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My Heart Will Go On: Titanic & We Need to Talk About Calvert…

It’s funny the things we pick up on after seeing a movie a few times. I had the pleasure of attending a preview of Titanic 3D last week, and Cameron’s film still holds up as an epic romance in a style that Hollywood simply doesn’t do anymore. It still has its problems, but it is one hell of a cinematic accomplishment. Still, as I was watching the film, my attention may have wandered a bit, and I found myself thinking about things that were unseen, as opposed to those moments Cameron had explicitly shown. Specifically, I thought about Rose Dawson’s life after the sinking of the ocean liner but before her trip to the salvage crew. In fact, I thought quite a bit about Calvert. Who is Calvert, you might ask? Calvert is her husband, the father to her children and the grandfather to her granddaughter, who is entirely absent from the film as we pay homage to the love story between Jack and Rose.

We know that Rose fell in love again after Jack (or at least married), because we’re explicitly told it long before we jump back in time to that fateful trip. Brock Lovett’s right-hand-man, the nerd Lewis Bodine, offers a rundown of Rose’s history before she even sets foot on the salvage boat:

Look, I’ve already done the background on this woman all the way back to the twenties, when she was working as an actress. An actress! There’s your first clue, Sherlock! Her name was Rose Dawson back then. Then she marries this guy named Calvert, they move to Cedar Rapids and she punches out a couple of kids. Now Calvert’s dead, and from what I hear Cedar Rapids is dead!

So we know that Rose married after the disaster, and that she lived and loved him. There’s no indication that the pair split and Rose speaks fondly of him their granddaughter.

And yet, barring the odd mention here or there, there’s no real mention of him. We don’t see Rose meet this guy after the disaster, we never learn if she really loved him or was truly settling after coming to terms with the loss of Jack. Cameron makes a joke about Rose bringing a load personal belongings to the trawler, boxes and boxes of stuff to help fill her room on the boat. “I have to have my pictures when I travel,” she remarks. towards the end of the film, as the older Rose sleeps, Cameron uses the bedside photos to fill in the blanks. We get Rose riding a horse. We see Rose piloting an airplane. What we don’t see is a wedding photo or a photo of married bliss.

Of course, I should concede that there’s a reason we don’t see Calvert. The story, after all, is not about him in any real way. In fact, I suspect the only reason that we learn his name is “Calvert” is so that there might be some initial tension when we discover her fiancé is named “Cal.” Of course, it’s a different person – Billy Zane plays Caledon Nathan Hockley, not “Calvert” – but I assume the similarity between the names is intentional. We don’t see or encounter “Calvert” at all, because he’s not relevent.

After all, there would have been a significant audience backlash had Cameron produced an epic called “Titanic” that charted the romantic relationship between a traumatised and bankrupt survivor of the maritime disaster and some guy named Calvert. This is the story of a young love affair on the Titanic, where young love is torn asunder like the gigantic boat on the iceberg. In fact, one of the shrewder things Cameron does is presenting the disaster as almost a background event to his star-crossed lovers, just one of the many hurdles confronting Rose and Jack.

Calvert, the unseen future husband, literally only exists to fill in a gap in Rose’s post-Titanic existence. I do admit to finding it a bit unnecessary though – if only because a film about the impact of true love seems to gloss over the longest romantic engagement Rose ever had. We find out that Rose lived a full life after the disaster, and that she at least made a living for herself as an actress. Even at a ripe old age, she’s still able to journey into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The dead husband seems to exist purely to demonstrate that Rose did – kind of – move on from the loss of Jack. “You must do me this honor,” Jack remarks, dying, “promise me you will survive… that you will never give up… no matter what happens… no matter how hopeless… promise me now, and never let go of that promise.” However, I can’t help but wonder if she couldn’t fulfil that promise without marrying and starting a family. Her photos show her doing cool stuff, did Cameron need to give her a family to prove she’d lived a life after Jack?

It seems to imply that finding love and family were somehow necessary to justify Rose’s existence, if you think too much about it. If you want to get decidedly old-fashioned and open up a whole bunch of gender issues, Calvert exists so that Rose doesn’t grow up to be an “old maid” or a “spinster.” I’m sure Cameron would politely rebuke such observations, and make the case that Rose had clearly enjoyed a full and independent life before marriage, and probably after it too. He might also make the pragmatic observation that just because Rose loved Jack doesn’t mean that she never loved again.

