The sinking of the Titanic on the fateful night of April 14th, 1912 was one of the most notorious disasters of the last century. It was a stark reminder in an age of technology and innovation that humankind can never have absolute dominion over the sea.
Built to rival the Cunard’s passenger liners, which transported thousands of immigrants to America, the Titanic was designed to not only capitalize on the immigrant trade, but to be so luxurious that it would become the vessel of choice for society’s elite. The ship was built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff, and thanks to its watertight compartment system, the Titanic was widely proclaimed to be unsinkable. As well all know, this was not the case, and a seemingly minor collision with an iceberg sealed her fate. But there was so much more to the sinking of the ship than the iceberg. Despite receiving numerous ice warnings, she did not slow down, and it has recently emerged that she left Belfast with a fire raging in her coal bunker which would have weakened her hull. The 1,503 human lives which were needlessly lost in this tragedy are the reason why Titanic continues to fascinate generations. The sinking took over two hours and had she carried more than the minimum legal requirement of boats, no lives would have been lost. Titanic carried people from all walks of life, and their stories have been retold countless times in literature and on the big screen, beginning with Saved From The Titanic – filmed just 29 days after the sinking and featuring one of its survivors, Dorothy Gibson.
The most famous retelling of the story, however, is James Cameron’s Titanic. Released in 1997, the director went to extraordinary lengths to adapt the story for the big screen and simultaneously created star-crossed lovers Rose and Jack who broke the hearts of millions. Despite the class barriers which dominated life on-board the Titanic, penniless artist Jack is able to win the heart of wealthy socialite Rose, and, in true Hollywood fashion, the course of their love was not to run smoothly on the doomed liner. Prior to filming Titanic, James Cameron spent years researching the disaster. He wanted to give viewers an accurate portrayal of what happened on the night of the sinking, and many of the movie’s minor characters are based on actual passengers. The movie’s initial budget was $100 million, but it ended up costing $200 million. A large proportion of this money was spent on a full-scale replica of Titanic and numerous dives to the bottom of the North Atlantic for footage of the deteriorating wreck. One of the great things about cinema is that it’s able to give people a sense of what it was like to live in another time, but, despite the huge production costs of the movie, what captivated audiences the most about Titanic was Jack and Rose’s love story. No one can deny that the ship had to sink, but for the best part of 20 years, people have questioned why Jack had to die. He and Rose overcame so many obstacles during and before the sinking, the majority of viewers were left wanting a happy ending. After the Titanic is dramatically swallowed by the ocean in the movie, Jack and Rose manage to find each other amongst the sea of stranded, drowning passengers. To avoid being swamped, they swim over to the debris and attempt to take shelter on a door. However, the door is famously not big enough to support the weight of both of them, and Jack sacrifices his own life so that Rose can live. Since the movie’s release, people have debated whether or not both Jack and Rose could have actually fit on the door. In fact, some hardcore fans of the movie have gone as far to recreate the scene with a door of the same size. But now it’s emerged that Jack could have lived and given viewers the happy ending they’d been craving if he’d used this simple trick. According to three schoolgirls from Adelaide, there’s a mathematical formula which would have saved his life. The students presented their theory at the National Maths Talent Quest, and it was so impressive that they won an award. However, given that the fictional death took place in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic, it’s easy to see why it wasn’t used at the time. They discovered that if Jack and Rose had placed their lifejackets underneath the door, it would have possessed enough floatation power to have held the weight of both of them – thus saving Jack’s life and preventing a lot of teary viewers.
“We looked at how buoyant the door would have been, and how that would have changed if there were people on top of that,” Abigail, 15, told The Daily Telegraph.
“There was a lot of exploring and testing, and we had to fiddle with different buoyancies and look at what materials were realistic for that time.”
Although there is no denying that this theory would have satisfied millions of viewers, in terms of plot, it’s a little unrealistic that two traumatized and freezing people would have had such a brilliant stroke of genius as they fought for their lives. Whilst most of us would have loved for Jack to have lived, we can take comfort in the knowledge that his death served a purpose for modern audiences – even on the big screen, Titanic’s sinking could not have a happy ending because it was ultimately a disaster. Until recently, James Cameron’s Titanic was as close as people in the late 20th and early 21st centuries could get to experiencing the ill-fated liner in all its glory, but now China is building a full-scale copy of the Titanic which is supposedly setting sail in 2018. Let’s just hope that history doesn’t repeat itself…
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