20 Years Later, James Cameron Is Using Physics to Defend Jack's Death in Titanic
Sorry, Titanic fans—Jack Dawson was apparently doomed from the get-go, director James Cameron confirmed in a recent Vanity Fair interview. Twenty years after Titanic’s release, fans of the 1997 film still wonder what could have been for Jack and Rose if fate—and physics—had dealt them a different hand (or a different door). And while Cameron is a stickler for accuracy, some question his science savvy, claiming that the floating board could have supported both of them as they awaited rescue.
Cameron conceded that Jack's death was “an artistic choice,” as the movie “is about death and separation.” But he still defended the means, saying he tested the floating board prop itself to gauge its buoyancy.
“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,” Cameron said. (A lifeboat ultimately picked up Rose about an hour later.)
The director believed then—and still does—“that that’s what it would have taken for one person to survive.” That said, his personal conviction (and artistic license) didn't stop the Mythbusters from challenging Cameron’s assertion in 2012.
Hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman first conducted a mock test using dolls and a tiny recreation of the film’s door. Sure enough, the board tipped—but when the duo themselves attempted the feat with a full-scale replica, they figured out that Rose could have taken off her life jacket and placed it underneath the board to add extra buoyancy. This trick raised the board so that around 80 percent of their bodies were out of the water while floating.
“With all we’ve learned, I think Jack’s death was needless,” Hyneman concluded. (Cameron, in turn, countered that the Mythbusters were “missing the point.”)
So, yes—with a little bit of ingenuity, Jack might have lived long enough to take Rose on the roller coaster at Santa Monica Pier. But even though Cameron isn't an artistic revisionist, fans can still appreciate the director’s overall commitment to scientific detail.
In 2012, when Titanic was re-released in 3D for its 15th anniversary, Cameron tweaked the night sky Rose stares at while floating in the Atlantic.
“Neil deGrasse Tyson sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen," Cameron said, according to The Telegraph. “And with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in."
We're just sorry he didn't put in a different door.
[h/t Vanity Fair]