Saturday, 13 February 2016

"Jaws" (1975) - A review.

Fig 1. 
Jaws” (1975) by Steven Spielberg centers on the small coastal town of Amity, and more specifically the tyranny of one rogue shark. Events hit fever pitch as Amity’s police chief, Brody - one of the only town officials concerned with the vicious attacks - struggles against the Mayor of Amity, a stubborn man who obsesses over cash generated by Amity’s tourist industry and the loss of it, should the truth of the increasing shark attacks shut down the beaches. Brody, along with Hooper - an oceanographer - and Quint - a shark hunter - embark on a mad quest to track the rogue shark down and put an end to its killing spree.

Fig 2. 

If Spielberg’s earlier film “Duel” (1971) was an exercise in amplifying our fears of the road then “Jaws” continues this fascination, turning its gaze to the ocean and mining our fears of what lies beneath. “Jaws” continues Spielberg’s exercises in Alfred Hitchcock’s own tradition. Roger Ebert discusses that “Spielberg leaves the shark under the table for most of the movie. And many of its manifestations in the later part of the film are at second hand: We don't see the shark but the results of his actions” (Ebert, 2000). It’s a narrative bait and switch that keeps the audience fretful at the uncertain notion of the killer. Indeed, in not being gratuitous in how the shark is featured, Spielberg keeps any and all tension tightly contained within the frame, as we are forced again and again to confront the ocean. This is felt and seen most abundantly towards the end when Brody, Quint and Hooper are leading the shark back to shore, only we are never directly shown the shore. Always, Spielberg directs his gaze outwards towards the open sea, never letting the audience see how close the characters are to the shore, and to safety. Another scene which is particularly effective in ramping the tension features two would-be shark hunters - after the reward for killing the monster shark. They bait a large hook, attach it to the jetty they’re on and wait for the shark to bite. When it inevitably does, it drags part of the jetty with it causing one of the men to fall into the water. The jetty - now attached to the shark - initially moves out to sea, but quickly turns about to give chase. I mention this scene because not once do we ever see the shark, we only see the jetty floating on the surface. These scenes and others like it lend themselves to the final reveal and make it that much more palpable.

Fig 3. 
To talk about “Jaws” is to then acknowledge the subtext at play, to start with, Spielberg’s earlier themes of masculinity and impotence rear their head once again. It is perhaps, interesting to note that of the three male leads, there is no archetypal “macho” man amongst them. Brody is openly afraid of the water, Hooper is squeamish and Quint - arguably the closest to that archetype - has underlying mental damage brought on by surviving a horrific stint at sea during the second world war. Indeed “Jaws” is as much about these men killing the shark, as it is killing their demons, chiefly in Brody’s case. There’s a particularly warming scene that further builds on this theme, where the three men all share a moment of respite together, get drunk and share stories about how they received certain scars. “Hooper and Quint trade stories. This one from a moray eel. That one from a thresher shark. Brody has nothing to contribute to the conversation, although he considers sharing his appendectomy scar before deciding against it. (Bitch Flicks, 2015) For it is with Brody that the greater change occurs. “Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) begins the movie as the epitome of American manhood, almost to the point of cliche. He’s a loving husband, a devoted father, and a solitary lawman protecting his community. When confronted by the shark, however, everything spirals out of control” (Belinkie, 2010) Of course, being in a position of power and being powerless to do anything takes it’s tole on Brody. And then something interesting happens. Brody stops being a man and goes back to being a child. He’s taken out of the context of his family and community, and put on the Orca, where he’s completely out of his element” (Belinkie, 2010). It seems as if away from the powerlessness he experiences on land, Brody finally learns to have some form of agency on the Orca, through learning with Hooper and Quint and overcoming his fear of the sea he regains some semblance of agency.

In short, “Jaws” builds on Spielberg’s earlier themes of impotence and to an extent the castration complex, positing the place of men in society and their changing fascias amidst great societal change. The technical aspects marking “Jaws” as a complex narrative that picks up the gauntlet laid down by Alfred Hitchcock in terms of tight control over the way in which exemplary cinematography can induce dread, terror, and box office success.


Belinkie, Matthew. “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Phallic Symbol: Jaws As a Journey from Impotence to Manhood” overthinkingit.com [online] Available at: https://www.overthinkingit.com/2010/06/03/jaws-impotence-manhood-phallic-symbol/ [Accessed 13/2/2016]

Bitch Flicks. “I Think We Need a Bigger Metaphor: Men and Masculinity in ‘Jaws’” Btchflicks.com [online] Available at: http://www.btchflcks.com/2015/06/i-think-we-need-a-bigger-metaphor-men-and-masculinity-in-jaws.html#.Vr5wevKLTWI [Accessed 13/2/2016]

Ebert, Roger. ‘Jaws review’ rogerebert.com [online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-jaws-1975 [Accessed 13/2/2016]


Fig 1. Jaws Poster [image] Available at: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71CTreJGV5L._SL1500_.jpg

Fig 2. Three men on a boat [image] Available at: https://monsterawarenessmonth.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/jaws_172703s.jpg

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