For me, ‘Jaws’ works as a film because of the people. It is all about the way the characters are written and the way they are portrayed. We buy this tale of a small-town seaside resorted terrorised by a shark because they buy it. The actors’s fear, guilt and paranoia is so palpable that it imbues every shot with colossal menace. Throw in John Williams’s finest score (echoing the simplicity of Bernard Herman’s ‘Psycho’) and you have an all pervasive dread running through ‘Jaws’ that went onto define a genre and change how movies were marketed.
’Jaws’ is a movie that is veritably dripping in as much subtext as it is in blood.
I’ve probably watched this film more times than ‘Blade Runner’ and in re-watching the climatic 3rd act so much I broke the the VHS tape it was on. Why? Because ‘Jaws’ has layers. Layers within layers, and references aplenty to the likes of Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’, Ibsen’s ‘Enemy of The People’, class war, pathology, PTSD, and a central character who, whilst chronically afraid of the water, must still face his demons both real and psychological. ‘Jaws’ is a movie that is veritably dripping in as much subtext as it is in blood.
In addition to all of this, ‘Jaws’ has some of the best editing, best uses of symbolism and some classic could-only-be-written-in-the-70’s dialogue which echoes the withering put-downs of ‘Abigail’s Party’ (…”Martin doesn’t go near the water. Martin hates the water. There’s a medical name for it, isn’t there honey?” “-Drowning.” – Roy Scheider at his sardonic best).
Cinematic fashions may come and go and now each CGI summer blockbuster feels like it is in permanent orbit of the stars or replete with Marvel super heroes. However there are very few movies that still have the power of ‘Jaws’ to chill future generations as they tepidly step into the water. In the end the sea becomes a giant metaphor for the shark in the minds of the audience: large, impenetrable and lurking with unseen intent, ‘Jaws’ waits for its moment. The next time you find yourself treading water in the local pool the chances are you’ll be hearing those thundering piano strings and that’s the power of classic of cinema: a fear that lives beyond the screen.