jessica tholmer
December 19, 2017 11:55 am
Paramount Pictures / 20th Century Fox

Titanic was released in theaters 20 years ago today.

My boyfriend has a joke that I can’t meet someone without bringing up the movie Titanic. Though we go back and forth on whether or not this is true, I’ll admit that he’s pretty much right. Sometimes it first takes a couple of introductions with a person — I think I was at my current job for a few weeks before it came up — but more often than not, my Titanic devotion is something that must be known right away. As silly as it sounds, that movie is one of the most important pieces of my life. My love for it, now 20 years old, bleeds into all areas of everything I am.

When I was 10 years old, I saw Titanic in the movie theater. I would eventually see it 11 times during its first run. (I’ve now seen it in theaters 15 times total; it sails back for screenings sometimes.) It really, truly solidified my passion for film and going to the movie theater. (I would later work at one! And I still go, even in the era of downloading and streaming!) My loyalty to the Academy Awards was born out of my Titanic fever, and I have never missed a single Oscars since 1998. The movie introduced me to Kate Winslet — who is now upsetting her fans, but up until two weeks ago, was only a woman who taught me that bodies didn’t have to be super thin and that curly hair rules. My love for the movie opened up my interest in knowing trivia about films and production.

The movie introduced me to Leonardo DiCaprio, and that is, by far, the longest relationship I’ve ever had in my life.

To this day, the smell of popcorn and Skittles takes me right back to those good ol’ days, when the only thing that mattered to me was the next time I could make it to the theater and watch my favorite movie.

And yes, once again, I know my passion may sound ridiculous — but here’s the thing. I grew up really poor.

Like, really, actually poor. Not just slightly below the poverty line, but well below it. Single mother, four kids, no money at all. In fact, looking back, I’m not sure how my cousin and I saw Titanic so many times. The money primarily came from my aunt, but we also did weird stuff like pull one of my loose teeth early to get tooth fairy money. (Also going to the theater cost $3.50 a ticket, unlike today.)

Despite being poor, I loved my childhood — but there were things we didn’t have access to that everyone else did.

We didn’t have a home phone, and I was a kid way before cell phones were a thing because I’m 100 years old. Normal stuff like talking to your friends — or even having your teacher call your house to talk to a parent — wasn’t something that could happen in my life. We didn’t have cable, which sounds dumb now because who has cable? But back then, it mattered because I couldn’t watch anything that my classmates discussed.

Going to the movies to watch Titanic over and over again became my first luxury.

I still have zero idea of how our moms could afford that — or how my cousin and I had the attention span to see it so often. But I am so glad we did, and we never took it for granted. Walking to the tiny three-auditorium theater and spending $7 total to see our favorite movie every weekend — for months! — can only be described as magical.  To this day, the swelling sound of the film’s music gives me chills.

Titanic was so important to me that my mom did everything she could to keep it in my life.

When there was a Broadway show about the ship, my mom took me to see it. (How? Where’d that money come from?) I got to buy the VHS tapes on the day that they came out. Every book about the Titanic — historical fiction and otherwise — I owned. Because I was completely head over heels for Leo, my mom was somehow able to purchase every magazine that featured him. Titanic granted me experiences that I’d never had access to before — purely pleasurable experiences that were so normal to my classmates.

Today, the movie is still just as important to me. I’m an adult who has my own money, and I can afford to drop $19 on a Dolby Vision ticket whenever James Cameron feels like taking more of my money. And I have never forgotten just why this movie matters to me. My unwavering devotion is about more than the price of a ticket or the blues of Leo’s eyes or that much too referenced line, “I’m the king of the world!” This movie made me feel included.

For 20 years, it’s been my thing. In 20 more years, I’m sure it still will be.

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