Film Analysis Essay Example

In 1997, the classic disaster-romance film Titanic was released in theaters. It was met with immense critical acclaim and it shattered box office records. The movie proved that a historical fiction motion picture was marketable to the general public. Emulating the success of Titanic the movie is no easy feat. However, using a lesser known disaster-at-sea, the Sultana Disaster of 1865, as a launching pad for another movie with an intriguing and easily marketable plot, colorful characters, and a star-studded cast could rack in some real revenue.

The sinking of the Sultana was the worst maritime disaster in America, surpassing Titanic. Such a tragedy could be used as a platform for a story that can appeal to various audiences on a visual and emotional level. On April 27th, 1865, the Sultana, carrying 2,300 released Union POWs, crew members, and civilians from Mississippi to Illinois sank when its broiler exploded, killing 1,800 people. The luxury steamboat was only suited for about 370 people. It was overcrowded, and left its port with a broken broiler because they had to export their POWs as soon as possible, since the government was paying them to release them. It occurred after the day of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the Confederacy’s recent surrender, so the tragedy was drowned out by the mass casualties that were already occurring. Thus, the Sultana was forgotten by history. The history of the Sultana is laced within the dialogue, plot and imagery of the movie.

The characters are based off of real people, making the movie appealing to history lovers. To ensure that Sultana is not Titanic 2.0, the movie is about a family that is on the ship, not a romance. The characters are slightly younger than they are historically- for example, Harvey was forty when he boarded the Sultana, but Chris Hemsworth is in his mid-30s. The charming and optimistic character Lieutenant Harvey Annis (Chris Hemsworth) is a husband to the witty, ladylike Anna Annis (Haley Bennett) and a father to the innocent, playful 7-year-old Isabelle Annis (Brooklynn Prince). They are all extremely close and loving and the actors have great chemistry. The family is planning to go to Illinois and then take a train to Wisconsin in order to care for the strong, attractive, and physically fit but sick Harvey, who is a military officer. Due to his position in the Union military, the family is given the most luxurious accomodations. Captain J. Cass Mason (Woody Harrelson) cheerfully, his mood clashing with the overcrowded, broken down ship. It is filled to the brim with malnourished, downtrodden Union POWs, with whom Harvey sympathizes with. The first hour of the two hour movie is occupied with establishing character traits and backstories for the characters through rich screenwriting and the ‘show don’t tell’ method. For example, Harvey was a military advisor of Lincoln’s and is therefore shocked and appalled at the assassination that took place just a day before. Mostly historical backstories are used, with some fictional storytelling to embellish. There is a fictional romance subplot, with Anna Annis cheating on her husband with the rich, entitled Corporal Albert King (Victor Garber) because of her frustration with Harvey over his illness. Harvey never finds out. The broilers exploding prompts an action-filled, tragic sequence. Screaming and explosions fill the air as hundreds die in minutes. Harvey gives up his life jacket to a young Union soldier (Harry Styles, to attract the young crowd, as Dunkirk drew a lot of attention because of his inclusion) and drowns, believing that his illness will claim his life regardless. The Captain jumps overboard with guilt. Isabelle freezes to death in Anna’s arms in a tearjerking, heart wrenching scene. The audience has likely come to love Isabelle as an innocent girl who loves her family and provides much needed comedic relief. In the end, only Anna and Albert survive. Anna has to live with the guilt of cheating on her one true love and surviving instead of her daughter, and the ending shows Anna have to deal with the fact that nobody cares about the Sultana disaster because of the other events that occurred.

The setting of the story is on the Mississippi River (where the tragedy occurs) aboard the SS Sultana, Vicksburg, Mississippi (the dock where the SS Sultana departed), and Memphis (where Anna, one of 2 women that survived, recovers from the disaster). The movie will be filmed in multiple places. Baja Studios in Mexico has very large water tanks that would be perfect for the scenes in the water. Shots of the actual SS Sultana will be captured to be shown during the end credits, as it lies on the bottom of the MI River. The shots of the departure of the steamboat could actually be shot at a Vicksburg riverfront with an actual steamboat from the 1860s era. Shots of the Sultana sinking could be done at the MI River because it is a fairly unpopular place to film. Memphis scenes can be shot in the outskirts of the actual city. It is easy to block off a small part on the outskirts as it is more suburban/rural, and it can be decorated appropriately, like 1800s Memphis. It is fairly cheap.

The Sultana tragedy could have been an American event that touched the hearts and minds of many. However, the immense loss of life was not uncommon for a population that had just endured the mass casualties brought upon by the war. It is up to us, today, to pay tribute to those many lives lost, most of those lives being people that fought for our country. Therefore, it is important to invest in historical storytelling that has failed to be kept alive by our ancestors. Despite the historical significance, Sultana is a thrilling family drama with a family full of diverse personalities and an intriguing, thrilling plot. The viewers will sometimes root for the characters and sometimes despise them, and indulge in their complexity on screen. The attractive cast, realistic visual effects, and beautifully composed score will supplement the well written story and the movie will serve as a tribute to the event. The film has many deep motifs like loss, life and death, childhood innocence, faithfulness, and being cautious with how decisions can affect lives. It would also show the American public that the country during the Civil War was in such disarray and used to so much tragedy that a mass casualty did not shock them. It would be a valuable addition to history classrooms that teach students about the mindsets and lives of post-Civil War Americans.

You may argue that Sultana bears too many resemblances to Titanic to be made into a movie. You may think, there is no reason to bring another shipwreck story to the Hollywood market. Sultana is not Titanic- it is more brutal, more tragic, and more centered around family dynamics than romance. Paramount Studios was cautious before approaching Titanic, but they took the leap and it paid off bigtime. Make the right choice. Fund Sultana and support American history and amazing storytelling.


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