Physicist and podcast host Neil deGrasse Tyson, a man who is no stranger to debunking bad movie and TV show science, has weighed in on the famous debate about whether Jack really had to die in Titanic. Ever since the blockbuster film’s 1997 release, arguments have raged on about the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack slowly freezes to death in the icy waters of the North Atlantic while his lover Rose (Kate Winslet) remains safe atop a floating piece of wooden door.
So heated did the argument over this scene become that Mythbusters once devoted an episode to it, investigating the question of whether the door actually could have remained buoyant with both Jack and Rose perched atop it. The Mythbusters ultimately determined that Jack and Rose could very well have shared the door, meaning Jack may have needlessly sacrificed himself.
In an interview with Huffington Post, the ever-vigilant Tyson addressed the famous Titanic debate not using physics but psychology. According to Tyson, the big issue isn’t whether Rose and Jack could have shared the door, but why a freezing Jack didn’t try harder to save himself:
“Whether or not he could’ve been successful, I would’ve tried more than once. You try once. ‘Oh, this is not gonna work. I will just freeze to death in the water.’ No, excuse me. No! The survival instinct is way stronger than that in everybody, especially in that character. He’s a survivor, right? He gets through. He gets by.”
In the film, we see Jack and Rose scrambling to climb atop the floating hunk of door, but quickly giving up their effort to share the would-be raft. In an act of heroic self-sacrifice, Jack lets Rose have the door to herself while he clings to the edge, soon succumbing to the elements and – in one of movie history’s most unforgettable moments – slipping beneath the icy waters. According to Tyson, Jack’s survival instinct should have overcome his sense of self-sacrifice at least initially and he should have made a stronger effort to get on the door with Rose before giving up.
The quick answer to Tyson’s objection is that Jack at that point was already exhausted from escaping the sinking ship and swimming furiously to keep from being dragged down by the suction as the doomed ocean liner plunged beneath the waves. So rather than keep fighting to live and potentially kill both himself and an equally-exhausted Rose, he decided at that moment to accept his fate and allow Rose to have the door, becoming a romantic hero for all-time.
It will be interesting to see if James Cameron, who is set to appear on Tyson’s StarTalk Radio podcast, will have anything to say about this angle on the never-ending Titanic debate. Tyson has a long history with Cameron and that movie, having once irked the notoriously detail-oriented director by pointing out how he messed up the constellations that would have been visible over the North Atlantic on the night of the Titanic’s sinking. Despite his annoyance, Cameron bowed to Tyson’s knowledge and fixed the night sky in those scenes for the film’s Blu-ray release. Fixing stars is one thing, but there’s not much Cameron can do about Jack’s arguable lack of survival instinct in that famous scene. So despite Tyson’s objections, the ending of that movie won’t be changing any time soon.
Source: Huffington Post
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