It’s a debate that has polluted online film forums for over a decade and remained a mystery to all but director James Cameron since its cinematic debut in 1997: just why did Jack have to die in the freezing Atlantic Ocean waters at the end of Titanic?
More importantly, was the floating piece of debris that Rose climbs atop following the sinking of the ‘unsinkable’ ocean liner in actuality big enough for both of the star-crossed lovers?
I think you’ll all agree there are few questions more worthy of our attention (the meaning of life? Pah), and so too it seems does the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters team, who sought to put an end to the debate once and for all. Apparently, up until the team finally jumped on the idea, it was the most requested ‘myth’ the show has ever received.
So, did Jack Dawson (Leo DiCaprio) really have to sacrifice himself and risk the icy waters while Rose evaded almost certain death and awaited rescue?
Well, no actually. According to the Mythbusters – who also built what they called ‘Thermoman’, a dummy with gelatine flesh and a water-heated cardiovascular system to test their hypothesis – both Jack and Rose indeed could have fit atop the wooden board, where they could have awaited rescue together.
Doing a full-scale test on an exact replica of the board from the movie, the team did however point out it would have taken several attempts for the two protagonists to climb on the debris without sliding off or it toppling over, as we see in the film. The life jacket Rose was wearing would also have to be re-purposed and tied under the board for it to provide enough buoyancy for the two to, crucially, remain 80% out of the water. Concluding that Jack would have fallen victim to hypothermia and died after just 51 minutes in the frigid waters of the Atlantic in the film, the team determined staying aboard the makeshift raft would have granted another 12 minutes of life, upping the likelihood of living long enough to see rescue.
“Jack died. He has to die,” responded director James Cameron, alluding to the drama the scene wrought. “So, maybe we screwed up and the board should have been a little tiny bit smaller, but the dude's going down." And there you have it.