by Rose Blackthorn
I’m not sure how old I was the first time I saw Jaws. It came out in 1975, so I would’ve been a bit young to see it in the theater, but I’m pretty sure I saw it in the theater. My mom was always willing to give me the benefit of the doubt when it came to the scary stuff—after all, she started me on Stephen King while I was still in elementary school. Anyway, I do know this much: I have never gone swimming in the ocean, even when I’ve had the opportunity, and it’s all due to this film. (I’m not a complete wimp, I have gone wading out to a couple of feet deep…)
Just an aside: this movie not only scared me, it also got me interested in sharks and shark attacks. Maybe a little part of me thought, Yeah, this is all made up. Sharks don’t really attack people that often. So I went out and found the book Sharks: Attacks on Man, by George A. Llano. I read that book cover-to-cover, and completely freaked myself out.
Anyway, Jaws is really more than just a movie. It’s a part of our popular culture. There’s a Bad Hat Harry Productions, which uses the line spoken by Roy Scheider as Chief Brody to an elderly swimmer on the beach. And sharks are everywhere these days, including innumerable bad SyFy original movies. (Sharknado, anyone?)
As a kid and teenager, I watched and rewatched Jaws for the scares. In fact, I just watched it again a couple of days ago, and even now I think the first few minutes of the movie brings some of the best chills and foreboding ever committed to film. That first scene, when you’re not even sure what is really going on with the woman in the water, can still give me goosebumps.
Now, as an adult, I still get a kick out of the jump scares in this movie. I know they’re coming, but they still get me a little, and they leave me smiling. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve come to appreciate more than just the scary bits. I love the actors cast in the main roles, and at this point can’t even imagine anyone else playing them. I enjoy the comedic touches as well: Chief Brody’s obvious fear of the water and the way he tries to downplay it; Hooper’s sarcasm and impressive use of face-making; even the Benny Hill-like scenes of the influx of would-be shark hunters who flood the town and the beaches in search of fame and fortune.
I would have to say now, though, that my absolute favorite part of the movie isn’t one of the scary scenes, or the funny scenes, but it may be the most intense part of the film. Less than five minutes of dialogue, but in that short amount of time, you learn all you need to know to understand Quint and his enduring hatred and hard won understanding of sharks. I can imagine what it might be like to be lost in the water, waiting for the sharks to take a bite. I have a vivid imagination, a gift and a curse sometimes. I can’t think that surviving something like that, that I’d ever want to go into the water again. Yet, I can watch Jaws over and over. I can flinch and feel sorrow for the victims, laugh with Brody and Hooper and Quint who do what they must to protect Amity Island, and cheer at the end when the monstrous shark is destroyed. And then, when it’s all over, I can restart it from the beginning, and suffer goosebumps and cover my eyes in breathless anticipation as Chrissie Watkins makes the decision to go for a midnight swim.
Rose Blackthorn is a member of the HWA and her short fiction and poetry has appeared online and in print with a varied list of anthologies and magazines. Her poetry collection Thorns, Hearts and Thistles was published in February 2015, and the novelette Called to Battle: Worthy Vessel was published in October 2015. She is a writer, dog-mom and photographer who lives in the high-mountain desert, but longs for the sea.