Words by: Kiera Eardley Art by: Madison Marshall
He’s hunched over a poker table, cigarette dangling from his lips, green eyes smouldering under a sweep of blond hair. He wears a heavy coat, a loose shirt and suspenders. He wins the hand — he’s going home on the Ship of Dreams. He’s the king of the world. He’s Jack Dawson. Jack. Dawson.
His every appearance on screen sends my 11-year-old self into a spin. The artful flop of his hair, his quick wit and self-assuredness. I suddenly love everything about him and his world of Titanic. I want to be there. I want to be Rose. I watch him save her from jumping off the ship. I watch him show her a real party, grinning and dancing and drinking stout. I watch him masquerade as an aristocrat and kiss her gloved hand. I watch him, I watch him, I watch him.
As I watch him, I want him. Jack Dawson stirs a nervous energy in me, an ache in my heart and stomach like he’s painting me like one of his French girls. I long for him, this paragon of perfection in my adolescent mind. I inhale the movie over and over, skipping to scenes that stir that wistfulness: mostly, when Rose escapes her lifeboat and rushes back to Jack. The way his voice breaks between frantic kisses, saying “you’re so stupid, Rose, why did you do that?”, or when they realise they’re about to die together on that sinking mass of steel. It’s magnetic, and it magnetises me.
After school, I scour YouTube for every Titanic interview and blooper, every deleted scene, every behind-the-scenes skerrick in existence. It’s a depravity like I’ve never known. My crush on Jack Dawson soon grows to encompass the real-life Leonardo DiCaprio, because I need more than what the film’s meaty three and a half hours can give me. Vowing to watch his entire filmography, I devour everything from early-’90s flops and Romeo + Juliet to slick biopics and The Departed. My adoration knows no outlet aside from this filmic worship. It’s 2010, and I feel like the only person who could possibly love him this loyally, blissfully unaware as I am of the ‘Leo Mania’ that erupted amongst teenage girls across the world a decade before. It feels special, this one-sided connection between pre-pubescent fangirl and Hollywood megastar, so I continue to chase it like Alice down the rabbit hole.
And yet, there is a certain shame to my infatuation. Is it strange to feel this devoted to someone I’ll never know? Am I weird? Fearing an embarrassment that is a young introvert’s nightmare, I keep Leo to myself. Secrecy feels more righteous. It’s just for me, something I needn’t share with friends or parents or prying siblings. This hormonal discovery of physical attraction manifests as a familiar comfort, a reliable desire. After a lacklustre day at school, Leo and Titanic feel like a soft, shimmering oasis. Each re-watch refreshes my love anew — I crave the nostalgia and the tragedy, the epic romance that swathes me in hope and aching wonderment. Even now, in 2021, when the Leo obsession has dulled and I haven’t watched Titanic for years, there remains a flicker of that original crush. When it comes to Jack Dawson, the 11-year-old in me will never let go.