“...trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago.”—Jay Gatsby
I’m sorry, but I think we have to discuss the elephant in the room here. While Baz Luhrmann’s movie adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby looks gorgeous, and probably brings the novel to life in a wonderfully larger-than-life manner, at no point have I seen anyone discussing how Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby is obviously Jack from Titanic. And how the movie is obviously an alternate timeline where he survived the sinking of the ship and went on to build a life for himself in America in an attempt to reunite with Rose.
Not only that, but no one is discussing how this is the sixth Leonardo DiCaprio movie depicting an alternate timeline where Jack survived.
Take a peek at Leonardo DiCaprio’s film career and it becomes clear. The clues are all there. The sinking of the Titanic was a crucial turning point in history and the character of Jack is right at the center of it. He’s a chaotic figure. A man who was not supposed to be on the boat, who affects change in the lives of many others in a short period of time, and who lives on only in the memory of one woman after his death. He exists as a catalyst in the purest sense.
Jack, if that was even his real name, seemed fated to die on Titanic. But what if he hadn’t? When you look at Leonardo DiCaprio’s 21st century film career, it seems like he’s constantly trying to answer that question. Another movie, a new timeline, and still it seems that Jack never achieves his goal of reuniting with Rose and living happily ever after.
Although in each new timeline, it seems like Jack subconsciously learns how to do it a little better next time. Don’t let go, things are about to get a little creepy.
Timeline 1: The Beach (2000)
DiCaprio’s first major film after Titanic sees him playing Richard, a wandering college-aged man looking for new experiences in life. (Pretty much Jack from Titanic with a case of the bored-nows.) He and a French couple, Francoise and Etienne, get word of a mysterious island commune and swim their way there. Being a secret island community, shenanigans naturally ensue. Richard falls in love with Francoise and the commune falls apart into anarchy, with Richard narrowly avoiding death.
At the end of the movie, he receives a message from Francoise. A picture of the community before it fell apart into chaos, with the words “Parallel universe. Love, Francoise.” written over it.
Timeline 2: Catch Me If You Can (2002)
DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale, a con man and famous check-forger trying to escape the poverty that he grew up within. “Frank” displays all of Jack’s character traits, he thinks on his feet, is charming to women, floats between social classes, and is good at getting out of seemingly impossible scrapes. “Frank” is obviously a man searching for something that he feels he needs to complete himself. In this timeline he never finds Rose but does, eventually, find happiness with another woman and a job literally tailor-made for his unique talents.
Timeline 3: The Aviator (2004)
In this timeline, Jack’s desire to find Rose takes him to and keeps him in California, where he had always promised he would take her. He has no luck locating her on his own so he hatches a plan. Jack becomes “Howard Hughes,” a noticeable public figure innovating in a field that he knows will captivate Rose: flight.
Jack, or “Howard,” forgets one important thing: Rose is disgusted by corporate games and high society. Suitably, she never reveals herself to Jack and as the years go on he becomes completely obsessive about preserving his health and monitoring women that he’s romantically interested in. These obsessions eventually cause him to waste away.
Timeline 4: Revolutionary Road (2008)
A longshoreman Jack (again as “Frank”) runs into Rose, who now goes by the name “April,” at a party and the two finally reunite after so many failed timelines... The two are head over heels for each other, get married, and are looking forward to the adventures that will come. Their happy ending seems assured—until money woes rear their head. They have two kids and a house in suburban Connecticut to pay for, so Jack works at a factory and Rose gives up on being an actress to raise their family. Before they know it, their life together has become repetitive and hopeless.
A plan to start over in Paris is crushed by an unexpected third pregnancy and Jack’s decision to emotionally blackmail Rose once he finds out she is considering having the pregnancy terminated. Both of them have affairs and are vocally and physically abusive towards each other. Their romance has become something poisonous and dark.
Which is why, one morning, after Jack leaves for work, Rose tries to terminate her pregnancy by herself at home. The attempt kills her and Jack disappears with their kids.
Timeline X: Inception (2010)
The first thing we see in the Inception timeline is Jack, now known as Cobb, emerging from a churning ocean. Has he just experienced the events of Titanic, or are those long distant? The film suggests that both are true and, further, that this Jack is one who has become unmoored enough in time that he is able to sense just how fragile his reality is. This is a Jack who is aware of the other timelines.
As Cobb, he specializes in delving into the subconscious mind, planting imagery and crafting scenarios in order to affect the actions of individuals. Aside from corporate espionage missions that he is regularly tasked with, Jack uses this ability to recreate his deceased wife, who committed suicide in part because of Jack’s actions, so they can live out the rest of their lives together.
They do so, but the guilt Jack feels eventually poisons this rebooted relationship, and Jack is forced to realize that he’s been living with his memory of his One True Love. That this is not the woman he met on Titanic all those years ago, and that he has to move on.
Throughout the film, Jack relies on a spinning metal top as his totem, a representation of himself and of the real world. The top itself is shaped like a three-dimensional graph of all possible timelines that “spin” out of the events at the end of Titanic. The points at the two ends of the top are where the most unlikely timelines—and perhaps a way out of them—reside. The middle is where the most likely timelines pile atop each other. All of them similar in shape and form.
At the end of the movie, the top is spun one more time. We never see if it stops.
(Need an extra mindfuck? The Titanic cast off from Queenstown, Ireland, which in 1912 was more commonly known as the port town of Cobh.)
Timeline 5: The Great Gatsby (2013)
In this narrative, The Great Gatsby could stand in as a timeline where Jack learns to stop pining for Rose and move on. He survives, builds himself into a party-going showman in the Jazz Age in hopes that Rose will one day appear, but ends up finding love with another woman, Daisy. (Although Daisy is similar to Rose in many respects, being an upper class woman who is also fleeing an abusive relationship and is also named after a flower.)
But perhaps that was the point of the main timeline, the one where Jack dies on Titanic, that the romance between the two of them is meant to be brief. That they’re not truly meant for each other past that point. Jack as J. Gatsby certainly heeds that advice.
Except then he drowns anyway.
The multiverse is cruel. Weird and cruel.
Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and...I dunno, man...maybe someone should talk to him.