27 June 2012

Jaws: The War Movie

(Spoiler Alert)

The film was released in 1975 when I was fourteen and Watergate was still very fresh in everybody's mind. I had decided that, if you couldn't trust the most powerful man in the world, then you should treat all authority figures with a certain degree of suspicion. While this decision may have may not have enamoured me to my elders at the time, on the whole it has served me well as a standpoint in the world.  I didn't trust any adults ... but I could trust Chief Brody, Matt Hooper and Quint.

The first half of the film is largely a transposition of Ibsen's 'An Enemy  of the People'.  But Spielberg makes sure that, amongst all the negotiating and capitalist rationalising, there is a generous sprinkling of suspenseful moments involving the, as yet unseen and unidentified, Great White.  But the business people and politicians of Amity are more avaricious than any shark. Perhaps the most chilling shots of the film do not involve the shark at all; they involve parents watching their children swim in water where they know there is danger.

This in turn brings in a poignant echo of the Vietnam War (reaching an end as the film was released), where a generation of American patriots who had lived through the Second World War, sent their own kids off to die in a meaningless war in Southeast Asia - and watched it on TV.  In the film, the Mayor wears his shirt and tie (and terrible jacket) throughout - even when he goes on the beach. He instructs one of his councilmen, who is sitting, togged off, on the beach with his wife and kids, to go into the water in order to set a good example to the public. Blackly humourous, again we have the uneasy spectacle of kids being led into danger by their parents.  As always, the powerful will neither get their hands dirty nor their feet wet, but will send others into the fray (with an encouraging word). Quint's brilliant monologue on the fate of the crew of the USS Indianapolis, later in the film, drives the point home beautifully.  The decision to make the character a survivor of the Indianapolis was a departure from the novel.  It adds a fatefully poetic meaning to Quint's grisly demise.

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