The director addresses fans’ longstanding complaint.
The debate — just like our hearts — has gone on and on. But now, Titanic director James Cameron is finally getting serious about fans’ most pressing question regarding his blockbuster film: Could Jack have fit on that floating door next to Rose and lived to tell the tale?
The epic historical drama turns 25 this year (which is being celebrated with a splashy re-release that hits theaters on Valentine’s Day), and even after all this time, the way it ends is a lightning rod for controversy. To refresh your memory — and, uh, spoiler alert if you’ve been living underground for two-plus decades — newfound lovers Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) successfully avoid going down with the sinking ship, but then they’re left to wait for rescue in life-threateningly cold water. Rose hops up onto a piece of debris to get out of the ocean, but Jack floats alongside her, eventually succumbing to the deadly circumstances. Rose says goodbye, leaves Jack to his watery grave, and successfully goes on to live a long and happy life.
Now, it’s worth remembering that about 1,500 actual people perished during the Titanic’s tragic demise in 1912, whereas Rose and Jack are merely figments of James Cameron’s imagination. But these characters mean a lot to fans who made it one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, and many of them are not satisfied with the claim that both halves of this beloved couple had to die.
Some argue that both Jack and Rose could have fit on the floating wood at the same time. Others, such as national treasure Keke Palmer, say they should have taken turns so each could get an occasional respite from the cold. (Keke: “She let the brother freeze to death before her very eyes. She watched him!”) The debate over this crucial scene has become so expansive that TIME traced its entire evolution, including opinions from the likes of Mythbusters and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
But now, the mastermind behind the entire thing is putting the questions to the test himself with a brand new TV special, Titanic: 25 Years Later With James Cameron, and you can get a first look here, courtesy of Good Morning America:
Using two trained stunt professionals, Cameron tested multiple scenarios that replicated the conditions of the famous shipwreck to find out what was actually possible.
In the first, the director tried the solution that many fans have suggested — allowing both Jack and Rose to lie on the floating door. In that case, however, both characters are “submerged in dangerous levels of freezing water,” so it likely would have resulted in the same outcome for Jack.
Then they tried a different position, in which both characters use the door to keep only their upper bodies out of the water. Having their torsos exposed to the air caused “violent shaking,” which actually could’ve been helpful in maintaining a higher body temperature — especially if Jack were able to find a life vest to wear for added insulation. In that case, he might’ve lasted until rescue arrived.
After running multiple tests, it was clear that reaching a definitive answer about this is next to impossible, but Cameron leaves us with this takeaway: “Jack might have lived, but there’s a lot of variables.”
Ultimately, though, the speculation is a bit moot: The director says he doesn’t think Jack would have even entertained the idea of climbing onto the door alongside Rose.
“His thought process was, ‘I’m not going to do one thing that jeopardizes her,’ and that’s 100% in character,” Cameron says.
For more insights on this iconic film, catch Titanic: 25 Years Later With James Cameron on National Geographic this Sunday, Feb. 5, at 9 p.m. Eastern.