1975’s Jaws will be remembered as many things: inventor of the Summer Blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s first hit, prequel to Jaws: The Revenge, and so on. We’ll remember its landmark special effects and John Williams’ iconic score. But while the film’s action/thriller bonafides are undeniable, a more interesting reading of Jaws might see it as the story of a quiet man fighting an interior battle with himself. Looking beyond the shark means seeing it for what it really rep-resents: fear. The people in Jaws fear all sorts of things, but only one of them handles that fear with poise, grace, and rationality. More than anything else, Jaws is about an Everyman becoming a hero by listening to his gut and keeping his head.
Jaws’ first act firmly establishes Brody and his family as uneasy outsiders in an exclusive community; they weren’t born in Amity and will never have the chance to be true Islanders. It seems like an irrelevant detail at first, but it builds on Brody’s unshakable allergies to the island lifestyle and paints him as an amateur in the eyes of the public when he tries to explain why giant chunks of their neighbors keep washing up on the beach. After all, what does a city cop who’s afraid of the water know about their problems? It’s here we see that Brody’s major antagonist is himself: maybe he is just overreacting. Maybe he doesn’t actually know for sure. Maybe he should just get drunk and fool around with Ellen (Lorraine Gary). It all comes to a head in the moments before Alex Kintner’s death, when Brody loses himself staring into the ocean. The film wipes back and forth between the man and the water for a while and lulls us into a sense of security with a few false alarms. Then, in one moment (and with the second most famous dolly zoom in film history), Brody’s suspicions are confirmed and Amity goes into Full Holy Shit Lockdown Mode.
Which brings us to the film’s last act: aboard the Orca, Brody discovers that the only thing more difficult than hunting a Great White is doing it with a white-collar shark fetishist and the ghost of Captain Ahab. Again, the chief finds himself the reasonable, steadfast man in a battle of egos; he must serve as a balance between Quint and Hooper and keep them from killing each other before the shark even gets a chance. At first, Brody seems hopeless: chum lines, knots, proper air tank care, it’s all beyond him. And worse, he’s in the middle of the ocean, the last place he’d ever want to be. This is great because it’s a significant threshold-crossing sequence and it extends the emasculation he’s dealt with the entire film. Quint and Hooper chide him for his inexperience and take turns bossing him around. He’s clumsy, scared, and decidedly lacking any badass scars. But while it’s true that he doesn’t have the experience of these two sailors, he’s got plenty of in-sight: he’s the first to see the shark up-close, the first to call for help, and the first to realize that They’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat.