Titanic – PTSD before there was a name for it.

I was 11 years old when James Cameron’s Titanic was released in theaters but I remember that attendance to it was a widespread phenomenon with most of the students (girls, at least) in my class.

I didn’t see it, and my not going to see the highest grossing box-office film of all time had nothing to do with the fact that it had a PG-13 rating and I was 11, but everything to do with the fact that I had made up my mind that I didn’t want to see it.

My reasoning was two fold.

1) The story of the Titanic (which I was extremely into researching and learning about) was a story about mistakes, and ultimately death. I was certain that by adding a love story, James Cameron had ruined something that was extremely serious to me, something almost reverent.

2) Romance and boys -ESPECIALLY Leonardo DiCaprio, were gross.

Yesterday, some 15 years later (and about 100 years after the ship sank), I went to the theatre and finally watched Titanic for the first time.

I expected to be annoyed or bored or, well, anything except enjoying myself… but I did enjoy myself. To the shame of my 11 year old self, I rather enjoyed the movie.

But as Kate Winslet (spoiler) floats on that piece of wood out in the North Atlantic and opens her eyes to see everyone, including her new-found love, frozen to death… my immediate thought was, this chick is going to have a serious case of PTSD when she gets to America. 

Could anyone survive such a gruesome experience as the Titanic sinking without being completely psychologically warped for years after? I highly doubt it.

The ship sank long before “post traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD was a coined term, and my research while trying to find out if my guess of PTSD symptoms was a reality for many of the survivors led me to some pretty interesting places.

In the forums of the Titanic Historical Society, a number of people (ignorant, I’m sure) claimed that since PTSD wasn’t something that had been named yet, the survivors wouldn’t have experienced it.

On the contrary. There is a report of Frankie Goldsmith, for example, who was a child when the titanic sank and grew up after in Detroit near Tiger Stadium. He reported having flashbacks every time the crowd would cheer for a home run because the sound was so similar to the cries of people freezing around him in the water when the Titanic sank.

Millvina Dean, who was only 64 days old when the Titanic sank, admitted at age 88 that she wasn’t able to see the film Titanic when it was released because even though she had no immediate memory of what happened, she was concerned that the scenes of panic at the end of the film would cause things to come up (regarding her father’s drowning during the sinking of the ship) that had remained buried for the last 87 years.

10 of the survivors are said to have commit suicide in the time after the ship sank, so anyone who claims there were no PTSD-like effects on the survivors I would think is merely ignorant.

If you are intersted in reading more of the psychological effects of the sinking of the Titanic on its survivors, I would suggest Andrew Wilson’s book Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived. This book compiles previously unpublished letters, diaries, and memoirs of survivors to help fill in what sort of things (and symptoms) occurred to survivors of the Titanic in years after.

In this sense, I find the idea of a ship full of treasure-hunters pressing poor 101 year old Rose to re-live her time on the Titanic (in the film) somewhat panic-inducing, but the weight that I had feared escaped the movie when I was 11 was there. I feel like the portrayal of the sinking of the Titanic in the film goes on long enough and is intense enough for the gravity of it to really sink in. I walked away frustrated, yet again, at the oversight of these men who were in charge -enough combined oversight to cause the deaths of some 1500 completely helpless people.

I would say I am glad I waited to see Titanic until now. It became what I had wanted it to be all along, an homage to a terrible disaster… instead of the steamy romance it posed as to my 11 year old counterparts.

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5 responses to “Titanic – PTSD before there was a name for it.

  1. Never, ever thought of it in these terms! I may actually have to get that book and take a look at it!

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      I know that if I had seen the movie as a kid I wouldn’t have thought about it that way… so I am glad to have seen it as an adult and was able to look at it from a different perspective!

  2. Really good perspective- thanks for the book suggestion. Poignant, the guy in the stadium.

  3. I re-watched Titanic yesterday, and like you, I finally saw it for what it really is — an excellent film about a terrible tragedy. I was less invested on Jack and Rose, and more on what everyone else aboard that ship must have felt then.

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