In December of 1997, James Cameron’s romantic epic Titanic took the world by storm, due to innovative accomplishments in the computer animation department, but above all through its leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio. While appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Cameron shared that his decision to cast DiCaprio was due to the fact that EVERY woman in the building showed up to watch his audition, and it worked beyond his artistic goals, as the film became the highest grossing movie of all time.
I was seven when I learned about the movie, and I was caught up in the hysteria as much as everybody else. I even developed a crush on Kate Winslet (or maybe I consciously created it out of convenience?) and I was proud to call it my favorite movie (even though I didn’t watch it all in one sitting, all in chunks) and Leo was my favorite actor. But as time went by, I became conscious of masculine criticism of the movie as a “chick flick” and jumped on that bandwagon out of fear of being demeaned. Leo was now a “pretty boy” and I wanted nothing to do with him. In 2003 I watched Catch Me if You Can, and I greatly enjoyed it, but I made sure to make a disclaimer that I was still not a fan of Leo out of fear of being called “gay” (my, what progress has been made since then).
Then came the 2006 release of The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s American re-make of the Hong Kong thriller, Internal Affairs. I had multiple reasons to want to see it, as it was set in Boston, dealt with the Irish mafia (which I thought was an oxymoron, originally) and featured music by the Dropkick Murphys (I’ll always pride myself in knowing who they were before Scorsese placed I’m Shipping Up to Boston in his soundtrack, when the most anticipated song of the album it came from was Sunshine Highway). But Leo was in it. I scowled at the thought of watching a movie with him, wondering why anybody would pick him for a cool movie like this? But I eventually watched it and loved it, and when I reflected on what I had seen and Leo’s involvement, I thought: “Well, he was OKAYYYYY, I guess?”
But I was also starting to understand cinema. I was learning more about Martin Scorsese and the genius that he was. I familiarized myself with his previous accomplishments (some I would not watch until later, but it was good to be aware of them). I learned that he and Robert De Niro worked hand-and-hand for decades and was aware he was one of the greatest living actors. And the more I looked into Scorsese, I gained familiarity with the movies he had made in the last decade, which included Gangs of New York and The Aviator, both of which I avoided because of Leo’s involvement (to be frank, I was too young to see Gangs of New York when it was released, but I’m sure I would have avoided it with that mindset as a young adult). I took notice to what people were pointing out : Scorsese was now working hand-in-hand with Leo as if he were the equivalent of Robert De Niro today.
Maybe, dare I say it, Leo was a good actor? Maybe I should start watching his movies and take him seriously? Perhaps the only reason I hated him was a result of toxic masculinity? (Granted it would take many more years for me to embrace a more progressive view on social issues, but this was a good first start.)
Over the next few years I got around to watching his previous collaborations with Scorsese and was impressed by them, and anxiously awaited the release of Shutter Island in February of 2010 (one of my favorite stories to tell was how I questioned my own identity and consciousness after walking out of that screening). I watched What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and was blown away by his performance as a mentally handicapped teenager, and was even more excited to see his next project with Marty, The Wolf of Wall Street. I almost went to see that with my mother, unaware of how hardcore the drugs and sex themes were, only to be warned against it by a family friend who had just seen it. I later went to see it by myself and was grateful for the discretion, and was also anxious to return home and watch a cartoon, as I wanted some of my innocence back.
This was quite a journey I had made in my discovered favorite performer. Even now I have been able to shed my “dislike” for Titanic, acknowledging this as the result of a social construct. Even though I knew the movie through pop culture references and having watched all the pivotal scenes, I never watched it all in one sitting until the summer of 2014. With The Wolf of Wall Street fresh in my mind, I watched as Leo and Kate climbed the rising stern of the ill-fated ship, and began to laugh, as I could not shake the exchange between him and Jonah Hill as Donnie, Jordan Belfort’s business partner, urging him to grab the quaaludes as their yacht was sinking as he screamed “I. WILL. NOT. DIE. SOBER!!!!!”