Director- Stephen Spielberg
Cast-Roy Schieder, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Forget about the 1970’s, this movie makes my short list of favorite movies of all time. This movie rescued Spielberg’s early career, invented the summer blockbuster as we know it today, and I consider it a masterpiece of filmmaking. Movies like The Godfather (1972) define the gold standard of the Crime Drama. To me, Jaws defines the Drama/Thriller.
For some people, they see this as one about a giant shark eating people. Nothing else to it. I’m here to tell you that all those people couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, there is a shark and yes it does attack and kill several people. However, the movie contains so much more.
The following contains several spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Officer Brody is a police chief of the small beach town of Amity. A young girl was viciously attacked and killed just off shore one evening. Brody believes the attack was likely caused by a shark or some other dangerous sea creature. He wants to close the beaches in order to protect the townspeople. Even if that means the town loses business on the upcoming holiday weekend. For the people of Amity, they rely on strong sales during the summer vacation to keep afloat during the rest of the year. The mayor of Amity is completely against closing the beaches, not only would it damage the town financially, but he has convinced himself that this attack was an isolated incident and refuses to close the beach. Since many of the businesses in town want the beaches open, Brody begrudgingly accepts the mayor’s decision and keeps them open. He knows that the Mayor is wrong or trying to deceive the town, but he still lets it happen.
You have this conflict between Brody and the mayor/local business on the island. This movie presents the question of which is more important, Public safety or big business? Is the risk worth it for the greater good of the community?
Brody also has trouble at home. His wife and him are clearly dealing with some serious issues underneath the surface. Brody believes his wife no longer loves him and may be having an affair. His wife feels like the police chief job and town have burned him out. That he needs something to spark passion back into his life and soul. She wants the man she married back.
All these things build upon Brody’s shoulders and he takes full responsibility for everything that occurs. Brody needs to get a win in the game of life in the worst way; Capturing this shark would be a huge boost to his ego, reputation in town, and possibly his family.
Once the town realizes that there is a dangerous shark in the area. The small community freaks out. You see first hand the dangers and confusion created by panic, anger, and fear. Spielberg captures mob mentality perfectly. The American tendency to strike at its most emotional state rather than a more tempered reaction based on reason is presented here. It is both beautifully well done, but also rather disturbing.
A marine biologist named Hooper (Dreyfuss) comes into town and believes he knows what killed this woman, a great white shark. Eventually, Hooper is proven right and Brody and him team up with a distasteful, but talented fisherman named Quint (Shaw). Quint believes he can bring in the beast for a handsome fee.
So, now you have these three distinct characters from different generations and backgrounds placed on a small boat together and they are forced to fight something unimaginably dangerous with the capabilities to kill them easily. (That is, if they don’t kill one another first.)
Quint is a man of action, formerly of the military. He doesn’t believe in all these fancy degrees and knowledge. He knows it is a killer shark, it has to be killed. All the details are pointless after these facts. Quint has this inferiority complex when faced with more intelligent people. That is combined with unchecked bravado which makes him very useful, but dangerous in a crisis.
Then there is Brody, burnt out from life, soaked in gullt from his earlier actions, and feeling overall emasculated by life and this shark. To make matters worse he has a fear of the water and now has to go onto the open seas to catch a incredible killing machine. Deep down he believes that bringing in this shark may save his marriage, may save that manhood that seemingly has been stolen from him.
Finally there is the well-to-do biologist, Hooper. Hooper is a man of science and believes that education is vital in not only surviving, but also capturing this shark. He is not nearly as rugged as Quint, but makes up for it with intelligence. Something that Quint has no respect for and constantly berates him. Hooper aims to prove that his theories about this shark existing in these waters and is killing people are correct; he also has longed to study these creatures.
These three together all have a common goal, but live by very different means with different personal issues to battle. They fight and bicker almost constantly, but eventually realize the best chance they have to overcome these immense odds is to work together.
This movie has it all, various philosophical viewpoints on business, issues caused by mob mentality, the generation divide of opinions and lifestyles, even personal demons and domestic problems. The shark has become very dated in appearance, but much of the film has aged splendidly. The acting, the cinematography, the characters, and story. All of them beautiful.
Jaws did create more fear of sharks on a much wider scale. This fear led to needless slaughter of millions of sharks unfortunately. It is the ugliest part of this film’s legacy. It changed the world for the worse in that aspect.
However, because of the fear and the shark genocide. It also prompted marine biologists, scientists, and countless others to investigate and understand these creatures more than ever before. They learned the various types of sharks and often why, where, and when they would attack humans. Eventually that research led to further protection and education of sharks and other marine wildlife. There is an ugly stain without question, but also the beauty of knowledge and understanding that came after. (I still love me some Shark Week every year. Jaws helped inspired that to be a thing. )
This remains among my favorite movies ever made. There is so much beneath the surface. Beautiful, tragic,and yet inspiring for generations of moviegoers and scientists alike.