I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
I know Titanic by heart — the lines, the music cues, the behind-the-scenes trivia. I know that someone once spiked the cast and crew’s lunch with PCP, and that James Cameron is the person you see actually drawing Rose (as much as I’d like to forget the latter). As a 12-year-old at the time of its release, I was the perfect age to be mesmerized by the story of Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) — the teen drifter — and Rose (Kate Winslet) — the young woman trapped in a loveless and abusive relationship with the obsessive Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane). Understandably, it took me well into adulthood to identify one of the most important — and oft-overlooked — dynamics in the oceanic thriller: that of Cal and his valet, Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner).
Now, I love a period drama. I have real feelings about Downton Abbey and on the day The Crown’s second season premiered, I cut myself off from the rest of the world to spend time with my real friends and family. When it comes to the dynamic between a rich man and his valet, I know a thing or two.
Back in the day, a valet — or a “gentleman’s gentleman” — was par for the course if you were a man situated on the upper crust. They were the male equivalent of a lady’s maid, the person responsible for tending to every need and whim of the person they worked for. For instance, in Downton, we had John Bates, whose long friendship with Robert Crawley saw him evolve into an integral presence in his employer’s life, acting as a bestie and a confidante all while ensuring the earl wore the proper cufflinks. In Titanic, we have Lovejoy: a man so dedicated to Cal that he chooses not to board a lifeboat, but instead follow his sir into a literal sinking ship.
From the moment we meet Lovejoy, we can sense his lust for power. Hockley asks the person loading luggage onto the Titanic to “see his man” about the bags, and Lovejoy immediately steps in to assert his dominance by ordering around the officer. Throughout the movie, he goes on to play detective (which wasn’t a stretch, considering his apparent copper background): after Jack saves Rose in the film’s first act, Lovejoy notices Jack’s untied boots, suggesting that something other than a near-accident occurred. Then, he goes full PI, following Rose down to third class where she joins Jack for A Real Party™ and reporting his findings back to Cal — who then shows us his capacity for violence by flipping a breakfast table and threatening Rose when she tries to remind him that she’s a person.
Which, okay. We know valets tended to be ride-or-die, and we can assume that depending on the relationship one would have with their employer, what a valet might be asked to do could vary. But it’s the initiative that Lovejoy begins to show as the ship begins to sink that suggests the valet is far more powerful than would seem — not just by framing Jack as a thief to appease a jealous Cal, but by choosing who gets to live and who doesn’t.
It begins with a gun. As Cal reminds us that he makes his own luck (taking with him the precious Heart of the Ocean jewel from his safe), it’s Lovejoy who shows off his gun and elevates himself from the ranks of subordinate to accomplice by showing Cal that he’s out for blood if necessary.
Then, he leaves Jack to die in the Master of Arms’ office, taking with him the handcuff key after punching my beloved teen drifter in the stomach as a means of wielding power. Which is even more extra when you think about the way he chased Jack and Rose through the ship before it started sinking. What exactly did he intend to do with them if he caught up?
Or maybe the bigger question is: What was Lovejoy’s allegiance to Cal really about? While he may have carried the gun, it was Cal we see pulling it from his friend and shooting after Jack and Rose (“I hope you enjoy your time together!”) after she abandons his lifeboat. And after all that, Lovejoy disappears. The gentleman-valet relationship ends after we see Cal board a lifeboat to save himself, and Lovejoy dying as he falls between the two halves of the ship. But for what? What was the point? Had the ship not sunk, would we have seen Lovejoy explore his penchant for ending another person’s life? Had he lived, would Lovejoy have transformed from a valet to a hit man? Or did he miss his former life as a cop and decide to tap into the bevy of detective skills he couldn’t tap into as Cal’s personal servant?
And why Cal? Did Lovejoy feel a need to protect him, or did he seek to use Cal’s status as a means of entering classes and parties and rooms that wouldn’t have been available to him otherwise? Certainly, it had to be more than that: In one of Lovejoy’s last moments, we see him and Cal invited onto a boat that controversially included men. As Cal walks away from the opportunity to be saved, Lovejoy lingers, cursing before he follows his man into the depths, officially prioritizing Cal’s life over his own.
Which means one of two things: Either Lovejoy’s bond to Cal was so strong that he was literally willing to die for him, or he was so eager to see Rose dead that it ranked about saving his own life.
I still can’t tell which, so I leave this mystery to the depths of the ocean. Next to the necklace, obviously.