Hollywood and the truth: Ships that pass in the night?


I was swimming in a very grand swimming pool in 2008. It was the only 5-star hotel we’d ever been to, but it was our thirtieth wedding anniversary so we splurged a little. Actually, saving up for five years, we splurged a lot.

Suddenly, I was overcome with a strange feeling: I have been here before. Swimming alone is never a good idea. I shuddered with a powerful sensation of being haunted. We were staying at Dromoland Castle in Ireland. I’d never set foot in Ireland before that tour. “This was crazy,” I told myself as I quickly got out of the pool. I had the strongest feeling of déjà vu.

Out on deck, I chanced to see a life ring on the wall: RMS Titanic. Now, that is even weirder.

Suddenly, I got it. The makeover of this ancient castle had been done at the same time as the blockbuster Hollywood movie, Titanic (1997). And that movie was famous for computer-generated images (CGI) that faithfully reproduced the luxurious interiors of the doomed ocean liner.

So that’s why this swimming pool looked so familiar. I had seen the movie and perused dozens of coffee table books on the Titanic story. The pool was modeled on that elegant 1912 shipboard pool. Not to leave weird world too soon: Who would think it was a good idea to decorate a swimming pool to look exactly like the one where all the swimmers wound up dead?

The Titanic movie was really awful. It incorrectly depicted rich and powerful men on that doomed ship pushing aside the poor immigrant women and children to get into the lifeboats. Untrue.

The movie despicably maligned First Officer William Murdoch. Since you cannot be sued for libeling the dead, producers doubtlessly figured they could get away with sliming a good man’s reputation.

But they forgot: There are thousands of us who devour all the details of that “Night to Remember.” We would yell if Hollywood deliberately falsified history. And some of us did yell. Here’s how a truthful account has it:

Indeed, so offensive was the [movie’s] portrayal of First Officer William Murdoch to his surviving family, that the Vice President of Fox personally made the journey to Murdoch’s hometown to apologise and donate £5,000 to the William Murdoch memorial prize hosted at Murdoch’s local school.

As well as suffering from general ineptitude by dint of being English and indeed, the officer who failed to avoid the iceberg, Murdoch is also presented as a corrupt murderer and then a coward. After accepting a bribe to let a man onto one of the lifeboats he then shoots two passengers dead, before, overwhelmed with guilt and/or despair he shoots himself in the head. This is a far cry from the man who went down with the ship, his last moments spent filling the lifeboats with women, children and indeed men

Why does Hollywood feel the need to lie? They willfully falsify true history that is readily accessible to anyone with a computer.

Perhaps we should be grateful that Hollywood did not include the story of Arthur Rostron in that already-too-long big screen epic. Captain Arthur Rostron commanded the rescue vessel, SS Carpathia. This humble Cunard liner was anything but as romantic as that last voyage of hundreds of millionaires on board the White Star Line’s four-stacker Titanic.

Carpathia was a simple workhorse of a ship, quietly steaming back and forth across the Atlantic with manifests of immigrants, plain people, and cargo.

When he got a radio message that Titanic had struck an iceberg and was sinking, Captain Rostron knew what to do. He knew that the great liner was four hours away at normal cruising speed. By that time, he also knew, any survivors were likely to be dead in the bitter cold of that clear, moonless night.

So Captain Rostron ordered his ship’s stokers mustered out of their racks and put them to work shoveling as much coal as the furnaces would take. He ordered his deck crew to swing out Carpathia’s lifeboats. Stewards and nurses were ordered to make plenty of coffee and tea and to collect as many blankets as possible.

As he headed his ship at flank speed into that black night, he knew she was headed into those same treacherous waters that had claimed great Titanic’s life. Captain Rostron then went out onto the bridge wing and—freezing though it was—he prayed. Perhaps this is why Hollywood omitted Captain Rostron’s role on that fateful night.

Happily, the British people and their American cousins did not fail to honor this heroic rescuer. He was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire—Sir Arthur Rostron. He was honored by Congress. And U.S. First Lady Helen Taft© began the effort for a memorial to the men of the Titanic.

Hollywood may be headed for its own iceberg. Whenever we see violence erupt on our city streets, we might look to the violence glorified in Hollywood films called “splatterfests.” These are targeted at that profitable youth demographic.

How many Hollywood movies tell the amazing story of Pregnancy Care Centers? There are more of these than of Planned Barrenhood’s (Parenthood) killing centers.

How many movies have they made about Evangelist Billy Graham? Did you see Unbroken? How did Hollywood manage to miss a pivotal event in hero Louie Zamperini’s life—his coming to faith in Jesus Christ?

So perhaps OK that Hollywood didn’t care about the man who saved 706 souls that night in 1912. Sir Arthur has a better recognition. He modestly said his mission of mercy was “guided by a Greater hand.”

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