By Chris Page
It’s hard to imagine how impactful and unique Jaws was when it was released. I was born eight years after that fateful summer when Jaws dominated the box office in an unprecedented manner and terrified viewers to the point of keeping them out of the ocean, just in case. By the time I came of age, summers were already full of tent-pole popcorn adventure films, spattering each corner of the frame with blood and severed limbs. Everyone in the New England coastal town I grew up in had come to terms with the idea that it was worth taking the off-chance that a shark might attack to avoid the greenhead mosquitoes and thick humidity of the summer. Novelty always wears off over time, but what makes Jaws a lasting treasure that is just as impactful today as it was way back then is its adherence e to the classic storytelling tropes that writers and orators have used since time immemorial that make the viewer deeply connect with a characters on a relatable, human level.
Whether Spielberg did so consciously or not, one can see how closely Chief Brody’s journey in Jaws follows that of the classical hero.
The Hero’s Journey, outlined by Joseph Campbell in his landmark book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” was very in vogue in the 70’s. Steven Speilberg’s buddy, George Lucas, used it as his anchor for the story structure of Star Wars. Whether Spielberg did so consciously or not, one can see how closely Chief Brody’s journey in Jaws follows that of the classical hero. Brody hears the Call to Adventure when he sees the remains of the girl who has been eaten by a shark, but Refuses the Call when persuaded against it by the dingbat Mayor (whose wardrobe, incidentally, only gets funnier every year). He receives Supernatural Aid in the form of Marine Biologist Hooper and grizzled old shark hunter Quint, then Crosses the Threshold and enters the Belly of the Whale when he and one of said aid-givers literally open-up up the belly of the shark and see they’re problem is still very real.
he finally accepts his destiny and takes the monster out once and for all.
Rather than list each step of Brody’s Journey, I want to focus on the aid he receives from his two mentors, Hooper and Quint. Structurally, Brody cannot get to the place he needs to be to slay the monster without their help, but he also cannot fully accept his destiny until they have been removed from the action. Brody relies on their knowledge and expertise to inform all of his decisions throughout his quest, and views himself as a passenger along-for-the ride in this journey, rather than the Captain. But when he sees Quint, a man far his better when it comes to the fine art of shark-killing, eaten alive, and then sees that Hooper is nowhere to be found, he finally accepts his destiny and takes the monster out once and for all.
Brody, Quint and Hooper sit below deck and laugh and drink and sing and compare their scars (both physical and emotional)
But Hooper and Quint serve a much greater purpose than just be walking plot-devices whose sole function is to help Brody grow into the hero he needs to be. Rather, it is the friendship between three vastly different men that makes up the emotional core of the movie. While few of us can relate to harpooning the backside of moving Great White shark, the scene that follows where Brody, Quint and Hooper sit below deck and laugh and drink and sing and compare their scars (both physical and emotional), the tone seamlessly drifting between comedic and tragic, has a universal appeal that anyone watching can relate to. We may not see ourselves in Quint or Brody or Hooper in particular, but we see our friendships in theirs, and are reminded how circumstances we never predicted often breed the closest relationships in our lives, and this will forever continue to be true. And that is why this story is as impactful today as it was when Jaws debuted, and forever will be as time marches on.
When Jaws debuted, it was like nothing audiences had ever seen. It was also just like everything that ever had and ever will see, and that’s why it will always be a classic.