There is a single shot, just seconds long, in James Cameron’s newly re-released movie, “Titanic,” that says it all with poignant eloquence.
Up to this point in the narrative, the director has emphasized the great ship’s size and grandeur. She sweeps over the waves like a building that has somehow learned to fly and you cannot help but gape at the mammoth scale of her, the largest moving object on Earth at more than 100 feet tall and four city blocks long.
Then comes her collision with that iceberg she saw too late. Her bow is slipping beneath the water and she is shooting off distress flares. Cameron stations his camera back, way back, placing the stricken ship amid a vastness of black water and an infinity of inky sky, the futile flare breaking pitifully above her. She is a tiny outpost of human anguish stranded in the ocean, and you marvel that you ever thought her big.
That shot is a profound reminder of the epic scale of this stage upon which generations strut and preen. Titanic was the newest there was, but she died upon an ocean that was old when Vikings sailed, under a sky that saw the continents rise.
And she was the biggest there was, too – but it turns out she was smaller than we ever knew."