-at-arms’ office down below. Cal is there to see Jack off, taking the necklace for himself and hitting Jack for good measure.
How does Jack escape?
Rose heads off and finds Jack, freeing him from his handcuffs with an axe. After a couple of questionable “practice” shots, she miraculously breaks his bonds.
The pair manage to make it back on deck again, where Cal catches up with them both. An opportunity for Rose to leave presents itself, with Cal promising that they’ll be following soon in their own lifeboat. They won’t, of course, as the deal is for Cal only and Jack is destined to stay on the ship and die.
Does Cal survive?
Rose decides at the last minute not to leave and scrambles back aboard the boat. It’s the last straw for Cal, who grabs Lovejoy’s pistol and chases them into the flooding dining room in first-class When they disappear out of view, Cal realizes with bitter irony that Rose has actually been wearing Cal’s coat the whole time – the one with the Heart of the Ocean inside.
Cal decides to abandon ship, and does so by snatching up a crying child and posing as her concerned father. The pair manage to get aboard a lifeboat and survive, although Cal does get a couple of dirty looks from the officers onboard.
What happens to Jack and Rose?
With time running out and the ship quickly filling with water, Jack and Rose return to the boat deck. All the lifeboats are gone and the ship’s stern is starting to rise. They desperately cling to the stern rail, where they watch the infamous “fan guy”, who falls and bounces off the ship’s propellers.
The ship breaks in half, giving the pair a couple of precious moments before they both fall into the freezing water together; the Titanic forever lost to the depths of the ocean.
How does Rose survive? Why can’t Jack join her?
In the freezing water, Rose and Jack are momentarily separated before deciding to leave the crowds of people scrambling for help. Together, they find a floating door and attempt to survive. Jack and Rose both try to get on this together but their combined weight buckles it.
We actually see them both attempting this once (I mean, they could have tried a few times after all…) but in the end, Jack is confined to his fate. He makes the decision to sacrifice his own life so Rose can live hers.
So in the end, Jack holds onto the edge of the door while Rose lies on her back. Now, there is the subject of hypothermia and a couple of contrivances, but ignoring that, time passes and Rose is eventually saved by a returning lifeboat.
So where is the Heart of the Ocean? What happened to Cal?
As the film reaches its climax, the survivors from the Titanic are saved by the RMS Carpathia, who rescue the survivors. Rose notices Cal wandering around trying to find her but she manages to stay hidden.
That’s the last we see of Cal, whom we learn (courtesy of Rose’s narration in the present timeline) actually commit suicide after losing his fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
What happens to the Heart of the Ocean?
In the theatrical release (we’ll get to the alternate scenes shortly), Lovett decides to give up searching for the Heart of the Ocean, believing it’s a lost cause. He finally understands the emotional turmoil this horrific accident had and decides to let the past rest.
However, alone on the stern that night, Rose takes out the Heart of the Ocean from her pocket. She had it with her the whole time! She drops it into the sea, allowing it to be lost alongside the wreckage, safe in the knowledge that no one will find it. At least not anytime soon!
Does Rose die at the end or is she dreaming?
That night, Rose heads back to her room and sleeps peacefully. But… does she pass away in her sleep or is she still alive? It’s a subjective scene, with Cameron himself leaving this one deliberately ambiguous. The script simply states she is “very still” and “could be sleeping, or something else.”
With the familiar music theme playing, the camera pans across various pictures of Rose in her life, ironically taking part in all the different activities she and Jack promised one another they’d do. From horse riding through to raising a family, Rose has made the most of her life and throwing the Heart of the Ocean in the sea feels like her final bit of closure from a very fulfilling life.
Not only that, but Jack also promised Rose – while they were both freezing outside – that she is going to die an old lady, warm in her bed. This only reinforces the idea that she is dead.
However, on the other side of the debate you could argue that Rose has not passes away. She’s lived a long, happy life and is married and with kids. But instead of reaching the afterlife with her loving family, she ends up with a man who changed her life back when she was a teenager, someone she only knew for a weekend.
Why would she give up all that to be in the afterlife with Jack? We’ll let you be the judge of which side of the argument you fall on!
Given Titanic is a romantic drama though, we’re more inclined to say it’s the former. And as the film closes out, we cut to the Titanic once more, as Rose and Jack are reunited together at the Grand Staircase, applauded by all those who died on the ship.
What happens in the alternate ending?
The alternate ending is… different. And by different we mean absolutely dreadful. Here, the ending is changed to see Lizzy (Rose’s granddaughter) spotting her grandmother climb up on the railings. She rushes forward with Brock, where Rose tells them not to get any closer. She holds up the Heart of the Ocean and threatens to drop it.
“You had that the whole time?” Brock asks incredulously. Rose explains she did think about selling the diamond but couldn’t do it, given it made her think of Cal. Rose’s true purpose on this trip was to “put it [the Heart of the Ocean] back where it belongs.”
Brock pleads with Rose to let him hold the diamond just once but Rose tells Brock that he “looks for treasure in the wrong places,” telling him that life is priceless and they should make each day count.
Rose tosses the diamond overboard, while Brock’s team show up and watch on incredulously. The same scene of the gem hitting the water is used, before we cut back to Brock and Rose. The former laughs at his team before asking Lizzy to dance.
Let’s be glad this didn’t make it into the final cut, as the original is pretty pitch perfect for the messaging.