Hurry Up! “Titan: The Movie” Will Be Out Before You Know It

This week, phone screens around the world have filled with stories, posts and even memes about five souls lost aboard a disabled submarine. It is only a matter of time before “Titan: The Movie” comes out. Why are we so fascinated by tragedy? Have we become less sensitive than our grandparents were?

The Titan beginning a dive. © OceanGate Inc. via the Wayback Machine

June 23, 2023 00:24 EDT

How long will it be before we see reviews of the film Titan? It seems insensitive, even sick, to contemplate a dramatization of a human tragedy before we have even finished considering all the unnerving details of the submersible’s disappearance. But you can bet at least one and perhaps a half-dozen production companies are already planning a film, or even a series.

What makes me so sure? Well, name one disaster that hasn’t been transformed into popular entertainment. The films are typically respectful, often thoughtful, and as deferential as possible to relatives. That doesn’t detract from the fact that they are made to entertain rather than educate us, inform us or change our attitudes. Unpalatable as it is to accept, we find real-life catastrophe enjoyable.

Turnaround times are getting faster

The Titan vessel went missing in a remote area of the North Atlantic on Sunday with four days’ supply of oxygen for its crew of five. The intention was to descend to the wreck of the iconic British passenger liner Titanic, the largest ship in the world at the time it was built and supposedly “unsinkable.” That ship struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage in April 1912 and sank to the bottom, ending 1,490 lives. The Titan voyagers, gawkers themselves, were supposed to inspect the hulk of the sunken ship. The fact that there is even a market for this kind of venture suggests how fascinated we are by cataclysms.

The Titanic tragedy became the subject of many motion pictures, James Cameron’s Oscar-winning 1997 blockbuster being the best known. Talking pictures were not around at the time of the real tragedy, and it wouldn’t be until 1953 when 20th Century Fox put out Jean Negulesco’s Titanic that viewers packed cinemas to be permitted to peer guiltlessly at a tragedy that remains one of our favorites to this day. Forty-one years was considered a suitably long period, and there was no agonizing over the timing. After all, the intervening period had witnessed two world wars, both of which had been dramatized in various ways by the early 1950s and continue to occupy filmmakers and audiences (of course).

Nowadays, the period of respect has been compressed. The Chernobyl explosion of 1986 was made into a horror film called Chernobyl Diaries in 2012, though the more recognizable HBO series Chernobyl did not reach television screens until 2019, 33 years after the nuclear meltdown. Even that seems an excessively long time by today’s standards. More typical is Patriots Day, a 2016 film structured around the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 that claimed three lives. Or Deepwater, a 2016 film based on the 2010 human and environmental disaster in which eleven people died.

We are all OceanGate

Does this suggest that we, as an audience, are becoming less respectful and sensitive? Or perhaps we are more genuinely interested in gaining a nuanced, empathic, comprehensive and more deeply insightful perspective than we are able to get through news outlets? Certainly, audiences are ready almost instantly. Maybe if talkies were around in the early twentieth century, cinemagoers would have jumped at the opportunity to witness the Titanic tragedy, albeit as paying onlookers. I doubt it, though. I think the historical context would have prohibited this.

I wasn’t around at the time, but my knowledge of the culture of the period tells me there would have been resistance. The intervening global conflicts changed audience sensibilities: by 1953, the public was inured to bloodshed and colossal loss of life. They’d watched newsreels, probably through parted fingers, and assimilated the prolonged trauma of persistent deaths, week after horrible week. Viewing a work of art based on a tragedy may once have been vulgar, uncivil and lacking in compassion. Not after the Second World War. Scars faded much more quickly.

Today, they seem to take no time at all to fade. No sooner do we learn of a disaster through our newspapers than a movie debuts. The attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, seemed to be such an extraordinarily enormous tragedy, with such far-reaching consequences, that filmmakers would have trodden gently. Not so: multiple dramatizations lept forth, including director Paul Greengrass’s recreation in real time, collating what was known of its flight path, communications with air traffic control, phone conversation of passengers and interviews with the families of the flight crew and passengers. United 93 was released within five years, in 2006.

I doubt that we will have to wait five years to see an artistic impression of what went on inside the Titan. It is grim trying to imagine it, but scriptwriters, directors and actors will do exactly that. Maybe they’re already doing so. As I write, reports of the grotesque misadventure of the Titan are filtering through and it seems unthinkable that any human would contemplate exploiting the tragic events, even for art’s sake. But they will. And it will not be long before you, reader, are watching the film.

[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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