I thought I knew what I was getting into when my friend and I purchased tickets for Titanic in 3D. After all, I'd seen it many times as a wide-eyed middle schooler. I was the intensely romantic 13-year-old James Cameron had in mind when he released his epic tale of love and loss in 1997. I fell deeply in love with Leonardo DiCaprio, as did my many girlfriends, and we cried throughout Titanic each time we saw it in the theater.
Fast forward 15 years: Driver's licenses, championships, proms, college applications, falling in love for the first time, losing our virginity, off to college, declaring majors, studying abroad, immersing ourselves in art and film and music and adult life. First jobs, paychecks, apartments, relationships, car insurance and Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest.
I thought it would be fun, kitchy and nostalgic to watch Titanic in 2012, this many years later. I expected cheers and maybe even laughter at the most quintessential moments, and there was a little of that: hoots when Leo bellows "I'm the king of the world!" and cheers when Rose's hand slams against the fogged up window during their steamy love-making session.
But what I didn't expect was the intense sadness that wafted through the theater like smoke as the film drew dark. I didn't expect to feel my throat grow tight or my stomach knot when the fear on the boat turned to desperation and finally to death. The overwhelming sadness of Titanic was not something I remember well, or well enough. Tears are really not an accurate word to describe what happened to us in the theater. Faucets were smashed open onto our cheeks, there was uncontrollable sobbing; a feeling of intense personal loss.
And yet, we all know what happens in Titanic. There were no surprises. Nothing had changed in the film (the addition of 3D was meaningless, and only added a pain on the bridge of my nose where the clunking glasses rested for three hours). What had changed -- we suddenly realized -- was us.
The heavy weight of despair unleashed upon two 27-year-old women was much stronger than it was for us as girls. And some might think an optimistic and heart-yet-unbroken pre-pubescent girl would cry more than anyone else when Jack dies or when Rose blows the whistle, keeping her promise to him. But that is untrue.
If there had been a hidden camera, the video would already be viral on Youtube. Equal parts embarrassing and perplexing, our tears were neither soft nor discreet. They were body-shaking sobs, cries bordering on hysteria that provoked such emotional havoc within us that I had to wear my gigantic 3D glasses into the lights of the lobby and straight into the women's restroom.
And it was there that a small epiphany occurred. For it was not just us two sad sacks drying our faces in the gold illuminating light of the Arclight Theater restroom. It was every woman. "I was just not prepared for that," one 20-something said as she wiped watery mascara from her eyes. "I actually feel like someone just died," another said. Big sighs and deep inhales floated from every corner of the restroom. "I need a Xanax," one woman uttered from behind a closed stall door, and everyone laughed. But as I looked around at women of all ages who had certainly seen the film years before as younger women, I realized that the more life you have swept behind you, the more it hurts to see it swept away.
Sure, at 13 it felt like we understood how sad it all was: the sinking of the ship, the frozen bodies bobbing dead in the Atlantic. Sure, it felt like we understood Rose's loss and Jack's sacrifice. But we didn't. And that is because we had not yet experienced real love. At 13 we think we know love, we think we want love. But at 27 we have loved and been loved, deeply.
Everyone was embarrassed. There was not a single woman in the restroom who didn't have tears on her cheeks or red in her eyes. Some were actually still crying. Titanic unleashed emotions stronger in 2012 than perhaps they did for the young audience in 1997. As we exited the theater onto Sunset Boulevard, we checked our iPhones, sipped the last of our Sprites, validated parking tickets and even tried to talk about what to eat for dinner -- but all I could ask myself again and again was, "How could she go on living without him?"