THE GREAT TITANIC CONUNDRUM BY OLIVIA LUDER
Of all the big cinematic questions – what is Rosebud, who killed Leonard’s wife in Memento, what’s eating Gilbert Grape – there’s one that has torn the hearts of many: could Jack have fitted onto the raft as well?
The question has been debated endlessly since audiences first experienced Titanic’s cruel sting of doomed love back in 1997. One pair took a series of photos to show the many tessellations in which the Jack and Rose could have arranged themselves. TV Show Mythbusters even got James Cameron on-board to figure it out, leading them to discover that Jack could have indeed fitted onto the raft.
However, buried deep within the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum is the most definitive answer you’re going to get. Jack could not, in any way, fitted onto that raft.
Because it’s in the bloomin’ script that’s why! In the script found in the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, there is a fuller version of the final act denouement than what is seen on screen. In it, the directions make everything clear. It says, “But when Jack tries to get up onto the thing [the raft], it tilts and submerges, almost dumping Rose off. It is clearly only big enough to support her”. Jack then warns off another water-bound passenger, “It’s just enough for this lady...you’ll push it under”.
And if we’re playing by the ‘the script as gospel’ rules, that leaves no room for doubt. As James Cameron sulkily protested when presented with the Mythbusters conclusion, “The script says that he dies. He has to die.”
The question of whether Jack can fit on the raft or not has absolutely nothing to do with the technicalities of buoyancy and gravity and being really, really cold and everything to do with the fact that James Cameron wants to crush people’s hearts.
And when Cameron sat down to type out that fateful exchange over a seemingly innocuous piece of wood, he didn’t really care whether Jack could have fitted. He just needed him not to.
What Cameron didn’t foresee was generation upon generation of grief-stricken Titanic lovers trying to misdirect their trauma onto figuring out the dang raft dilemma. What Cameron really should have done is got a shark involved, or a shotgun or, if he was feeling particularly reckless, some Atlantic Ocean dwelling flesh eating piranha.
Another interesting aspect of the museum’s version of the screenplay is its alternate ending. I say ‘interesting’ but I mean terrible. Instead of the still-not-so-great ending of Rose dropping a jewel that Oxfam really could have used into the ocean, Brock and Lizzie catch her in the act and run up.
What then occurs is (in my humble opinion) a truly dreadful exchange of dialogue featuring such lead balloon lines as, “Only life is priceless, and making each day count” and, after Rose drops the gem in, “Aww!! That really sucks, lady!” I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t really seem like the most poignant way in which to reflect upon the Heart of the Ocean disappearing within the depths forever.
The alternate ending was filmed and, if anything, this just makes it worse. It’s a great example of where less really is more.
Perhaps Cameron got a bit greedy and fancied seeing the emotional ramifications of the jewel drop on all the characters. But what actually proves to be more compelling is leaving all of that up to the audience. We know that the unfortunately-named Brock will be devastated by the loss of the jewel, we know they’ll react just like the audience: “You had it the entire time?!”
The last big change that the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum script has in its ending is that Rose speaks to Cal aboard the Caparthia.
Let’s pause for a moment to appreciate how much we all hate Cal. Titanic was always going to need a 2D villain; a film about two people from different worlds falling love on a doomed ship was never going to be the time and place for a complicated nemesis.
In the film, Rose catches sight of Cal but chooses to hide from him and he leaves, never seeing or speaking to Rose again. In the script however, Rose chooses to speak to Cal. There’s a feisty exchange in which she basically tells him to get lost.
Again – it works better without it. Do we really need to hear anything more from Cal? We know that Rose is taking on a new identity the moment she gives her name as ‘Dawson’ (sob) and we know she hates Cal and will never want to see him again.
Overall, the script (dated May 7 1996 – before the film came out) is improved by being cut down and honestly, who could have predicted how controversial the raft issue would become? It is one of a host of Titanic items in the museum, including a large collection of framed posters and stills; the attractive 500 piece jigsaw pictured at the top of the page; an amazing set of original panorama images from the Poole’s show immediately after the disaster (here is a great image of one of the Poole's deatiling the images to the audience, and a copy of the Daily Mirror when the sinking was announced with the music for ‘Nearer my God to Thee’, played by the band as the ship sank.