I was probably around 7 or 8 years old when I saw Jaws (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975) for the first time. Looking back, I can confidently say that it is the film that made me fall in love with films. It is perhaps the most well-known rendition of the man vs. nature narrative, and I was enamored by the spectacle of it all. Especially by the adversarial embodiment of nature, which in this case takes the form of that terrifying great white shark, feeling more like a monster than any real creature.
Years later, when watching Jaws again with a (slightly) keener eye for analyzing film, I now realize how well developed the other side of the conflict is; those fighting the monster, the embodiment of man. The heroes of the film are Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Quint (Robert Shaw), who set sail to take down the shark once and for all. They each bring a unique quality to their hunt: Brody’s authority, Hooper’s intellect, and Quint’s worldliness. These differences cause them to clash initially, but the nature of their adventure creates an opportunity for male bonding that even the gruff Quint cannot ignore.
While these are all engaging characters, I ultimately see Brody as the protagonist. He is a man out of his element; freshly transitioned from the life of a city to that of an island, with a self-proclaimed hatred of the ocean. His inexperience is only confounded by the collective knowledge and skill of Quint and Hooper, demonstrated by the numerous battle-scars that they share with each other. Brody’s appendectomy scar is unfortunately not a part of the conversation. Despite how incongruous Brody’s presence on the boat may seem, he stays utterly committed.
All of this to say that in a sense, since Brody is the protagonist, the shark is his villain, and in the climactic final battle pits them against each other, face to face. The stakes are clear. We understand Brody’s desperation to protect his family and his home, and with Quint and Hooper out of the picture at this point Brody is their last chance. With John Williams’ iconic score behind him, Brody takes his rifle and scales the mast of the sinking ship, inching closer to the monster and the ocean that he hates so much. What follows is believable (within the context of the film), relieving, and emotionally satisfying. As the shark makes a final charge towards Brody, he expertly aims for the oxygen tank lodged in its mouth, and he pulls the trigger with one simple line:
“Smile you son of a -”
We are Brody, We are.
Jaws is currently streaming on HBO Max