Over 15 years later, and Titanic is still sparking thought-provoking fan theories about the ill-fated relationship between Jack and Rose.
In this particular theory, Yahoo! UK's Ali Gray puts forward the idea that Jack is not the self-sacrificing heartthrob we know him to be, but instead merely a figment of Roses' imagination. She starts from the place that Jack is just too good to be true, a dream of a man that is altogether too merciful to Rose during the lowest point of her life.
While that viewpoint may not be initially convincing, Gray managed to find a few elements directly from the movie to support her heartbreaking hypothesis. I mean, I certainly don't want this to be true—I'm not a monster, people—but I'm intrigued by this idea. Following her logic, Jack is simply a mental device that the older Rose uses to cope with her traumatic experience aboard the Titanic. Meaning that the erotic drawing, the steamy car scene, and the iconic connection on the bow of the boat NEVER HAPPENED. None of them.
Rough though it may be to hear, let's consider the evidence:
Rose is depressed
Based on the "jump" scene alone, it's clear that Rose is not in a vulnerable position in terms of her mental state. She's being forced into marrying for money, and the entire burden of her family's future has been placed on her. On top of that, her mother is relentless when it comes to nitpicking and chastising, breaking Rose down until she can't take anymore. That's when she chooses to go to the edge of the ship and attempt suicide.
But who should conveniently come along to save her other than Jack? Perhaps, with all of his good guy gusto, he's really just be the last voice in her head telling her to hold on. Maybe, because she is in an unstable place at this point in time, she remembers a physical man when there was only her own mind keeping her alive.
Jack is the exact inverse of the fiancé she hates
Cal, Rose's betrothed, is rich, smarmy, pompous, judgmental, and, above all other things, viscously abusive. The marriage was arranged by her selfish mother to keep the family financially afloat, and the prospect of marrying Cal partially led to Rose's suicide attempt.
Jack, on the other hand, is an exact foil to Cal. He is poor, charming, thoughtful, caring, and extremely good to Rose. He's essentially the perfect man without any flaws to speak of. In other words, the perfect fill-in for a void left by the abusive fiancé who didn't make it to the aisle.
There is no record of Jack ever being on the Titanic
The most striking bit of evidence comes right at the end of the story. Bill Paxton's character tells the older Rose that there is no record of Jack Dawson ever being aboard the Titanic. Rose's response is oddly cryptic. Instead of saying that that is ridiculous or the documentation system was shoddy back then, she replies:
No, there wouldn't be, would there? And I've never spoken of him until now...But now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me in every way that a person can be saved. I don't even have a picture of him. He exists now...only in my memory.
This seems suspicious to me, but it is entirely possible that there's no record of Jack because he won his ticket for the voyage. Maybe there was no official record keeping system for the lower cabins, but that still seems odd.
At the end of the day, however, the entire story we see unfold onscreen comes from Rose's perspective. Even the parts that show Jack in his lower cabin or without Rose come from her imagination—the way that she thought those events took place. So the Jack we see DOES come from her memory, but, now the question becomes, how reliable is her memory?
If he truly is a coping mechanism, then Jack represents the reemergence of Rose's individuality and self-esteem. Titanic is certainly more satisfying as a love story instead of a voyage of self-discovery, but that all depends on if you consider Rose to be a reliable narrator.
Are you convinced? Could Jack just be a figment of Rose's imagination that helps her deal with Titanic's sinking? Or, is she a trustworthy storyteller who should be believed?