If so, it displays a rather pragmatic world view and one opposed to the romanticism that the film suggests. It seems that so many love stories subscribe to the idea of “one true love” for each person, and perhaps Cameron dared to challenge that within the framework of this gigantic epic. It would be a remarkably pragmatic world view, but it does seem quite strange when taken against the movie’s core idea – that people can “find” one another in a matter of days and make an immeasurable impact on each other’s identity in so short a time.

It would break the mold of such stories if Cameron were to bravely suggest that such love is not unique – that it is possible to truly and deeply love more than one person over the course of a lifetime, that there’s more than one “soul mate” for each person. It would certainly upset the conventions of the genre, which seems to take for granted that romantic leads are uniquely “meant” for one another. When love goes wrong, it’s boom or bust – there’s seldom any other fish in the sea and it’s all or nothing for these two people. Of course, it does beg the question of what might happen if it doesn’t work out? Can a broken hearted individual eventually find a “replacement” for their missing half?

If Cameron was daring to suggest such a relatively unconventional idea as that within the framework of the most financially successful love story of all time (unadjusted for inflation), I would be very impressed. However, the truth is that we don’t know enough about the relationship between Rose and her husband to really judge. He’s just referenced in a couple of sentences, inserted as a footnote. However, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for this tragic little footnote character inserted into the exposition of a blockbuster epic.

It can’t help but seem, based on what little we learn, that Rose and Calvert had a relationship nearly as deep and profound as the love she shared with Jack. For example, despite promising never to let him go, it appears that Rose never mentioned Jack to Calvert. Talking to the salvage crew of strangers, Rose explains, “And I’ve never spoken of him until now, not to anyone. Not even your grandfather. A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets. But now you all know there was a man named Jack Dawson, and that he saved me, in every way that a person can be saved.”

I’m going to be a little offended here on behalf of the fictional Calvert. True love must, after all, involve some measure of immense intimacy between two people. Rose opened up to Jack about everything within days of getting to know him. I can’t help but feel, had there been any true form of love between Rose and Calvert, she would have been more willing to discuss the first man she truly loved with her husband. After all, if she never truly let go of Jack, I can’t help but feel that her husband deserved to know as some small measure of trust. Of course the relationship could have worked, but that sort of honesty seems fundamental to an honest marriage. It seems a little unfair to the poor guy that Rose should suddenly open up to strangers (and her granddaughter) about something she kept from a man with whom she lived a long and (seemingly) fulfilling life.

What little we learn of the relationship between Rose and Calvert isn’t necessarily indicative of any sort of true love. Her bedside is filled with photos of her by herself. She kept the most personal secrets and her true love hidden from him for their entire life together. One wonders why Rose would have married if she couldn’t find some intimacy approaching the level of feeling she had with Jack. Did she “settle”? If so, why would she compromise her independence?

And this is even before we get into the ending of the film. There are two main interpretations. The first is that Rose is merely dreaming of Jack, her memories fresh from telling the story. In that case, it makes sense she’d dream of him instead of her long-dead husband. On the other hand, it has been suggested that she is dead and has moved on to some form of afterlife. It might just be a dying vision, but if it is – literally – heaven, where is her husband? What happens in his version of heaven? Is he just waiting for Rose to show up, wondering why she’s taking so long? Or does Rose eventually get the opportunity to introduce him to Jack? Even if it is just a vision rather than anything literal, it still feels a little sad that poor Calvert doesn’t get a look into his wife’s dying fantasy.

One wonders why Cameron included references to a husband who it seems wasn’t especially crucial to Rose’s life. Was it because he was wary of portraying Rose as a stereotype of a lonely old cat lady? Did he consider a marriage and kids to be an essential part of living a fulfilling life for a female character?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, but they keep occurring to me. It’s amazing the random stuff we think about when watching films, isn’t it?

