10:30am PT by Josh Wigler
'Homecoming': The Story Behind That Fake 'Titanic' Sequel
[This story contains major spoilers for Amazon's Homecoming.]
Throughout Amazon's Homecoming, Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) travels a twisting path toward self-discovery — and, subsequently, at least some measure of self-loathing. It's a paranoid, adrenaline-filled ride, thanks in no small part to the dread dripping throughout director Sam Esmail's vision. As the narrative rushes toward the answers to the season's mysteries, it becomes increasingly clear that heartbreak awaits at the final destination.
Luckily, there's some levity littered throughout Homecoming, including one memorable instance that arrives in the second episode, "Pineapple." It's a classic moment ripped straight out of Gimlet Media's Homecoming podcast on which the show is based: Titanic Rising, a fake sequel to James Cameron's smash-hit blockbuster, as invented by war veteran Walter Cruz (Stephan James) and his former friends in the military.
In "Pineapple," during one of his therapy sessions with Heidi, Walter recounts the story of one of his fellow soldiers, a man named Benji, who was obsessed with Titanic, and would watch the film every night before bed. Another soldier, Lesky, decided to play a joke on Benji by claiming Cameron directed an independent sequel called Titanic Rising, crafting an elaborate narrative about a movie that never existed.
"We were trying to paint a picture of Walter's life on this base when he was deployed and what was going on a bit," Homecoming co-creator Micah Bloomberg tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We wanted to have them do kind of a practical joke, and then I was thinking a fake movie, because maybe it would be hard to see movies [during deployment] or something like that. And then, the thing I remember thinking was, if this is going to be funny, it needs to be a movie that everybody knows."
Enter: the second highest-grossing film of all time, right behind Cameron's other and more recent effort, Avatar.
"That's what is funny about it," says Bloomberg, "because you're like, 'Why would there be a Titanic 2 that you hadn't heard of?' What's funny is that you isolate these people, you get them alone, and you get this person to believe it. So I [wrote] that and I sent it over to [co-creator Eli Horowitz] and I was like, 'Well, this is a joke for us to amuse ourselves for today.' But then we just kept it in there."
Walter's telling of the Titanic Rising ruse is so compelling that even Heidi can't help but laugh during the session — a genuine reaction from Roberts, to hear James tell it.
"That was a good day on set," says James, remembering shooting the scene. "I remember reading that scene for the first time, and just being in tears, and being like, 'This shit is so funny. I cannot wait to do it.' And it was one of the first moments that we just had to relax and lighten up and have fun on the set. It was just so cool. We did a little bit of improv in that, which was cool. A lot of those laughs were genuine laughs and not even acting at all."
It's all fun and games, until the end of the conversation, when Walter reveals Lesky, the man who came up with the Titanic prank, was killed in action shortly thereafter. The tragic turn lands hard with Heidi, as she finds herself drawn in deeper to Walter and his pain. Later in the season, Titanic Rising surfaces again, in another tragic way: Walter no longer remembers the story whatsoever, thanks to the memory-wiping medicine he's been unwittingly consuming as part of the Homecoming project. When Heidi realizes Walter no longer has any recollection of Titanic Rising, she decides her work in the experiment is not helping these soldiers, but is fundamentally changing their lives. The realization galvanizes Heidi to overmedicate Walter in an effort to remove him from the facility and sabotage the project; she goes one step further by overmedicating herself, severely impairing her own memories.
"The idea to use [Titanic Rising as a way] to turn the plot at the end of the story, that's what kept it in the story," says Bloomberg. "If it were just this funny thing, you'd be like, 'It's super cuttable.' [Horowitz and I] had just started working together as a collaboration. When I saw [Titanic Rising] being used that way, in retrospect, it's really our way of working. We want to take these little moments that you just don't think anything about, and then it's just an interaction, and maybe offers some insight into who these people are. Later on, you understand it in a different way. That's our idea of tying things together and tying people into the story."
"It kind of captures the way this is almost trying to be two separate things at once," adds Horowitz, speaking to how the story of Titanic Rising speaks to the story of Homecoming writ large. "It is this character drama, even a comedy in certain ways, and then it's also this plot-driven psychological thriller. And there's almost two full ways of seeing the whole series. What we like most is when things cross over between those two genres."
The Titanic Rising scene takes place early on in "Pineapple," the second episode of Amazon's Homecoming. For those who would prefer to revisit the scene in text-driven form, read on for the full exchange between Heidi and Walter, as he tells the tale of the Titanic sequel that never was.
Heidi: "What is Titanic Rising?"
Walter: "Oh, it's just this funny story about this guy we used to mess with, Benji."
Heidi: "Will you tell it to me?"
Walter: "He was this little guy who was obsessed with … you know the movie, Titanic?"
Heidi: "Titanic? Yeah."
Walter: "So, that was Benji's number one favorite movie of all time. He would watch it over and over and over. We would literally have to listen to him fall asleep watching it. One day, this guy Lesky asked him what he thought about Titanic Rising. And Benji was like, 'What?' And Lesky was like, 'Well, the sequel to Titanic. Titanic Rising.' And Benji was like, 'What the fuck are you talking about?' And Lesky was like, 'Well, I really thought you would have seen it, seeing as how Titanic was your favorite movie, and it's got all the same characters, but it's 10 times as good.'"
Heidi: "You fellas had some time on your hands, it sounds like."
Walter: "God, we were so incredibly bored. We spent all day locking up this one street, just standing there, getting yelled at by dudes in cars."
Heidi: "And you and Benji and Lesky were all detailed there?"
Walter: "Yeah. And Schrier, too. Anyway, Benji chews on this all day, and that night, he goes online and he gets in there an hour, maybe two hours. He finally comes out and says, 'No way. There's nothing about that on the internet. No such thing as Titanic Rising.' And Lesky, all casually, goes, 'Well, of course not. It was an independent movie.'"
Heidi: "Wait … he bought that?"
Walter: "He completely bought it. Lesky had this whole line about how James Cameron self-funded the sequel so he could work around the studio system, but then the studio tried to suppress it for copyright or whatever, so it's hard to get your hands on it. It got really involved. There was a mafia subplot with the Italians below deck, and Jack and Rose had to foil them … and there was tons of sex. Tons. Jack was fucking this Polish teenager down in steerage."
Heidi: "No! Jack loves Rose!"
Walter: "No, Rose was fucking the captain. She's literally fucking the captain when they hit the iceberg. This thing went on and on! Meanwhile, Benji is obsessively trying to get himself a copy of this thing. He's pleading with the guys down at the PX: 'Please, would you get me a copy of this movie? It's called Titanic Rising.' Then Lesky got to them, the guys at the PX. Benji goes back in there and asks for it again, and they say, 'Oh, Titanic Rising! Yeah, we can't get that anymore. It's too emotional for the soldiers. It's too good!'"
Heidi: "That's so mean! So, did Benji figure it out?"
Walter: "Yeah, eventually."
Heidi: "Did Lesky tell him?"
Walter: "No, Lesky died."
Heidi: "… I'm so sorry."
Walter: "It's OK. It makes the story a little sadder, I guess. Yeah, Lesky died … let me think … not too long after that. Vehicle he was in rolled over an IED a couple months after that. It was kind of annoying actually. Benji kept asking about Titanic Rising, and eventually, we just had to tell him Lesky made the whole thing up. We couldn't tell him anything else about it, because he was making the whole thing up."
Heidi: "It must have been hard, what happened to Lesky."
Walter: "Well … yeah."
Heidi: "Want to talk about it?"
Walter: "Maybe. Maybe later."
Homecoming is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.