' ' Cinema Romantico: My Great Movies: Titanic

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Great Movies: Titanic

Twelve years ago this past Sunday I had a religious experience. Now many's the time you've probably heard someone employ this particular term. Have you had a religious experience? Do you believe they're even possible? And just what the heck are they exactly?

The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy has this to say: "Any experience carrying as its content the presence of something divine or transcendent. Religious believers may report such experiences as those of being in the presence of God.....or as being able to comprehend a timeless and eternal divine order to the universe."

Okay, so by looking at that definition we're not talking about viewing what God has wrought. This is why a thunderstorm rolling in over a midwestern plain or the expanse of the Pacific laid out before you or Sienna Miller do not indicate the presence of God. You're merely seeing His phenomenal handiwork and that's not the same thing.

Perhaps we should turn to Norman Habel who said a religious experience is "the structured way in which a believer enters into a relationship with, or gains an awareness of, the sacred within the context of a particular religious tradition."

So you're feeling the presence of God and maybe comprehending that there is some sort of divine order to the universe and you're finding it through a religious tradition. All right, then what's a religious tradition? Initial reaction would probably be to reply that church, or something of its ilk, would be a religious tradition.

I've been to church. Many, many times. I was raised Lutheran. I've been confirmed. I believe in God (this is why I constantly curse Him out and challenge Him to fist-fights). I know gospels and sermons and liturgy and the doxology and the "sharing of the peace" (ugh) but I've never had a religious experience inside a church. Not once. There's religion, yes, a whole heap of it, but I'll go on the record right now as saying I've never felt the presence of God in any church I've attended. I've never felt there was a divine order to the universe participating in Bible study. That's just the truth. I think we want to feel those things in church, and maybe some people convince themselves they do (or maybe they really do, I don't want to just smack everybody in the face here), but I've never felt them.

Hmmmm....what are some other religious traditions? I guess that would depend on what we consider to be a religion. Is Nebraska Football a religion? It most certainly is and I have no time nor interest in your disagreements on that matter. But I've never felt the aforementioned qualities during a Nebraska Football game. I've felt sheer, unstoppable joy and screamed myself hoarse and so on and so forth but I've never felt God hanging out during a game with me. (But I'd also like to make it crystal clear I'm NOT the sort of person who discounts sports by saying remarkably asinine things like "God has too much going on - do you really think he cares about a game?" Please. I think God has a favorite team and I think He lives and dies on every play with everyone else but he doesn't intervene because He knows He has to let the players and the players only decide their fate. I hope I get to heaven just so I know who His favorite team is. He'll probably throw us all for the loop. It's probably the Toronto Maple Leafs.)

What about attending movies? Are these religious traditions? To me? Most certainly, and that is why I am rock solid positive I came into God's presence at the River Hills Theater (may she rest in peace) in Des Moines, Iowa on December 20, 1997 watching James Cameron's "Titanic", specifically in one scene. This isn't to say had I looked at the seat next to me during the scene that I would have seen God Himself munching on Junior Mints. But I felt His presence. Yes, I did.

Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) puts Rose (Kate Winslet) on the lifeboat and watches it descend toward the Atlantic and she looks up at him as it descends and then she jumps off the lifeboat back onto the Titanic and she runs to him and he runs to her and they embrace. As this sequence unfolded before me I knew that there was, in fact, an eternal divine order to the universe.

I really, really wish I could somehow relive the feeling I had during this minute-and-a-half, approximately, of screen time. I love using gratutiously hyperbolic language more than anyone but I have no words that could sufficiently describe that experience. It was just unbelievable and something I'd never felt before and have never felt since. I really did merge with the movie screen. It's true. Believe it or don't, but something very other-worldly happened, something a little freaky. I'm rambling, I know, but I'm just trying, and failing, of course, to express it. This is what William James terms the "Ineffable" characteristic of the religious experience wherein it "cannot be adequately put into words." (And, yes, upon subsequent viewings of this film I too realized the dialogue between Leo and Billy Zane is just mind bogglingly atrocious. "I always win, Jack." But, as I have stated before, the dialogue in this movie is supposed to be corny and, besides, you have to understand that first time around I wasn't hearing anything they were saying. I was too busy in my mind thinking, "What are you doing, Rose? Get back on the Titanic. You're supposed to be on the Titanic. Get back on the Titanic, Rose!!!" I mean, I'd seen previews and so I knew for a fact she was still on the ship went it was going under but by then I'd completely become detached from the real world. Never in my life as a moviegoer have I so desperately yearned for a character to do something. And so then when she got back on the Titanic I just flew off to Never Never Land, or something.)

Richard Swinburne's Principle of Credulity states in regards to a religious experience that "if it seems to a subject that x is present, then probably x is present. Unless we have some specific reason to question a religious experience, therefore, then we ought to accept that it is....evidence for the existence of God." At that moment in "Titanic", to this subject, x (i.e. God) was definitely present and I assure you there are no specific reasons to question my religious experience. You weren't there. It happened. I don't need any theologians or neurologists or whoever to tell me yay or nay. I felt Him. Case closed.

(I'd like to make it clear at this point that I am not attempting to convince anyone out there to side with my beliefs. You're entitled to your own, plain and simple. I'm simply trying to explain something that's happened to me and why I feel how I feel. That's it. Maybe you think I'm a bonafide nutjob for writing all this and, hey, more power to you.)

Upon seeing "Titanic" that afternoon twelve years ago I can still vividly recall sitting in my tenacious Tempo in the theater parking lot, the engine running, but unable to drive because I was so physically and mentally exhausted. Later that same night I sat on my bed, pillow propped up against the wall, my head propped up on the pillow, staring at the green lava lamp across from me for hours and hours unable to think about anything but the movie. Eventually I climbed into bed where I looked up at the ceiling and proceeded to stare at it for the next couple of hours.

Sitting. Laying. Staring. No movement. No thought, really. Unable to function. Moved to the absolute depth of my whole being. The zenith.

Yeah, I kinda' think if one were to truly feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, that's how he or she might end up.

1 comment:

Andrew K. said...

A fellow Titanic maniac? Count me in.