Letting go of “Titanic,” fifteen years later

When Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) famously said, “I’ll never let go,” the audience said it right along with her — only in a more bitter tone. Fifteen years later, “Titanic” fans still hold a grudge against the girl who just wouldn’t move over. There was certainly enough room on that door for both Rose and Jack — or was there?

Ever since the film’s release in 1997, its tear-jerking finale has sparked an intense debate over whether Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) could have climbed atop the door with Rose, and in doing so, have avoided hypothermia long enough to be rescued. Some say no: they tried, but the door couldn’t support their combined weights. Others say yes: they didn’t try hard enough.

After more than a decade of heated debate, the truth has finally surfaced. During the Oct. 7 episode of Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters,” Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage recreated the tragic scene in the San Francisco Bay. As it turns out it didn’t have to be so tragic after all. Both men were able to stay aboard the door after placing a life preserver (which Rose is wearing in the film) below the door to add extra buoyancy.  Even without the life preserver, the door didn’t sink completely.

Long story short: Jack Dawson didn’t have to die — a fact which made national news. On Oct. 8, ABC’s Diane Sawyer reported the episode’s conclusion, which allowed a lot of fans to cheer, “I told you so.”

Alright, so maybe his death wasn’t inevitable, but does that mean he should have lived? That’s a matter of opinion, but in terms of good drama, the film is better for its heartrending conclusion. As director James Cameron said to Hyneman and Savage, “I think you guys are missing the point. The script says Jack died. He has to die.”

A good story rouses emotion in the audience. Although “Titanic” plucks at your heartstrings throughout the movie, no other point is it so emotionally charged as when Rose shakes Jack’s hand only to find that he has frozen to death. At that moment, the audience undergoes a whirlwind of emotions: surprise, sadness, anger — especially anger. As the fifteen-year-long debate about the door demonstrates, we’re still angry — but that’s a good thing. It means the film did its job by drawing us so completely into the story that we actually grieve for the characters, and as all storytellers know, it’s great to make the audience feel: the more powerful the emotion, the better. A happily-ever-after ending wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact.


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