Can We Talk About [Jaws]?

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…

I have no reason to bring up Jaws.

Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain…

But who the hell needs one?

For we’ve received orders to sail back to Boston…

I just want to talk about how amazing it is.

And so nevermore shall we see you again…

So, here is the stuff I want to talk about in Jaws.

Best monster movie of all time

This is admittedly a hot take but hear me out. Every good movie does the same thing well… the intrigue and fear of the unnamed terror. This build could be considered the easy part of the genre. Whether people are dying or getting the shit scared out of them, most monster movies find some way to get us to buy-in to the unnamed horror. Where monster movies struggle, is the reveal. The build is often so great, and the unknown is so terrifying, that when it becomes known, the fear is removed (there is a lot of philosophy to be unmoored from this concept, but alas that must wait for another time). So, ipso facto, the truly great monster movies, the next level, top-tier, come back for more monster movies, have a reveal that lives up to the hype. Like Jaws.

The reveal itself is such an iconic scene, as Brody chums off the back of the Orca muttering about how much he hates the job, distracting the viewer by making us believe it’s a character developing, comedic scene, before whoosh, out comes the shark and all of Brody’s urine, setting the table for him to deliver an all-timer in cinema, “I think we need a bigger boat.”

The build to the reveal also has become archetypal. They did not show the monster for three-quarters of the movie, only the horror on the faces of those who did, and the aftermath of its reign of terror. It’s a method that had been done before, but never so well, and one that is adopted plenty since then, but rarely as effectively. In fact, this type of build often contributes to the failure to live up to the hype of the reveal since the audience has no way of easing into conceptualizing the monster-I’m looking at you Super 8. Really? An alien? You gotta be kidding me-with well-known exceptions-I love you Alien (It also should be noted that the inverse has happened, where the monster’s best moments are in the build where it is seen frequently, as opposed to a culminating reveal. It does this. Pennywise is maybe the greatest monster of all time until the closing scene. Pennywise the spider sucks…Pennywise hiding behind balloons makes my testicles shrink).

Jaws is able to make the build as good as any, and then somehow makes the reveal, and subsequent scenes where the monster is seen even better. This seems like the challenge and point of monster movies existing. Therefore, I would argue it is the best monster movie of all time.

Hooper and Quint

These two are so good on both an entertainment level, and an underlying thematic perspective. The character layering of this film is fascinating. And Hooper and Quint both have their entrances into the narrative that set them as complete opposites. Quint demands attention by dragging his nails over a chalkboard and quieting a room of riotous citizens (only after drawing a picture of a shark eating a human on said chalkboard. I see you Quint). Hooper fails to get any attention at all for almost the entirety of his scene as Brody is too busy trying to wrangle a crowd of bounty hunting fisherman. Both scenes are engaging and set the two for a big clash when they meet. This is developed as we learn their approach and philosophy to sharks. Quint wants to kill them with reckless hate, Hooper wants to learn from them with awed respect. All of this is established before they meet each other, so when they do, it gives way to some of my favorite scenes. 

Like when they first meet and Hooper is so pumped to look at all Quint’s shark jaws, thinking that he most definitely is going to like this guy, before realizing he is most definitely not going to like this guy. After he introduces himself and his over-qualified credentials, Quint tells him, “I’m not talkin’ ’bout pleasure boatin’ or day sailin’. I’m talkin’ ’bout workin’ for a livin’. I’m talkin’ ’bout sharkin.’” Then he tells him to tie him a sheepshank knot, which I know nothing about, but can tell from Hooper’s reaction that it is super insulting and a strange sailor flex by Quint. When Hooper tosses it back shortly after, Quint doesn’t even look at it (so badass) but instead grabs his hands and tells him, “You got city-hands, Mr. Hooper.” And so we know all we need to know about how much these two are going to get along. Different worlds, my man, different worlds.

Like when Quint sees the shark cage and asks Hooper, “What are you? Some kind of half-assed astronaut?” and later when Hooper tells him it is an “anti-shark cage”-oh, Hooper- Quint replies, “…you go inside the cage?” Hooper nods, thinking Quint is getting it now, “…cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark.” Smile and… “Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…” Hooper’s smile and nod in response like, “Oh its gonna be like this? Utter and complete disrespect? That’s cool, I just didn’t know.”

