Cal is notoriously terrible — but what this post presupposes is, maybe he's not

Caledon “Cal” Hockley has always gotten a bad rap.

Ostensibly the villain of Titanic — presented in an even worse light than even the iceberg and whatever genius decided to stock the unsinkable ship with, like, six lifeboats — Hockley is often called evil, misogynistic, and downright sociopathic. But walk the deck in his shoes. Does the blue-blooded Cal not bleed?

Consider first, Cal’s bona fides: He comes from a great family of great wealth and looks like Billy Zane at his peak Billy Zaneness. (The floppy wig hair and his hint of eyeliner: both at home on the Titanic in 1912 and TRL circa 1998.)

“He was a little bit misunderstood. I wasn’t the iceberg. I didn’t drown 2,000 people,” Zane himself said last year, one of the many times he’s tried to rehabilitate Cal’s reputation in the 20 years since Titanic.

But he’s not wrong. Consider second, the situation Cal finds himself in on the Titanic. Jack, a steerage class vagrant clearly punching above his weight, is openly flirting with Rose right in front of Cal. Jack pursues Rose with reckless abandon and seems most interested in recalling all the French girls he’s drawn before. (“That’s one of the good things about Paris: lots of girls willing to take their clothes off.”)

TITANIC, Billy Zane, 1997, TM & Copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved, Courtesy
Credit: Everett Collection

Rose, it should be mentioned, treats her fiancé terribly. She flirts with a hot stranger, goes to a party with a hot stranger, makes out with a hot stranger, sleeps with a hot stranger, and lets the hot stranger draw her naked wearing the necklace Cal bought for her. And then, just to add insult to injury, she leaves the drawing in the safe where she knows Cal will find it because not only will she cheat on her significant other — the man saving her family from financial ruin, p.s. — but she will rub it in his face.

Another important thing to remember about Rose: She’s controlling the narrative. Titanic is told in flashbacks through her recollections. Is she a reliable narrator? (Fan theories abound that Rose created Jack in her imagination as an anti-Cal.) The movie treats Rose’s story as gospel, but recall the scene where Cal pretends to be the father of a tiny child in order to get onto a lifeboat? That’s suave as hell and hilarious, obviously, but also something that Rose never would have been able to see or know about. (She wasn’t there.) Remember how Cal slips the necklace into Jack’s pocket to frame him for stealing it? Rose never saw Cal do it; she has no proof at all that he did it, aside from Jack’s frantic declarations of innocence. But… logically, he might be guilty. When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

“The world is divided into two kinds [of people],” Zane said to Us Weekly in another defense of Cal. Women, he said, who were loyal to Rose and Jack, but change their tune with age. “And when they grow up,” he added, “They [say to me], ‘What was Rose thinking?'” Good question, Billy Zane. We’re wondering the same thing.

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