Jaws wreaks mental havoc


In no particular order, Rant! articulates and analyses cinema’s most horrific creatures – from all genres of film.

The plethora of horror that lies in wait on the ocean floor, ready to nibble, gnaw or gnash at the unassuming flesh of dangling limbs, creeps stealthily around the mind of most carefree holiday goers when wading in the cool blue waters of the ocean… da dum da dum da dum da dum. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) is considered the father of the summer blockbuster and also one of the first ‘high concept’ films – its impact on cinema was nothing less than monumental.

Based on Peter Benchley’s trashy action novel of the same name, Jaws bears testament to the genius of the Spielberg imagination, which saw the potential to both thrill and terrorise with one of man’s most primal of fears: Shark Attack! And what do great thriller/horror directors do? They exaggerate. A shark attack is bad enough but what if a monolithic great white is prowling the waters, intent on killing? Only bad things can happen – skinny dippers become a tasty meal; a small boy becomes an h’orderve; boats become food platters; swimmers turn into a lunch buffet and hunters become a decadent feast.

Without excessively overthinking a film that is all about action, suspense and ENTERTAINMENT, Jaws functions as a poignant metaphor for fear. Spielberg’s film begs the question; what prowls beneath? The murky water of the ocean is synonymous with the deep dark recesses of the mind, both of which harbour unspoken fear and terror, no matter the nature. The film’s protagonist – the colossal Jaws – is a tangible symbol of an unnamed fear that is too terrible for contemplation. Jaws is a predator, a ravenous carnivore, a vicious killer. And much like the infamous Great White, Fear has the power to destroy, dominate and devour.

In the film, Quint and his team tackle the shark head on. They Bring It! – with figurative guns blazing, and Jaws is obliterated at the expense of the team leader. If we run with the metaphor, the suggestion is that facing our fears head on does not necessarily guarantee a happy ending but is usually for the greater good.

Who ever said thrillers were meant to be comforting?