Jack did not have to die!

The other day as I sat watching the final scenes of Titanic with my mum and sister, I couldn’t help but think, “Did Jack really have to die?” It has been proven on Mythbusters that, technically, Jack could’ve survived, that both he and Rose could’ve fitted quite easily on that wooden board. When I voiced my indignation (amid tears, mind you), my mother said, “Well, it’s what the director wanted.” Or rather… it was written in the script that Jack dies, so I guess it’s what the writer wanted.

titanic

I’m not averse to being mean to fictional characters, but I do feel strongly about unnecessary killings. Jack’s death is arguably necessary; since the movie mostly revolves around Rose, and how her love for Jack saved her first on the ship and then throughout her life, even if he wasn’t there to see it. It’s rather bittersweet, and I suppose it does make some sense… but it’s more than I can say for other movies and books.

Before I go any further, this post may contain spoilers for Harry Potter, One Day by David Nicholls, Swamplandia! by Karen Russel, Armageddon and King Kong.

I love Harry Potter, but even so, I still can’t understand why she had to kill Fred Weasley… or Lupin or Tonks for that matter. It didn’t do anything to the plot or set off a chain of events; I thought it was completely pointless. I recently read One Day, which tells the story of two people who knew (and secretly loved) each other for many years before they finally got married, only to have one of them die suddenly and for no logical reason. I was left staring at the pages in shock. Karen Russel didn’t kill anybody in her book; however, she did subject her main character (a small girl) to rape for no logical reason, and to add insult to injury, she didn’t even do the scene justice.

As far as I’m concerned, these things only added a “shock factor” but nothing more. They were just unnecessary plot devices meant to stir emotions in the reader, but did not always achieve the desired effect. Some might say that death in real life is unnecessary and happens suddenly as well, but I don’t think fiction truly mirrors real life, and if the author was going to aimlessly go on a killing spree, then they shouldn’t have written the book to begin with. At least this way readers/viewers wouldn’t end up feeling cheated.

Take movies like King Kong and Armageddon. While it is true that major characters were killed there, their deaths did work in the context of the story, and I thought they were very emotional and touching. They did not die in vain, and they did not make me want to smash the TV or throw the book against the room.

How do you feel about unnecessary character deaths? Would you prefer if the author avoided killing their characters altogether, or are some killings acceptable?

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68 thoughts on “Jack did not have to die!

  1. It definitely depends, but honestly what I can’t stand more than anything is when animals get killed. Dying of natural causes, sure. But, the brutal animal death thing to make us hate the bad guy even more or validate someone’s psychotic ways really chaps my ass.

    • Agreed. =[ It’s really cruel to kill an animal who usually doesn’t even have control on anything in the story. I especially feel sad when a dog protecting its owner gets killed in the process.

    • Yes! What irked me was that they only tried to get on that board once. They obviously never heard of the saying that goes, “If you fail, try try again.”

      • Yeah, I think the director wanted to score a sour point, as a writer, I’m my worst critic because I try to see through the eyes of the reader or viewer (in the case of titanic) It’s just an avenue to play with the emotions of the viewers, that’s all.
        I love your blog!
        Cheers:)

        • I know what you mean! When I’m writing I always try to imagine why my readers would think, haha.
          And aww, thanks! It’s nice of you to say that. 😀

  2. Hmmm I agree some deaths are unnecessary but I guess to the author, it adds to the talking points of a book….even if it’s just for the reader to say that it was unnecessary. Interesting point to raise tho.

    • Perhaps. But I feel that some authors use it as a way to quickly pull a story together when they don’t know what to do with it anymore. It’s like an easy way out and that isn’t fair to all the readers. =[

    • Mhm. I really couldn’t believe that she killed him! I was happy that all the Weasleys had survived everything, so for her to kill him then… it was just too sad.

