It was the year of our lord Satan 1975 when a new breed of horror movie reared its threatening fin. Baby boomers had no idea they were in-fact baby boomers and are living in a time that was slowly turning into a nightmare that we are living right now. First of all, I would like to say that I consider Jaws one of the most innovative and impactful movies that I ever saw. It’s simply that good and the analysis that you’re about to read is based on something that I don’t think the filmmakers were aware at the time. I will be focusing on sociological, psychological and philosophical aspects of the movie. And try not to bore you to fucking death. Although I find the analysis incredibly exciting.
Shot at the right time, just as the practical special effects started getting more realistic, Jaws chomped its way through the theaters, spawning numerous copies and sequels. In the documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, Slavoj Zizek describes how the shark in Jaws represents the people’s repressed fear of not only nuclear conflict but also communism and infiltration of enemy combatants (Red Dawn was released in nine years later, during 1984). I highly recommend that you watch this documentary because it is so well crafted and written in such a digestible form that it can be an intro to a whole other dimension of existence that you never thought was even possible. It changed me as a person and as a movie reviewer and it served as a perfect intro into Zizek’s world.
While we are here, let’s examine the actual characteristics that make sharks such potent vessels for our emotions. First of all, the very fact that they are one of the top predators in their environment makes them a force to be reckoned with. So we have Power, power that cannot be reasoned with or negotiated (similar to any conflict where we portray the other side as savage and unreasonable). Secondly, they are practically invisible, since while you’re in the water you can only spot them when they’re already on an attack course. This is, in my opinion, one of the most important characteristics, The Unknown. It’s our fear of the unknown, that primal fear born out so many centuries of listening and watching out for predators. You hear a twig snap and this can be a hedgehog or a fucking tiger. Thirdly, we have to talk about the fin. I mean, name a better fucking duo than fin and fear. The moment you see that fin slowly emerging from the water you know some serious shit is about to go down. This tension building fits so well with storytelling that this is another perfect duo.
To say that the success of the movie Jaws can be attributed to sharks or the threat of communism or nuclear war would be a mistake because I think there’s one more incredibly important element here hiding in plain sight. I am also guessing that you have already seen the movie and if not be sure to check it out. You can also do it again after reading this article just to test it out and see how it fares in your opinion. The element that I was talking about earlier is the tribal system of values. And while we’re on a subject of values, it would be also interesting to further explore the communism/capitalism duality in regards to the story.
Let’s examine the story of Jaws. Police chief Martin Brody is the main figure in the movie. He has a job that’s public and bears a lot of responsibility, something that was disappearing from both the American and society in general for several decades, perhaps reaching its peak after WWII. The industry has reduced human activity to something meaningless and turned people into cogs in this huge machine that they could not control or benefit from. I think that people really wanted this and perhaps even brought on this change. Their responsibility was limited to their unit, so-called family and this myth was perpetuated by the media and the ruling class, most likely unintentionally. Marry and fucking reproduce. You can look at the character of Brody as a shepherd protecting his sheep (people on the beach) from harm, representing official structures while doing so. The sheep don’t think or act individually but as a group and this is where his decision to either open or close the beach comes into play.
Now if it was me and I knew that there was a shark attack on a certain beach, I wouldn’t go into water that lightly but to our beach goers there are only two things that are important: The sign officially proclaiming that the beach is open and an example that someone got in the water. This is a definition of a so-called “herd mentality”, where you’re not using your reasoning but are just following blindly where the most of the people are going, making sure that you’re not a “loser” or “missing out”. In this case, the mayor of the town prompts one of his friends to get in the water with his family and after he does, almost everybody on the beach joins him in the water. We can remember more extreme examples of this behavior in Nazi Germany where people also blindly followed proclaimed authority with little thought about the consequences of their actions. This, ultimately nihilistic, behavior is something that’s happening right now all over the world, just to be clear. Nothing has changed and we can clearly see this with the political climate.
A perfect boomer world wouldn’t you say? The entire country is babyproofed for you and you bear no responsibility for your actions, life or anything else but are able to sit back and watch your beautiful life unfold unencumbered by worries, fears or doubts. If it is not illegal, you bear no responsibility for your actions and even if it’s illegal, fuck it, you will get out of it somehow. That’s a problem for a future you. However, one person cannot relax and cannot live a happy life with his family. He is distant and almost constantly worried and brooding. He’s obsessed and determined with huge responsibilities on his shoulders. And that person is Police chief Brody, our shepherd. He’s like the christ, taking on the sins of humanity and leaving us, his children, to go about our daily lives with a smile on our face. The male audiences resonated with that feeling of genuine worry and responsibility they have lost and female to this alpha male performance. Here we have a bit of Freudian influence and daddy complexes flaring up across the board. This all ties in so well with the tribal system of values that it cannot be mistaken for something else.
The underwater shots from the point of view of the shark present another interesting aspect of this movie. While the swimmers are frolicking on the surface of the water, something sinister is swimming underneath them. They cannot see or feel it and they most certainly can’t and won’t fight it. Because it’s not their responsibility and to think about things like that would “clutter” their mind. The connection between depth and danger may be far fetched but it’s clearly present here. It proposes a concept of “forbidden territory” that can be translated into life with a classic tribal attitude of not tempting faith and fearing exploration and by that scientific method. Out of all the concepts I explored here, I know that this one is quite out there but it’s still in my humble opinion worth mentioning.
