JAWS - Conquering Fear on Amity Island
The “Movies I Love” series begins with a look at my 2nd favorite film of all-time
“Jaws” is not my favorite movie of all-time. That distinction goes to “Dazed and Confused”. I wasn’t ready to write my thoughts on “Dazed and Confused” so I decided to start the “Movies I Love” series with my second favorite movie of all-time. It is the summer, after all, and “Jaws” did set the standard for all summer blockbusters to come. That could be a good or bad thing, but no one can ever dispute what this movie did for the way movies are presented during this time of the year.
“Jaws” is the film that I have probably seen the most times in my life. One of the first “movie” experiences I can remember is watching it when it was 3 or 4 years old (Circa summer of 1985 or 1986). It wasn’t a theater experience, though. It was on the VCR as we had recorded an airing on the “ABC Movie of the Week” or “Sunday Night Movie” or whatever it was called at the time. I can still remember the fanfare and opening graphic for that broadcast as we had that tape for the longest time. If memory serves me right, I was watching it with my sister and cousins one night. I distinctly remember the 4th of July sequence on the beach.
As a kid, I didn’t scare easily. I didn’t realize “Jaws” was supposed to be a horror movie laced with suspense and built around the concept of one man’s fear of the water. The character elements used by Steven Spielberg to make up for the production problems flew right over my head. Spielberg’s methods of foreshadowing and usage of color, specifically yellow, were lost on me. I was a very little kid. I just thought the shark looked neat, and it ate people throughout the movie. There were probably laughs at the show of the boater’s severed leg falling into the water. I also probably thought it was “funny” when Quint was spitting up blood as he finally fell victim to the shark. Maybe that warped me a little built in retrospect, but it also instilled a deep love for this movie as I grew older.
Jaws” has always been with me, and I hope it always will be with me. I have no shame in telling anyone that I was also a sucker for the sequels, even “Jaws: The Revenge”. One of my first actual movie theater memories is going to see that movie the summer it was released. I also remember a couple of kids thinking it was cool the shark roared like a monster at the end. Those were innocent times, y’all. We didn’t know that movie was going to be regarded as one of the worst ever made. We just wanted to see the shark eat some people.
When I was a senior in high school, we had to do a monologue for drama class. My idea was to pick a monologue from an important movie because I was in “serious wannabe film student” mode. I immediately picked Quint’s speech about the U.S.S. Indianapolis and can still remember the vocal inflections I used to try and sound like Robert Shaw. I remember classmates giving me friendly grief for the way I said “bomb” in reference to the Hiroshima bomb.
The best paper I ever wrote in college was for an upper level film criticism class, and it was about “Jaws”. I did 20 pages analyzing the horror genre and then applying those elements to “Jaws”. That was my first real analytical look at a movie I had seen hundreds of times prior. The research into the horror genre helped me realize “Jaws” really is a horror movie before anything else as it revolves completely around the concept of fear. I got an A+ for “Jaws: A Model of Horror”.
The older I get, the more I realize what an amazing character Chief Brody is and how great a job Roy Scheider did with the performance. Chief Brody, throughout the film, fights a battle on multiple fronts. It is a His chief goal, as protector of the island, is to rid Amity of the shark. That is easier said to done when his only good option is Quint, who is set in his ways and has a habit of throwing caution into the wind. Complicating matters is Hooper, who brings a scientific approach to the matter. This, of course, causes conflicts with Quint and, more importantly, Mayor Vaughn.
Mayor Vaughn, as the representative of Amity and its business community, fights Brody’s attempts to shut down the island in order to rid the shark. Brody is surrounded by what he fears, the water, and he is surrounded by forces keeping him from dealing with that fear. Vaughn and the town fathers would rather have the issue of the shark just be left alone rather than suffer an immediate economic loss. A couple of people turning up to be shark food is fine as long as the money keeps flowing. “Jaws” was made in a post-Watergate world. Films of the era took all the opportunities they could to present a mistrust in elected officials. These elements are still quite relevant in 2019.
When it is all said and done, though, Brody is the last man available to deal with the shark. Hooper is underwater. Quint is being digested. Brody is eye to eye with his fear, and the chief must charge. Remembering Hooper’s admonishment about the oxygen tanks, Brody gets that son of a bitch shark to smile, fires his shot, and overcomes his fear. His joyful, childlike, and genuinely holy shit reaction is a reward for the audience and for Brody himself. Sure… a few people, including someone Brody was on the boat with just prior, got turned into shark food, but the chief deserves to have a moment where he can celebrate his triumph over fear.
“Jaws” is a movie that I refuse to let get old. It is a movie that I can turn on while I’m working and recite the dialogue without even having to see the picture. This is a film that shaped the movie-loving portion of me so distinctly that I’m so happy I was able to watch it as such an early age. For a movie that was so complicated and difficult to make, it tells such a simple and effective story of someone conquering their fear. I think that, along with other reasons explained here, is a big reason why it is a movie that I love.