  3. I know that sometimes authors will just kill someone off to remind us of how people die for no logical reason every day. But this isn’t real life – it’s a book. And if someone dies in a book, there should be a reason for it. I was sad when Sirius, and then Dumbledore, died, but I got it — the choices the characters had made led up to that inevitable point. The deaths of Fred, Lupin, and Tonks, however … no. Just, no. People die in war, sure. But if you’re going to kill off beloved characters, war or not, you need to at least give them a good death scene and a really important reason for them dying. It’s one of the reasons why, when I reread the HP series, I don’t read book 7. I know that as a loyal HP fan I really should, but I just don’t consider book 7 to be part of the cannon. In my mind, the series ends at book 6 (except for the final bit in 7 when Voldemort is finally defeated!).

    • I know what you mean. I understood the deaths of Sirius and Dumbledore too, even Snape’s, but I was really sad when she killed off the other three. I agree with you that JKR should’ve at least given them a proper death scene, especially since they all had important roles to play! I’ve heard a lot of people say they were unhappy with book 7, and I can see why… the fact that it doesn’t happen at Hogwarts plays a huge part, no?

      • Oh, definitely. With Book 7, I feel like she kind of lost the flavour of HP and went a new direction with the story … which, well, good for her for experimenting, but after Book 5, the series didn’t feel like Harry Potter to me any more. Did you get that feeling?

  4. Even though losing Fred and Tonks and Lupin (my favourite character) was painful to read, I completely understand why Rowling did it. It was war – there had to be consequences. In killing Tonks and Lupin, she replicated the loss of Lily and James, which I found poetic in its own way. And though I’m always up for a good death scene, I think the fact that a lot of the deaths in Harry Potter happened “off-page,” as it were, helped to create the lack of closure Harry probably felt to lose these people who were as dear to him as they are to us.

    Before the seventh book came out, I figured that the cruelest thing Rowling could do was kill one of the Weasely twins, and there was absolutely no reason why she shouldn’t. The second worst thing I figured she could do was kill Tonks but not Lupin, so I’m actually a little relieved that that heartbreak was averted.

    Though book seven left me a weeping mess, it was a satisfying end to a series that had started when both Harry and I were eleven.

    • Well, I admit I never looked at it that way, but still… I wish she would’ve given Tonks and Lupin a proper death scene. I honestly felt cheated when I learned that they died and we didn’t even get to see it. Fred’s death really got to me, though; I could understand the deaths of many others but not him. =[
      I agree that it was satisfying though. Many people dislike the epilogue, but I thought it was nice, cheesiness and all. 🙂

  5. Mythbusters actually took on the question of did Jack have to die. It’s a good episode. I do think that when an author kills of a character that we’ve grown attached to it serves to reinforce the vulnerability of the other main characters. We often go in to a suspense novel with the assumption that good will triumph and our main character will come out on top in the end. It’s Bruce Willis in Die hard rather than Sargent Ryan. Sometimes the setting really does require an understanding of the actual risk the characters face rather than the fictional risk. On the other hand I agree that killing characters for the sake of killing characters is not nice.

    • I know that realistically good doesn’t always win, but this is fiction… if we can’t have happy endings there, then where? And unfortunately, a lot of writers seem to kill characters for no valid reason. It sucks. =[

  6. Daniel Koeker says:

    The problem is it’s hard to quantify ‘pointless.’ You might not see a reason for a character dying, but sometimes there are reasons, even if they are hard to see. (In Jack’s case, that board hardly held Rose, it wasn’t going to hold both.)

    Ah well. At least you know how SOME of your readers feel when you write the way you do. 😛

    • But it was proved that it could’ve held them both yo! It didn’t hold them at first because they were both trying to climb at the same time. Silly buns.
      And I don’t do unnecessary deaths. >.>

      • Daniel Koeker says:

        Mythbusters aren’t always right! And even if they were in this case, if Jack hadn’t died there wouldn’t be a Titanic 2.

        And you don’t, but I mean you know the anguish we have to go through. D<

  7. JACK TOTALLY DID NOT HAVE TO DIE. Andfbfff! I always say that every single time at the end of the movie, and you know what? Every single time I re-watch it I still somehow hope that this time round it will end differently.
    Sucker thy name is Becky. :L

    However most of the time, especially in books I actually quite like character deaths. I feel like it’s more realistic. Like in the last fight in Harry Potter, for me personally and statistically it would seem ridiculous if they all managed to survive, because however good they were at fighting the place was absolute chaos and silly mistakes are made. I think in fact, I would have got more annoyed if J.K hadn’t killed off anybody. So for me it is kind of the other way around. 😛

    Really interesting blog topic Zen! 🙂

    • I know what you meaan. We keep hoping for good ending that will never come. =[ I wish they would make alternative endings just for us sappy souls.
      Well I understand that it would be more realistic to have deaths, but… like, with Remus and Tonks, I just wish she’d have given them a proper death scene, you know? =[ they’re such major characters, so it sucks that WE never got to say goodbye to them properly.

