In the crazy world we live in today, it has become almost impossible to get two people to agree on anything. You can literally walk up to someone on the street, mention to them that the sky is blue, and get a steamy “Fake News” screamed into your face. Not only will they deny it and stop listening to anything else you say, but they will also hire a plane to release millions of gallons of green paint into the atmosphere to, you know, pwn the libs. If we can’t even agree on the simple things in life, how are we supposed to come to a consensus on something as subjective as horror?
Now, I’ve been thinking on this for a while now, and I think I have come up with the answer. Jaws.
Jaws is the one thing that everyone in the world can agree on. If you were to go up to that same person polluting the sky to show their patriotism and sing “Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies”, I guarantee that they will set down their Freedom Fries and give you a hearty “Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain”. It’s universal. Jaws has wormed its way into our culture and our subconscious in a way that few other films have.
As I sat down at my computer to write about Jaws, I made a very poor choice. I decided that it would be a great idea to Google “Jaws Retrospective” to see what others have written about the film. Big mistake. Big, big mistake. Just so you know, there are over 9,290,000 results for that search. In other words, if it has to do with Jaws, it has already been written. So, instead of writing about “Bruce the Shark’s” mechanical difficulties or the film’s budget catastrophe, and thereby adding my article to the list of millions already circling around the web, I’m going to come at it from a different angle. To celebrate the 43rd anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s first perfect film, and the finest shark film of all time, I am going to give you three reasons why Jaws can bring us together and save this divided world.
1. Chief Martin Brody is a Human, a Hero, and a Hunk
Show me someone who doesn’t think that Martin Brody, played by Roy Scheider, is handsome and I will show you a liar. You know it, they know it, we all know it. Seeing him on-screen in Jaws brings a rugged everyman quality to the film that people from any walk of life can get behind. If the scenario from the opening paragraph played out in the exact same way, with your face and neck being sprayed by hateful, hamburger-scented taunts, just look your adversary in the eye and ask, “Boy, wasn’t Chief Martin Brody from Jaws just a perfect dad? Wasn’t he just the handsomest viewer-avatar we could have ever asked for?” They will say “Yes” and you will both dance. You will dance the dance of dreamers and all negativity will be forgotten.
Trust me, this will work for one simple reason; because it’s true! Chief Brody, in the few short scenes with his family, is shown to be a thoughtful, loving father and a protective husband who wants to give his wife the life she deserves. He is honest, hardworking, and ready to act on his gut feelings. When the shit hits the fan and the city has to hire Quint to catch the shark, who gets on the boat with him, even though he is deathly afraid of water? That’s right, Chief Martin Brody, that’s who. He is who we want to be. He is who hope to someday be.
When we sit and watch Jaws, we can immediately feel for the Chief. He just wants to get through another busy season on the island without anyone getting hurt or robbed. He wants to keep his island, and all of its inhabitants, safe. The confusion and the fear that grips his heart after the rash of shark attacks is genuine and believable. Here is a man who prefers to have everything out in front of him so that he can make the best decision for his island. The worst type of situation he can come up against is one that he cannot control, like the apathy and greed of a mayor or the hunger of an apex predator. As he jumps into the deep-end (literally) to save lives, we are right there with him. We feel his fear and his anxiety. We feel Brody’s crushing claustrophobia as he comes aboard the Orca as it departs on its fateful mission.
The next time you are confronted with a troll or a family member who insists on talking about emails over dinner, just a take a second and realize that we are all Chief Brody. Every single one of us is deathly afraid and unsure of how to proceed. Everyone in this wacky world is scared, but the persistence of time forces us all to board the Orca regardless. As they prattle on about this or that, take a deep breath. Understand that we are all just trying to stop the giant shark that is terrorizing our lives. Take aim with that person and find a way to come together and say “Smile, you son of a bitch”.
2. Mayor Larry Vaughn is a Super Villain
I’m pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have, in fact, caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But, as you see, it’s a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time. Amity, as you know, means “friendship”. – Mayor Larry Vaughn
If you brought out your blender and mixed up one part smug, another part greed, two parts ugly suits with a dash of culpability, you will find yourself with a lumpy glass of Larry Vaughn. This small little man is single-handedly responsible for at least 3 death and maybe many more. How can the fact that the Mayor is a super villain help you to navigate your next negative situation? It’s simple, much of our angst as a country comes from our united distrust of the government, and few characters in cinematic history embody and earn this distrust quite like the Mayor of Amity Island.