Like when they are trying to harpoon the shark with flotation barrels, and Quint is screaming orders to Hooper and Hooper decides to go full nerd and attach a homing beacon to the barrel as well. It adds so much intensity to the scene. Will Hooper get it in time? Will Quint be able to shoot it in time? Is Quint going to rip Hooper’s head off? But it also creates this beautiful symbiotic teamwork. And the dialogue reflects it. Quint demands Hooper to “tie it up will ya?”, “Hooper, tie it up now will ya?” and Hooper telling him, “Don’t wait for me,” before he yells, “Clear!” and Quint shoots the barrel right into the dorsal fin and the barrel rips loose from its carrier right as Hooper lifts his hands free. It’s a moment of real hope against a shark that has been winning the entire time. They are both so focused and smooth and really freaking good at shark hunting. These two who seem incompatible reveal they are the most compatible. It’s the best form of on-screen romance. Also, to this day, whenever I am yelling to get someone’s attention, I cannot help but yell, “HOO-PERRRRRRR!” while doing so.

Like when…

The Monologue

One minute there is this great moment where Hooper and Quint finally appear to be getting along, comparing scars and swapping shark tales, drinking too much liquor and forgetting about shark hunting, and the next minute the mood shifts. When watching the film, it takes Quint approximately 0.2 seconds to bring you in to his story on and offboard the Indianapolis. His body language is both defeated and desperate, unable to stop himself from telling the story but with no desire to relive that nightmare in the ocean. His eyes become as dead and glassy as the sharks he speaks of. His delivery is mesmerizing, slurred either from liquor or memories, steady as she goes, but also weak, fully aware of the futility of the situation they were in and the silliness of their efforts to group up like the calendars of Waterloo and the pounding and hollerin’ they did to make the sharks go away. There is real horror in watching the larger than life Quint, full personality, life, and knee-jerk decision-making adopt a persona of contemplation, sadness, and resignation. He shows the deepest scar he’s got, and the tale of how he got it explains why he is the way he is. 

And the story is so damn interesting. Who knew? This was a thing and the only reason anybody knows about it is because of Jaws. This element of secrecy, and the way Quint communicates makes you appalled that anything like this can happen, but also unsure about whether you should be hearing it at all. Like walking in on someone sharing something you aren’t sure you’re supposed to know. My brain pushes back against this scene, wanting to be polite and tune it out more than know (something that Hooper’s face and posture also reveals in the background, and Brody’s face shows as he uncomfortably becomes the isolated audience for the story), but we can’t help but listen. That conflict makes this monologue so memorable.

And there are also the lines that stick with us, the indelible mark of great filmmaking. 

“Y’know how y’know that chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail.”

“And the idea was, shark comes to the nearest man, then start poundin’ hollerin’ screamin’ and sometimes the shark go away…Sometimes, he wouldn’t go away.”

“You know the thing about a shark? He’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes.”

“Bobbed up and down in the water, was like a kinda top.”

“I’ll never put on a lifejacket again.”

The Setting

The last thing I love about Jaws is more existential than the rest. A feeling captured by the movie that I haven’t ever shaken. Amity (which means friendship as the mayor informs us) is the perfect setting for this movie. A complete tourist location, with transient people, blissfully unaware of what goes on in this place they are merely visiting for a little while. Unaware of anything going on, escaping from the seriousness of what awaits them at home, ignorant of what lurks below the surface. Vacations to tourist destinations always feel like this to me, full of possibilities of who you can be to those around you, how perfect a life here could be, wonder at what it would be like to never go back, not paying attention to the deep dark reality that looms both at home and also where you are. But life happens, and it will bite your legs off if you choose to pretend like it isn’t there, or if you want to go on living as if it won’t chase after you. The mayor is this way as he refuses to acknowledge the shark and close down the beaches, Brody thinks this way as he escapes city life for the ‘simplicity’ of life as a sheriff in Amity, Quint acts this way as he tries to kill his way to justice rather than face emotional scars. And they are all surrounded by a sea of unknown and unknowing faces who reinforce their desire to just make life disappear for a while. Every time I walk along a beach on vacation, I look at the water and imagine what might be right below the surface, and I look at the people sunning themselves or reading their escapist fiction, and I wonder the same thing.

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15 thoughts on “Can We Talk About [Jaws]?

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