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4 Responses

  1. OK, here is my two cents on this after fourteen years of thought and reflection, and personal maturity and life experience between the ages of 16 and 30…

    First off, I believe Rose never mentioned Jack to Calvert- ever- because there was very much a part of her heart that was actively in love with Jack. That’s not something you do, talk about someone you are still in love with to the current person you are dating, let alone married to. Obviously Rose at some point down the line made peace with Jack’s death and was able to go on and open her heart to another in an intimate fashion, but the truth is you CAN love more than one person, and be IN LOVE in different ways, and yes, in love with more than one at the same time. I got the impression Rose married Calvert at a point in her life where she had lived her own adventures alone, did the things that fulfilled that adventurous side to her/the things Jack and Rose would have done together had Titanic made it to New York, and was ready to settle and have a family. Women don’t NEED to have children to justify their existence, but it’s biological fact that at some point, the desire to have a baby does kick in for many, and I am sure for Rose it was no different. Jack gave her the freedom and ability to love, and the Rose she came to me no doubt had a large capacity for love and had a maternal desire to lavish children with love.

    Not only that, but the point of Lizzy is to show that Rose herself is loved deeply by he family. She had a granddaughter that cares for her- enough to sort of put her own life on hold to tend to her. This little snippet into their relationship, to me, demonstrates that Rose very much was the “awesome granny” in her “younger” years (60s to 70s) probably sneaking her grandchildren sweets when they weren’t supposed to have them, camping out in the backyard in a tent in the summer, taking them on rollercoasters, etc. It’s just an extension of what Jack did for her- allowed Rose to fully develop into the woman she had the potential to be, and how it carried over into every relationship she had since April 15, 1912. Had Rose married Cal and endured the first class lifestyle, the Old Rose of that alternate universe very well could have been sitting alone in assisted living while her trust-fund granchildren with Cal gallavanted the world, never giving their grandmother a second thought. Through her clearly affectionate relationship with Lizzy, we are meant to see Rose had a full live in every way possible- yes, thanks to her four day relationship with Jack.

    I myself always wondered why Cameron chose “Calvert” as a name. I think perhaps it is a subtle way to tell the audience he was no match for Jack when it came to the deep ocean of secrets her heart was. I imagine a life of security, respect, and happy cherished moments with Calvert. Their marriage was a slow, deep burn, whereas Jack set her heart on fire. Neither relationship “better” or more or less valid than the other, just different. I do think though, based on the ending scene, that Jack Dawson was THE love of her life. The big one. The soul and mind altering one. The one you wish more than anything to be reunited with someday. And be it dream or Heaven, she was.

    • Fair points.

      However, I don’t like the insinuation that Calvert or Lizzie are necessary to convince the audience that Rose led “a full live in every way possible.” And then there’s the fact that she kept Jack a secret from Calvert. I could understand her wanting to put the loss of Jack behind her, but if he had been such a massive influence on her – as it implied he was – then that four-day affair was a pretty massive part of who she was. To keep that massive and defining part of herself so tightly cordoned fof and off limits to a man she married and claims to have loved doesn’t seem like love at all. There’s no real intimacy there, because there’s a massive part of herself that’s just off limits to him.

      I could understand not telling him about her original fiance, as she probably wanted to forget that and move past it, refusing to be defined by it. But she never moved past Jack. And that jsut feels a little dishonest.

  2. Oh, and adding on, when I was sixteen I thought to myself, “Poor Calvert, he did kind of get the short end of the stick.” I envisioned an innocent young man marrying a woman who did have a divided heart, or a heart that “loved” in body, not in spirit, completely unbeknownst to him. Now I realize Calvert no doubt came with his own backstory. Who’s to say Rose wasn’t a second wife, having lost a first wife to childbirth, and the baby too? By the time he and Rose married, probably closer to 1930, Calvert as a man had surely been around the block on his own, and a man is also allowed to have a heart that is a deep “man cave” of secrets as well.

    • And if the story had been Calvert’s and we knew that, I’d also worry about him keeping secrets from the woman he claims to love.

      While obviously not as visceral, I think A History of Violence explored that sort of dilemma quite well – even if you are in love, at what points do the secrets about your life that you keeps from your wife change who you are to her? Even though the guy in that film lives a sweet and wholesome life, the revelations about the past he had cordoned off from his wife are shown to destroy their relationship – understandably and justifiably so. Because his past is a large part of who he is, and he can’t just close that off completely.

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