He was told, early and often, by both Chief Brody and the young scientist Matt Hooper that he needs to shut down the beaches until they catch the shark responsible for chomping on his constituents. He refused for a simple reason; money. There have been Vaughn apologists out there ever since the film came out, saying that any politician would do the same thing. They say that the money that comes in on the Fourth of July sustains the island during the off-season. That if they cry “shark”, the vacationers would leave and never come back. Every point that make in defense of the Mayor is valid and true, but isn’t that kind of my point?
If every politician would do the same thing, maybe it’s time to start reconsidering the type of people we elect to office. What Vaughn and others like him fail to grasp is that no amount of money is worth even one human life. That is especially true when it comes to the life of a child, an innocent (R.I.P. little Alex Kintner). Every story needs a villain, and for 43 years now, the shark has been the focus of our ire and hatred. I’m here to tell you that the shark did nothing wrong. It was simply doing what it was born to do, swim and eat. Mayor Vaughn, on the other hand, willingly and knowingly placed the people he is supposed to govern and care for in harm’s way so that he can make a few extra dollars. It’s disgraceful, disgusting and something that people on any side of the political spectrum can agree with. The first step is a bond over the evil that emanates from Larry Vaughn, the next step? A kiss under the moonlight, maybe? Probably.
3. Quint is the Definition of Inclusivity and Empathy
When you think about Quint, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Gruff? Sure. Drunk? Absolutely. Sharp-tongued and impatient? You could say that. Woke? Probably not, but maybe it should be.
From the moment Quint scratches his nails down the chalkboard, you know that you are dealing with a different type of man. He’s the manly-man, the mountain that will not move but by his own will. He wants a lot of money (and schnapps) to track this shark down and kill it. He begrudgingly agrees to allows Brody and Hooper aboard his ship and taunts them the entire time. We’re supposed to view him as an anti-hero, and maybe even as a villain when he smashes the radio with a club. I’m here to tell you that he is the opposite, and the residents of Amity Island should be erecting a statue in his honor.
Quint is a war hero, as we learned during his memorable speech in the belly of the Orca. He splashed and splashed, sacrificing his own safety to try to save the lives of the other sailors in the water. Everyone knows this story, but what we never talk about is that he has been doing the same thing ever since. Being a shark fisherman is a dangerous job, yet he has been going out there every day to bring in all types of predatory fish. Why? Because he is working tirelessly to reduce the shark population, guaranteeing that there is enough food out in the deep thereby keeping them away from Amity’s beaches and bays. He has been single-handedly going out there and managing the delicate ecosystem surrounding the island to keep its residents safe. He has devoted his life to, not becoming rich or respected like the Mayor, but saving the lives of those around him.
Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark. Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.- Quint
When Brody wants to give up and radio for help, what does Quint do? What is necessary to finish the job and to save lives. In what we all originally thought to be an act of hubris and evil is actually his way of saying “We are not going back to shore with that shark still out here”. Quint is a hero, and he ultimately gives his life for the good of the people.
So, when you are under attack because of what you believe, no matter what side of the aisle you land on, think about Quint. He welcomed others into his life that he never would have normally to reach a common goal. An empathetic man, he still feels the deaths of the 784 men that lost their lives on the USS Indianapolis and he has been working his entire life to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. He brought a nerd (Hooper) and a man who can barely swim (Brody) on board his baby, his Orca, to hunt the fish that is killing the people around him. This is a lesson that we can all learn. Only when we work together, with both parties having the good of the people as their sole motivation, will anything get accomplished.
So, by using Jaws, we have taken a situation where someone who is screaming at you because of your beliefs and turned it around completely. Instead of cringing and bottling up your anger until it spills out in an EPIC twitter rant, you are now dancing and kissing and (maybe) falling in love. Jaws has that kind of effect on people, so why don’t we use it? If we would all just gather under the umbrella that was opened for us in 1975 by Mr. Spielberg, not only will we get to enjoy one of the greatest movies of all time, but we might just end up forging a better world for our children.
Do yourself a favor and watch Jaws tonight. Celebrate it for the perfect horror film that it is, and think about how we can use it to come together as a society. Another thing that will help the world heal is if you bookmark our homepage at Nightmare on Film Street and join our Facebook group Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street. Don’t ask me how it will heal the world, just trust me. It will.