Unlike Jack Dawson, Titanic fans seem to have a real difficulty with letting go of things. That’s why James Cameron, 20 years after the release of the film, is still being accosted by viewers annoyed that he killed off Jack. Then again, we’ve all thought that there must be room on that floating door for two. After all, skinny young Leonardo DiCaprio can’t weigh that much, right?
In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, the director explained precisely why Jack had to die – and his reasoning doesn’t involve calculating the surface area of a floating bit of wood vs. the weight of two frozen lovebirds torn apart by class conflict:
“The answer is very simple because it says on page 147 [of the script] that Jack dies. Very simple. . . . Obviously it was an artistic choice, the thing was just big enough to hold her, and not big enough to hold him . . . I think it’s all kind of silly, really, that we’re having this discussion 20 years later. But it does show that the film was effective in making Jack so endearing to the audience that it hurts them to see him die.
Had he lived, the ending of the film would have been meaningless. . . . The film is about death and separation; he had to die. So whether it was that, or whether a smoke stack fell on him, he was going down. It’s called art, things happen for artistic reasons, not for physics reasons.”
Yeah! You tell them, James Cameron. Let’s face it, you simply cannot give a movie about one of the biggest maritime tragedies ever a happy, fuzzy ending (well, unless you’re Titanic: The Animated Movie, but that film has its own issues). Showing some pretty big cojones for an interview, Vanity Fair pressed further about how plausible the ending was, only for Cameron to expound by saying:
“I was in the water with the piece of wood putting people on it for about two days getting it exactly buoyant enough so that it would support one person with full free-board, meaning that she wasn’t immersed at all in the 28-degree water so that she could survive the three hours it took until the rescue ship got there. [Jack] didn’t know that she was gonna get picked up by a lifeboat an hour later; he was dead anyway. And we very, very finely tuned it to be exactly what you see in the movie because I believed at the time, and still do, that that’s what it would have taken for one person to survive.”
I guess if you did spend days searching for the perfect bit of wood with just the right buoyancy you might be a tad annoyed at know-nothing-know-it-alls repeatedly telling you that you made a silly mistake on one of the biggest films of your career. Jack’s death is absolutely key to making Titanic work as well as it does, providing the main emotional core to the tragedy as depicted in the film.
But hey, if you still think he’s wrong, feel free to spend a couple of hours with a buddy clinging to a piece of driftwood in the north Atlantic and let us know in the comments section how well you got on.