"it was an artistic choice," James Cameron says. "He had to die."
Admit it, you've taken up on one side or the other of America's great debate since "Titanic" first sunk our innocence 20 years ago by allowing poor, sweet Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) to die so Rose (Kate Winslet) could live. There was plenty of room on that door, right? Or was there? Well, the film's writer and director, James Cameron, finally spoke out on the matter, and he says what you think just doesn't matter at all.
"I think it’s all kind of silly, really, that we’re having this discussion 20 years later," Cameron told Vanity Fair. "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."
But he had to die. "It says on Page 147 [of the script] that Jack dies," Cameron quipped. He went on to add, "Obviously, it was an artistic choice, the thing was just big enough to hold her, and not big enough to hold him."
According to Cameron, Jack needed to die for the story to work at all. "The film is about death and separation; he had to die," he said. "Had he lived, the ending of the film would have been meaningless."
The debate raged so fiercely for so long that the gang over at "Mythbusters" actually explored it in one of their episodes back in 2012. To show the power of this discussion, "Mythbusters" hosts Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman claimed it was the most requested myth in the history of the show. Cameron appeared in the episode to see their results for himself, and while it was possible they could both survive according to "Mythbusters," it would have taken a little bit of creative engineering.
According to the episode, Jack and Rose would have needed to add buoyancy to the door by tying her lifejacket underneath it. According to Cameron back then, as well, "The script says Jack died. He has to die."
In this latest interview, Cameron talked about the extensive work he did to ensure accuracy in that pivotal moment in the film. The director said he spent two days in the water with that piece of wood to get the buoyancy just right so it couldn't possibly hold both Jack and Rose.
He also said that Jack was thinking it might take three hours for the rescue boat to arrive when he made the decision to stay in the water. Jack "didn’t know that she was gonna get picked up by a lifeboat an hour later; he was dead anyway," Cameron said. "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."
"Whether it was that, or whether a smoke stack fell on him, he was going down," Cameron added.
Sometimes a thing just has to happen, whether we like it or not.
We can get angry about it all over again when "Titanic" returns to theaters for its 20th anniversary completely remastered for HDR and 3-D. And this is the guy who brought us "Avatar," so he knows a thing or two about 3-D. The film will play in 87 AMC theaters for a week, starting December 1. You can see a list of participating theaters here.