As the frozen lovers Rose and Jack clung to a bobbing slab of timber in the icy Atlantic waters during the final moments of Titanic, audience members believed their love should have gone on.
Jack’s body and legs dangled in the subzero waters below, as Rose rested atop a wooden door that had been flushed out of the doomed ocean liner. But was Jack’s chivalry in vain? Could Rose have made room for him on that slab of wood?
This week, Leonardo DiCaprio, who played the 20-year-old Jack in the 1997 drama, nearly waded into the debate, reigniting a controversy that has haunted the movie on internet forums for years and inspired re-creations nearly as elaborate as the $280 million film.
In an interview with MTV News during the publicity tour for the Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, DiCaprio sat with his arms folded and looked down at the ground, shaking his head when a reporter asked about it.
Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, who were present during the interview, suggested that perhaps Jack could have squeezed onto the plank with Rose, who was played by Kate Winslet.
A smirking DiCaprio was unmoved.
“Like I said, I have no comment,” he said.
Robbie called the debate the “biggest controversy” in “modern cinema.” She also wondered if DiCaprio mentioned the door’s size while filming.
Pitt said he would go back and review the original footage.
He wouldn’t be the first.
A casual Google search for “Titanic door” turns up more than 41 million results, among them feverish disputes about director James Cameron’s narrative, as well as character assassinations.
“Everybody knows that she should have got up off that board and shared it with him,” actress KeKe Palmer said about Rose. “I’ll never get over that scene — she’s over there looking at him while he’s freezing. It’s been hard to watch a movie of hers since.”
Since 2015, writer Roxane Gay has had an expletive-laden tweet pinned to the top of her Twitter profile, which concludes: “There is plenty of room on that door. I am going to bed.”
In 2012, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, stars of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, donned rubbery suits in San Francisco Bay and determined it would have been possible for both to survive, with a few MacGyver-like tweaks. Of course, that leaves aside the subzero temperatures of the Atlantic.
Even astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has weighed in (of course he has), saying that science wasn’t exclusively to blame for Jack’s death.
“I would’ve tried more than once,” he told HuffPost in 2017 about DiCaprio character’s attempt at climbing aboard the door.
“The survival instinct is way stronger than that in everybody, especially in that character,” he said. “He’s a survivor, right? He gets through. He gets by.”
Cameron, who won the Academy Award for best director for the film, has been confronted by the question for decades.
In an interview with Vanity Fair 20 years after the film’s release, Cameron defended his decision as an “artistic choice.”
“The thing was just big enough to hold her and not big enough to hold him,” he said.
He added: “The film is about death and separation; he had to die. So whether it was that, or whether a smokestack fell on him, he was going down.”
“It’s called art,” the director told the magazine. “Things happen for artistic reasons, not for physics reasons.”
In February, Cameron quashed the discussion once again, describing what he called “dumbass arguments associated with it.”
“It’s just stupid,” he told BBC Radio 1. “There’s no debate.”
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