    • Ha, I know exactly what you mean when you say that you hope this time it’ll end differently! Not necessarily with Titanic, but there a number of books that I reread and reread and yet somehow I always wait for something new to have happened in my absence. 🙂

  8. I saw Titanic several times in the theater when I was 13 or 14… For months I kept telling people Jack could have gotten on that board. Also if Rose hadn’t jumped back on to the ship, Jack could have survived by himself on the board. Well I’m not entirely sure cause I don’t remember the storyline detail by detail but the point is, Rose’s make-up was picture perfect throughout the sinking so that just made everything even less realistic. The movie got way more credit than it deserved.
    I think deaths are important in stories cause they are a reflection of life, and that is how life is. But deaths shouldn’t be included just for shock. It should help develop the storyline or the other characters in some way.

    • Well, considering that movie got released in 1997, I thought it did pretty well. When I was watching it I was pretty impressed with the effects and everything.
      And I agree with you. Books aren’t real life; they’re fiction, and people like to read about more interesting people, so killing them off like that is just… eh.

  9. I think he did have to die… the point is about connections and we know that loads of people lost their loved ones in that tragedy. It would have been far to sugary sweet if they’d both survived and even more unbelievable than the story was to start with.
    And the death of people with whom you connect early in the story matters – which is why killing off the main characters has to be considered, worried over and only done if absolutely necessary.
    And I think this was necessary.

    • Perhaps you have a point there. I guess I’m just miffed because Jack could’ve easily survived and his death wasn’t totally justified. If they’d tried their best to both survive, but he still ended up dying, I guess I would be more understanding. But they didn’t even try getting back on that board again! =[

  10. I agree with Britt, I hate animal deaths in movies and that really gets me up (to turn it off!)

    Deciding whether or not to kill characters is a part of writing. If a character is killed off at the beginning or part way through a story it helps develop the other characters – but killing at the end is purely for the tear jerk reaction (I believe – others may not agree with me)

    • I agree with you! It also sort of feels like the author didn’t know what to do with his characters anymore, and so decided that killing them off would be the best option.

  11. Alright I have to say I started reading this post on your side. I am not one for unneccesary killings in books or movies. However, it needs to be said that some of the books you mentioned needed the deaths to happen for the character in the book to deal with this tragedy and get stronger. Take Harry Potter for example- these deaths motivated him even if it was in a small way to keep going. Our obstacles define us and they cant all be explained from day one.

    • Well maybe so… but don’t you think that JKR should’ve at least honoured characters like Remus and Tonks with proper death scenes? I don’t like how she just brought up their deaths in passing, especially since they’re so loved by many. 😦

  12. Zen, I don’t have too much to add to this conversation. I agree with the gratuitous killing of animals. That would make me stop reading and/or watching in a heartbeat. I don’t recall having a reaction to a movie or a book because someone died (didn’t read all the Harry Potter books or see Titanic), but I remember seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the movie theater about a hundred years ago, and although most people were delighted with the ending, the movie was ruined for me, knowing that they dashed into their deaths. So … even though that may have been historically accurate, I suspect my reaction to the deaths you mention in fiction would be similar to yours.

    • I just read the synopsis of that movie, and I think I would’ve pretty upset with that ending too, historically accurate or not. =[ I really hate it when the death comes towards the end of the movie/book.

  13. I agree on Titanic, in real life you would have tried anything to both get on that board! With HP, it was a battle and people did need to die I think to be realistic but I hoped she had killed those particular characters so Harry would raise his godson like Sirius wanted to do with Harry but it seemed he only came round for dinner sometimes 🙂

    • My thoughts exactly! They only tried to get on the board once then just gave up altogether. And you know I never thought of that… perhaps that really was her aim!

