The first time I watched Titanic also happened to be the first time I saw a pair of large naked boobs staring at me onscreen. They were Kate Winslet’s large naked boobs, of course. I was a confused young boy of nine sitting in the corner of the very first row of a Central New Jersey theater: my father to my right, my older sister to my left, and me and a rapidly mounting sense of awkwardness in the middle.
(Ahh… should I look? Should I not look? What’s everyone else doing? Oh god, something is happening in my pants!)
Fifteen or so years later I found myself again watching Titanic in a completely sold out theater, but this time from the corner of the last row, with very different company and about as far away from New Jersey as one can get without either burrowing to the Earth’s core or flying to the moon.
Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, may not be locatable on a map by most Americans, but it makes up for that fact by having an incredible proportion of its population completely obsessed with all things Titanic.
Walk around the capital for a bit: pass by an open-air market selling pig entrails, step around unmarked potholes that resemble swimming pools in the rainy season, and grab a coffee from a local shop. There’s a good chance you will be hearing a muzak version of “My Heart Will Go On.” Or perhaps on that day they’ll be playing “Unbreak My Heart.” Cambodians sure do love drippy American love songs.
Unfortunately, when Titanic was first released in 1997, Phnom Penh wasn’t quite the bustling, rapidly modernizing city it is today, and there were no contemporary theaters to play the film. So, it was a bigger deal than it should have been when Titanic in 3D came to Cambodia a couple years ago.
My favorite gay Chinese friend, Big C, (not his real name) had already been to the theater to watch Titanic in 3D when I informed him of my secret/not-so-secret wish to return to the first cinematic boobs of my life. (Yes, yes don’t worry, that was a joke. I’m not quite so misogynistic. I was actually more interested in watching a couple thousand people die. I seemed to have contracted a terrible case of sadism upon reaching my 20s.)
(Yes, that was still a joke. Or at least a heavy dose of sarcasm. Sorry.)
Big C, of course, jumped at the chance to watch the film for the second time in three days, so we set off on our journey to the movie theater. Now, I had an inkling of an idea that watching Titanic in a theater in Cambodia wouldn’t be nearly as fun as it sounded, so we decided to take an extra precaution against boredom.
Cambodia is a lovely, beautiful country filled with some of the most amazing souls on this Earth. It (as well as a number of countries in Southeast Asia and across the world) also happens to have a long and complicated history with marijuana.
The plant/drug is technically illegal in the country, but has been openly grown and used by villagers for many years. It isn’t like the whole country is an Asian version of Up in Smoke or anything. Instead, the whole situation is pretty normal. Some drink alcohol, some smoke tobacco, some smoke marijuana, some do all three (though it seems like these days the majority of people using marijuana in Cambodia are the foreigners), and sometimes the plant is even added to food for taste or… ehem… other purposes.
So, if you happen to be visiting Cambodia in the near future and you see a sign advertising “Happy” pizza or “Happy” shakes or “Happy” just about anything else, rest assured, you’ll be very “happy” a few moments after finishing your meal.
We had our pizza and headed to the cinema. Phnom Penh was its usual blisteringly hot midday scorcher and the air-conditioned theater is a common refuge for the rich and the upper middle class Cambodians who can afford the luxury of paying three to five dollars for recreation on a Saturday afternoon.
By the time we had settled into our comfy couch loveseat and had begun hearing the depressingly ominous “OoooOOooOOOooOoooo” yelping that signifies the start of the film, we were flying high somewhere above the room. Rose’s opening lines and excellent early 1900s era wardrobe brought giggles and expressions of wonder across our faces. We stared up at the sepia-tinted people waving from the Titanic, and we knew, we knew, they were waving right to us.
But it wasn’t long after the film got underway before I began to feel anxious. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana does not instantly make everything better. Sometimes, (and I know this may sound shocking to some of our regular readers) it even makes things worse.
As I watched the regal costumes and Leonardo DiCaprio’s flawless young legs run around the boat, I realized that I didn’t even like Titanic. Not only had I become bored after watching the opening scenes for the first time in fifteen years, but I also had enough brain power still working to realize I would be trapped in the cinema for nearly three additional hours.
A soft whimpering groan left my lips as I turned to see Big C completely engrossed in the film and practically reciting the lines.
I tried to force myself to take notice of the small pleasures: the maniacal look that seems permanently stuck in Billy Zane’s eyes, the fogged-up car window slap from Kate Winslet that reminded me of drawing on my bathroom window after a shower, and imagining Kathy Bates chopping off the feet of people in the first class cabins a la Misery. But it was no use. The film dragged on and on.
Minutes passed like hours and hours passed like days and still Big C and the rest of the packed theater soaked up every scene like warm sunlight after a torrential storm. It was terrible. By the time we reached Jack’s suicide scene, the sound of noses blowing into tissues and gentle weeping combined with the somber score to make an overwhelmingly depressing scene.
The credits finally began to roll and we remained seated for a few moments as the Cambodians clamored past us to the exit. Big C gently brushed a few tears off his cheeks and I thanked whatever god that was in charge of weepy three hour movies for giving me the strength to survive the ordeal.
And after three hours of Titanic, we were both feeling depressed and hungry. So, we headed back to our favorite restaurant and ordered some more pizzas. We needed something to get us “happy.”