Saturday, 27 February 2016

Cutting Edge- Film Review: Jaws

Fig 1: Poster for Jaws
A film that helped in building Hollywood into the giant it is today and the beginning of the summer blockbuster hits thanks to a broken puppet shark and some great writing and acting. Steven Spielburg's 1975 from novel to blockbuster hit film"Jaws" swam to cinemas, rows of sharp teeth ready to bite as it helped give many movie goers a fear of swimming for many years to come. Jaws is a movie about a killer shark that wrecks havoc for a coastal island just before its big event on the 4th of June, a simple plot that had a big impact on audiences both from 1975 to the modern day thanks to the iconic shark and the music as its pursues its victims under the cold dark ocean, being engraved on the minds of everyone, even those who haven't had the joy of viewing it. Spielburg is able to make a film that had audiences at the very first scene and keep them at the edges of their seats for the following 2 hours.

Fig 2: Beach goers at Amity Island flee in the terror of a potential shark attack
The use of the shark as the threat on Amity Island, a place that relies on the ocean for food and for money from tourists who flock to their shores for the summer each year. the threat of this killer shark and the murder on a young girl leads to reasonable concern from the chief of police about the safety of the island's residents and of the tourists. This is if one was to assume that the shark was male, which according to Benchley it is, however if one was to say that the shark was feminine. In this case the monsterous opposition of her compared to the male driven plot of the humans on the land leads into the theory of the maternity and vagina dentata. The power of this feminine force and how she dwells in the sea, a known source of life, leads to a distorted vision of what being female is. The shark is taking life away, not giving life, and the way that the victims of the film bar the first, are all males. The murders of these victims alluded to a Freudian theory of castration anxiety, the way that way the shark bits the victim, only biting from the waist down, ripping away any form of masculinity these men would have.
This stance on gender is also apparent in how the first victim is presented to the viewer. She is first seen undressing running along a beach. In the nude, she swims into the ocean, where the camera pans up from the depths, the male-gaze as the camera pans up her body before the bite. If the shark is seen as male, then this act of peeping would be seen as male dominance but if the shark was seen as feminine then this scene could be seen as a warning against this gazing of the feminine form, the punishment being the violent death of the young lady. In either of these cases it is apparent that in such a male dominated movie with barely any female input, the shark is there to torment these men and their bodies making them feeble and vulnerable. "In either gender reading of Bruce, the conclusion of Jaws affirms the dominance of masculinity (and a particular idea of masculinity) as the key to maintaining order in civilization." (Savanna Teague, Screenprism)

Fig 3: Matt Hooper inspects a shark believed to be the killer one thats been terrorising the island

It is obvious that Spielburg is a fan of Hitchcock's works as his way of filmmaking is full of suspense. You know that there is a shark about but you just don't know where it is coming from and how it will appear. the use of the shark fin and the barrels to show the movements of this beast of the sea. The fact that the audience knows of the shark's "tell" not only from visible cues but through the soundtrack of the grizzly theme of Jaws. All of this leads to intriguing and enjoyable segments of horror and destruction as the shark hunts its prey down silently and then with a snap, tears its victim to pieces from the waist down. "Spielberg's dynamic sense of movement comes into play most impressively during the panic and chase sequences."(Gary Arnold, The Washington Post)
This way of showing the shark is best demonstrated in the second half of the film, as the pace slows, the only place that the characters can be is a small little boat in the middle of the ocean, vastly different from the hectic life on Amity Island in the first half. The tension is still there with the shark as this over hanging threat, only left visible by barrels harpooned into its back. That constant fear of the beast under the surface of the waves that has tormented the people of Amity Island and audiences through out the film, keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats.

Fig 4: Quint meets his demise in the teeth of the killer shark
Overall Jaws is a simple plot but a complexed story, with the power struggle of what police officer Martin Brody believes is right for the people of Amity Island compared to the mayor's disregard for civilians and only about the money that tourists will bring to the island. The masculine dominance in this film wavers to and fro with the shark acting as a deterrence, ripping apart male figures as torture and punishment to the characters for their actions and liabilities. Despite the threat of the shark, Spielburg gives the actors fun with their dialogue, there are numerous amusing scenes especially with the shark expert, Matt Hooper, and his conflicts with known shark hunter, Quint,  on the boat. Their butting heads on their different views on sharks compared to chief of police but rookie on the sea and its inhabitants Brody acts as the mediator for the two. The three's chemistry is shown best at the shanty tune the three sing in a point of bliss in the eye of the toothy, shark filled storm. "If you think about "Jaws" for more than 45 seconds you will recognize it as nonsense, but it's the sort of nonsense that can be a good deal of fun, if you like to have the wits scared out of you at irregular intervals."(Vincent Canby, The New York Times)
Its no wonder that Jaws helped in Hollywood's now booming movie career and the rise of the summer blockbuster. It's simple plot, yet full of tension that peeks our primal fears of the unknown. Jaws is a film that while spectacular in showing how much terror one shark can do, it can also lead to not being able to swim, even in an indoor swimming pool, without the fear of what could be lurking below.



The Washington Post:

The New York Times:


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