  14. Love this post! Your views are flawless and well presented – I say this in case I seem as though I am arguing against your ideologies when I briefly comment that – even though a death is unnecessary, perhaps it was deliberately orchestrated to arouse an emotional reaction?
    For instance, when I am writing a text (you’ll notice the word ‘writing’ rather than ‘having text published’) my aim is to either create a comedic story, and have my (wishful) audience clutch at their agonizing sides as they laugh their heads off (literally, I want their heads to be laughed off), or, when articulating a serious piece, I deliberately aim to kill off at the least my major character. Why? To have them face such, often strenuous bitter ordeals, only to have them die at the end shows their heroism – their sacrifice, but most of all, their love.
    Such a selfless sacrifice by such heroic individuals should be commendable – not questionable.
    Furthermore, one may believe they would rather see a version of Titanic where Jack and Rose live happily ever after, but would you really? The Tragedy of the film is yes, unfathomably saddening, but it also adds heightened emotional feelings that would have otherwise being unrecorded.
    Besides; the death of Jack Dawson is not what I remember at the end of Titanic. What I remember is Rose being reunited with her one true love upon her spirit leaving her body as she returns to her one true home – on board the ghost of the sunken vessel, in the arms of her beloved. The film itself dictates that true love is forever; an unbreakable, unflinching, undeniably unchallenged bond. Should an ending be denied when it delivers what a happier ending may not have?
    These characters died because they were fighting for what they loved – their loved ones are safe – they are more than just heroes now – their actions have not just caused their spirits, their memories to be encased inside the hearts of minds of those they died for, but into the heart and mind of the reader/viewer if written/produced effectively.
    On top of this, being emotionally affected by the death of a character shows your humanity – your sentimental and emotional values – your humility. This is not something to be frowned upon, for when delivered properly, you will certainly remember these fallen heroes when the text is but complete – or when the credits roll across your screen. These heroes; these few heroes are always unforgotten.
    Who are we to let their sacrifices be in vain?

    • Thank you! And perhaps so, but I think a death needs to do more in the plot than act as a tearjerkers, no?
      And maybe you have a point there, but in this case it would all depend on the genre, right? If you’re writing a comedy, then it would be bad if the readers didn’t laugh, and if you’re writing a tragedy, it wouldn’t be good if you couldn’t invoke an emotional reaction out of your readers.
      Perhaps you’re right. Jack’s death did incur heightened emotional feelings, and I did love the scene at the end where Rose returns to Jack and sees everyone who drowned with he ship. I guess my gripe is just… well, how he died. His death is a bit irritating because the way the movie goes, he could’ve definitely survived. =/ I don’t think I’d be complaining as much if the way he died was completely justified.
      Also… this has to be the greatest comment I’ve received in a while. So thought-provoking. Thank you. =]

  15. How do you manage to always think up these really thought-provoking questions?
    I think I’d tentatively agree with you that killing characters unnecessarily is stupid, but as someone else pointed out before me, what does unnecessary mean?
    In the case of Titanic, it might be true that technically Jack didn’t have to die, but emotionally and for the storyline he did. Emotionally, because we would not feel the tragedy and scope of this ship’s sinking quite so much if they’d both survived. And for the storyline… Rose probably wouldn’t have become the person she is shown to be at the beginning of the movie – strong, independent, happy, adventurous if this loss hadn’t happened to her. Through it, she chose to make her life something of which Jack would approve and what he would be proud of.

    As for Harry Potter – I agree with some of the other comments that it would have been highly unrealistic for all of them to make it through alive and I also agree that it helped him to make that last sacrifice and therefore did move the story forward. I didn’t like that both Tonks and Lupin died, but I like the idea that has been mentioned before about them mirroring Harry’s own parents. Also, I was just so relieved that nothing happened to Hagrid, because that would have been the worst thing for me.

