Mythbusters – Titanic edition

Could Jack and Rose both have survived the end of the movie Titanic?

As I mentioned in one of my pop culture roundups, this debate has been waging on the Internet since the release of the movie on Blu-ray. Some people argue that Jack died needlessly and that there was more than enough room on the shard of door that Rose was floating on for two people. One internet site even came up with a variety of options:



Director James Cameron heard about the controversy – mostly from angry emails from viewers – and decided to enlist the help of the television show Mythbusters to see if the ending of his movie was accurate or not. This Sunday, the episode aired and attempted to settle once and for all this controversy. It was a busy TV night for me yesterday – not only did I have all my regular TV shows to watch/DVR, but the Yankees first playoff game was delayed by rain and landed smack dab in the middle of primetime – so I didn’t get to watch the show until this morning.

I’m not a regular Mythbusters watcher; I like the show just fine but I tend to forget about it unless there is a special episode like this one that features a high profile guest. I think the last episode I watched was when President Obama was on to test Archimedes’ Solar Ray.

Adam and Jamie broke the myth into three components. First, they tested the ending using ¼ scale models of the broken door “raft,” Jack and Rose in a tub of salty water. The real issue, of course, is not the surface area of the raft, but its buoyancy. Two people might be able to fit on the raft, but could the raft support two people in the water? Those results seemed to support James Cameron – the models could not both rest on the raft and keep it afloat

The second issue they explored was one I hadn’t considered and that wasn’t necessarily part of the fans’ critique – was it realistic that Rose even survived? Would a person be able to stave off hypothermia long enough to have been rescued? To test this theory, the guys created a dummy that would mimic what happens to a person’s body temperature and the changes that occur when exposed to the same water and air temperatures that existed on the night that the Titanic sank. They first submerged the dummy in the water to mimic what would have happened to Jack – could he have held on to the raft until rescue came almost an hour later? Their findings were no – his body temperature would have dropped so low that he would have lost the ability to control his limbs. As the movie depicted, at this point he would have just sunk in the water and drowned.

When they did the same experiment with the dummy on the raft, they found that there was no significant difference in the rapidity with which the dummy’s temperature decreased when wet and in the cold night air. However, because Rose was lying down on the raft, the fact that she lost control of her limbs wouldn’t have had any real effect. Though she would have been near death at the time of rescue, she would have been able to stay on the raft for almost an hour. James Cameron was right again.

However, the real test was to do a live action recreation of the events depicted in the movie. With Adam and Jamie standing in for Rose and Jack (and adjustments made to the raft to accommodate the difference in their weight from Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio  circa 1997), they took a raft out to see if they could both get on the raft and keep it afloat for the hour that they would have had to wait before being found.


Though their initial attempts mimicked the results of the movie and the scale test, Jamie and Adam were eventually able to tie the life jacket that Rose had been wearing around the raft to increase its buoyancy. With this MacGyver tactic, both Jamie and Adam were able to get on the raft and keep most of their bodies out of the water and stay afloat on the raft for the hour that elapsed before they would be rescued. Their final conclusion, therefore, was that both Jack and Rose could have survived. When told of their findings, James Cameron laughed and said that since he script dictated that Jack died, that’s what had to happen. My only complaint is that if he had lived, we all would have been spared that terrible Celine Dion song. Kate Winslet’s with me on this.

While I understand that their findings are technically correct and that it was plausible that both characters could have lived, I somehow found this solution unsatisfying. It felt a little bit like a cheat that they used the life preserver; with all their concerns about historical accuracy, I don’t know that idea would have ever occurred to people in 1912, especially someone that was as uneducated as Jack. I’m not sure if that solution would have occurred to me in 2012. But ultimately, I really don’t have a dog in this fight – I don’t expect 100% accuracy in movies and I’m kind of amused that 15 years later, people are still getting wound up about this. Of course, I still get annoyed with the legal inaccuracies in the movie Double Jeopardy, so perhaps I should be more understanding.

Regardless of the findings, I thought the episode was pretty interesting and I learned something. In the same episode they also examined what would happen with a rocket powered surfboard, though I fast-forwarded through these segments due to my time constraint. I doubt I’ll ever be a regular Mythbusters viewer, but I may more of an attempt to see what upcoming episodes would be of particular interest to me. And now the people who were so upset about the ending of Titanic have their closure. Now they can debate the realism of Avatar.

The Titanic episode of Mythbusters will re-air on Wednesday October 11th. New episodes of Mythbusters air on Sunday nights on the Discovery Channel. Check your local listings for more information.

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