Even if you look at the structure of our hunting party: Chief, Scientist and Hunter, it is so archaic and applicable to any number of situations in our past where similar things have happened that it’s strange that no one thought of this earlier. You can simply imagine a band of humans, no more of 150 of them, living together in a small village several thousand years ago, when they are attacked by an animal that is very threatening, let’s say a Saber-tooth tiger. The chief would organize a hunting party and the only difference would probably be the scientist that would be replaced by a shaman. Sure, we can go with the myth structure that was perfected by Star Wars movies a couple of years later, but I think it’s important to note this framework. By myth structure I mean the setup of the story that’s been used for centuries with great results so there’s no reason to change it.
Jaws is set in a fictitious and idyllic town of Amity where everybody knows everybody and crime and unnatural death is just something that happens to other people. Most of the people live a simple and carefree life, with a beautiful beach and enough commerce to keep everything going. Clumped in large cities that are slowly starting to turn into crime dens, most of the people usually just vacation in these places. If we remember all the revenge and exploitation movies of the seventies, featuring crime-ridden streets and mean and evil people, things become much clearer. After all, Brody is an ex-cop who came to this town presumably to escape his stressful and dangerous New York lifestyle. Amity was a town that escaped this, living in this paradise but everything that’s that good cannot last and their judgment day will be soon upon them as an invisible punishment for their invisible sins. This perpetuates the system of checks and balances where there is not such a thing as a Utopian society, just a human one that needs its heroes to save it. Satan forbid that common people are capable of organizing, enlightening and ultimately creating a community that functions in such a way. Much like Sodom and Gomorrah, Amity had to suffer but this time not because of its sins but because of its lack thereof.
Now, I promised you a communist/capitalist duality and here it is: although it is crucial to close the beach and this is a definition of Brody’s job as a police chief, to look after the townspeople and make sure that he doesn’t do anything to bring harm to them, he’s under enormous pressure from the mayor to open the beaches because this is a summer resort type of town that basically lives of the summer revenue. Here we see the interests of the capital override the interests of the common people and also how money corrupts people who don’t really care if there are human victims, the only important thing is the capital that needs to be reproducing constantly. Brody is here the people’s hero, not caring about revenues. The reason why this motive is often overlooked is two-fold. Capitalism is hidden behind the persona of the mayor and the general population simply doesn’t go any further than this. The guilt falls squarely on his shoulders and that’s the end of it. For fuck’s sake, one of the main reasons why they enjoy in their stupid lives is because they have delegated all of the responsibilities to someone else.
Now, even if we dared to go one step further and look at his motivations, they can be easily justified by the towns’ need for money. If there’s no money, basically there’s no town. This gross exaggeration is perpetuated also by capitalism, defining its death, however, it is interpreted as “tough choice” although it is a fucking no-brainer. I mean what’s a human life worth to you and how would you live with yourself knowing that your actions led to the death of another human being? All these worries are taken away by the system of values, leaving you without responsibility, consequences and finally yourself.
However, we can imagine almost exactly the same scenario in the Soviet Union, the only difference would be the personal factor. If you haven’t checked out HBO’s Chernobyl, I urge you to do so and get better acquainted with the inner workings of a Soviet version of communism. In it, apparatchiks, members of the ruling party with high status replace the capitalistic need to reproduce with personal motives that are under the influence of the supreme ruler. At this point, it’s also very important to make a distinction between socialism, communism and whatever the fuck we had in Soviet Russia. Most experts agreed on a term state capitalism, something that is in no way similar to “actual communism or socialism”. So, we can run the Jaws scenario, only in the Soviet Union and here’s what would probably happen.
First of all, we would have to define the roles properly because here the fact you’re a police chief doesn’t mean shit if a party member outranks you. We can compare this to the relationship between the Brody and mayor in US Jaws. However, here, the Soviet version of the mayor is not so much driven by the motive to earn as much money as he can, although if he’s corrupt, which is highly probable, he might be, but by the formal procedures that he has to follow as per supreme’s party instructions. This means that both of these systems, US capitalism and Soviet communism have inherent flaws and are pretty fucked up. However, it would still be easier to imagine the beach remaining closed in the Soviet Union. The reason why they are almost the same is their refusal to abandon the tribal system of values and try to educate every individual to be basically a small state, with enough reason to make the right decisions. But this brings responsibility, worry and puts further away from your “initial” state, so people would much rather be dumb and just act out.
While we’re still talking about Jaws, it’s also funny to note that although the movie is set on a beach and features an environment perfect for sexual shenanigans, the sex is almost completely removed from the movie. Of course, the now iconic opening scene with our poor skinny dipping girl is the only scene that sort of showed any real skin. Shot in the seventies, a decade filled with sexuality and decadence, especially in the movies, this is a strange decision. I think it further collaborates the theory that the most important aspect of Jaws is the preaching of the tribal system of values and sexuality would be very subversive if it reared its ugly tits or ass here. This might be a stretch but it’s funny to think about it. Especially when you consider the fact that in the novel there was a fair amount of sexuality.
I just have to mention Mayor Larry Vaughn and his impeccable fashion sense. I mean just look at these beautiful outfits. I haven’t even noticed them when I first watched the movie but upon repeated viewings, they became really funny. I mean, just imagine the today’s equivalent of these suits and you will know what I’m talking about. I especially liked the anchor print, it just demands respect and trust. Ahhh the seventies…
Finally, I don’t think that any of the things that I mentioned in this article were intentional and that Spielberg or anyone else implemented them into the movie in order to manipulate the public. These things just come naturally because they are woven into our personalities and basically everything else.