    • Haha, most people would tell me that I overthink things way too much!
      As for what defines a death unnecessary… well, if it does not serve the plot in any way and is just included to shock the readers, then really what’s the point? There’s one book by George Elliot that is 657-pages long, and she killed off her main character right at the very end. It feels like a cop out, you know? I don’t like it when writers do that. Don’t write so much only to escape your responsibility to the readers at the very end.
      I suppose I can see the sense behind Jack’s death, however, as I mentioned above, I wish the writers at least tried to save him more before killing him off. =[ And about Harry Potter… I was mostly worried she’d kill off one of the trio (for good, that is), but I think that might’ve pissed off a lot of people, haha.

      • I can see your point about the main character being killed at the very end, that might be bad – unless the whole story worked towards that. There are quite a few stories where the whole point is that the character will die in the end. I’ve never yet come across a death in a book where I had the feeling that the writer was cheating me, but I’ll keep an eye open for it. I almost want to read that George Elliot novel now, just to see what my reactions are.

        • Well, if you’re interested, it’s called “The Mill on the Floss”, and nothing in the novel indicated that the main character was going to die. Maybe I would’ve understood if she killed herself, but the way she died… well, without spoiling it for you, it was extremely unrealistic!

        • Okay, I’ll take a look, although my previous experience with George Elliot was that I couldn’t read her (I tried Middlemarch and it was one of the very, very few books that I had to give up on).

  16. I understand why Harry Stamper was sacrificed in Armageddon, but I still hated it!

    Titanic would not have had as powerful an ending, had Jack survived. But I hated that he died, too.

    • Harry’s death always makes me cry buckets. It was really touching that he chose to die instead of his daughter’s boyfriend.
      And I guess you’re right. Doesn’t make me hate it any less either, haha.

  17. PM says:

    i agree with the bit on HP. sigh. what i did not like is when sirius died. i think i read mr. weasley is supposed to die but the last minute author changed it to sirius. bah.

  18. I just finished the main books of the Maze Runner series (really good series) and in the last book, there is definitely an unneccessary death and I am just a little ticked off that this character died for no good reason. But there’s another death that adds to the plot, and, as much as I didn’t want that character to die, I accept it ’cause, in my opinion, it adds depth to the story.

    • I’ve been hearing lots of good things about the Maze Runner. I’ll have to check it out soon. 🙂 And it’s those deaths that annoy me. Why kill off good characters for no reason? It doesn’t make sense! =[

  19. laurenjweaver says:

    Jack’s death does stand apart from those more meaningless ones when it’s really about Rose’s change in life and how it effected her. The trouble is that, as you said, he could’ve gotten onto the wooden board with her, so they didn’t quite find a “fluid” way to keep him in the water. But for storytelling’s sakes, this worked.
    Deaths for the means of stirring emotions are usually a way of effecting the plot as well (usually), such as making a main character think/act in a new manner, ect. But in cases where they leave a bitter taste in our mouths, it’s usually because it didn’t effect the main characters the way it should have in order to actually be meaningful.
    Sometimes, killing off a character for shock value can be rewarding in a storyline, but only if it’s done right–again, something that effects the plot or the main characters and makes the death “needed” in the sense of telling the story.
    But when it’s a loveable character, and they’re killed off just because “the readers/viewers love them”, unless it’s for making us hate the antagonist, that’s just uncool and I agree, makes me want to throw things!

    • That’s why I had trouble accepting it. If they had killed him off using a logical method, it wouldn’t have bothered me as much, but I do understand how his death works!
      I’m all for death when a story needs it, but sometimes you just have to wonder what the author is thinking killing off a certain character. If it’s not obvious, then we can’t say that the author did a good job of transferring his point across.
      Thank you for your comment! =]

      • laurenjweaver says:

        Agreed! It always bothered me too (I don’t like watching Titanic through to the very end, at least, not without skipping the part where they’re in the water until she’d on the rescue boat!). It’s kind of like saying sure, this was a death that impacts a character, but it becomes needless if you can’t at least make it believable! I have the feeling that whenever I write, it’s going to be really hard for me to kill off characters at all unless they’re bad guys. So hopefully I’ll end up avoiding the “needless route”!
        You’re welcome! =]

  20. You’re like my sister. She watched the whole movie then stopped right before that scene! It’s not really difficult for me to kill characters (even protagonists at times!), but I do make sure they make sense before I get rid of them, haha.

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