Brow Beat

James Cameron Explains Jack Couldn’t Get on the Door Because of Art, Not Physics

James Cameron says Jack died because Art.


It’s one of the greatest questions in cinematic history and no doubt one James Cameron is tired of answering: Could Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson have fit on that door?

For two decades, we have asked ourselves—and Cameron—“Why did our beloved Jack have to freeze to death in the icy water of the Atlantic while Rose lay on a two-person-wide piece of wood? Why was Jack so selfless and Rose so selfish until the very end?” It seems obvious to the naked eye that Rose could have made room for Jack on the door (which, by the way, he found) if only they had kept trying; numerous Titanic fans, including the guys over at Mythbusters, have even attempted to use science to prove that such a door could have held two—to prove, in vain, that Jack’s death was also in vain.

In an interview with Vanity Fair in the lead-up to Titanic’s 20th anniversary, James Cameron has attempted to put the Jack-Rose-door debate to rest once and for all (yeah, good luck with that), coming at it from a creative angle rather than a scientific one. Cameron says that Jack died not because Rose is a heartless bitch but because that was what the story called for: He died because it was in the script. “Things happen for artistic reasons, not for physics reasons,” he added. It’s the equivalent of the answer a parent gives a child who questions their authority: “Because I said so.”

But despite insisting the question is one of art and not physics, Cameron couldn’t help being drawn into some door physics arguments of his own, insisting—as he has done previously—that the door “was just big enough to hold her, and not big enough to hold him.” The exasparated filmmaker says great pains were taken to ensure the one-life-saving piece of wood was scientifically accurate, “exactly buoyant enough so that it would support one person with full free-board.”

Whatever, Cameron. We’ll never let go.

See his full response below:

One question that people ask me a lot about Titanic, and I’m assuming they ask you this a lot, is at the end, why doesn’t Rose make room for Jack on the door?

And 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.

Well, you’re usually such a stickler for physics …

I am. 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.