March 8, 2006 (My 7th birthday)
I loved sharks, so of course, I loved Jaws. I insisted my birthday cake had a shark with a leg, as there’s a Bratz’s leg in its mouth, and I received a DVD of Jaws. People in my family were surprised by my choice, and it could be that I was seven, a girl, or both.
The tiny thing I remember from Jaws was my sister warning me not to repeat, “Smile you son of bitch!” as Chief Brody killed the shark. I can also remember one scary scene of Brody and Hooper finding a group of fishermen destroyed and killed, and it had a scary pop-up scene of a whitehead. It was disturbing for me to see at a young age, but I managed to cover my eyes as I remembered. Like many seven-year-olds, I was interested in playing dress-up in Disney princess gowns. I even used to go to Walgreens dressed up in a gown and matching shoes, much to my sister’s dismay. However, I was comfortable with “boy” toys, like action figures, as I didn’t find any difference in “gendered” toys. Of course, I saw that one was pink and floral while the other was dark and about superheroes, but toys are toys, and that was my mindset from then to now with various things that have gender roles assigned to them, like clothes, movies, etc. So I switched between The Little Mermaid and Jaws.
In a nutshell, Jaws is a 1975 Steven Spielberg film about a new police chief named Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), an oceanographer, Martin Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and a lone fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw). The three men leave to kill a monstrous shark after it killed a woman, a little boy, and a man. Of course, they did kill it, but it cost them their boat and Quint’s life. Jaws isn’t the best movie to show to kids, but it was the early 2000s, so anything went. Besides, it didn’t stop me in the summer from going out far into the ocean, further than my older sister would go. Being seven and possibly younger, I remember feeling bad for the shark. What if it’s a mother and someone harmed her child? I tried to rationalize the actions of the fish, and I somehow had compassion for it. One scene, in particular, gave me the impression that the shark was a mother, as the shark swam past Brody’s youngest son but went underwater, so you couldn’t see the fin. I assumed it was trying not to scare the young boy because it was a mother itself.
I collected shark books and learned that sharks don’t harm humans on purpose. They don’t have hands or paws to explore the world, so they use their mouths. Plus, the mistaken identity of a surfer being a seal happens, but not as much. We should question ourselves if we can blame them, as sharks have been around since the dinosaurs. I like to think of us invading their home, the ocean, and they are curious about us.
I rewatched Jaws with my “mature” 22-year-old eyes, and I immediately recognized its two best qualities, including the economic message and the importance of a slow introduction. Those issues went over my head as I didn’t identify them, and watching the film as an adult made me notice the town’s economic position and how it cost people their lives. The movie differs from my earlier twenties perspective as I made connections that I didn’t recognize, such as the treatment of Chief Brody as he moved there from the city and was an ‘outsider;’ it was difficult for him to close the beaches after the first victim’s remains washed on the shore. The town held a meeting, and people opposed it, but can we blame them? It’s a small town, and they thrive in the summer as it’s the time when they make their money. However, money can’t bring back the victims, and I sided with Brody as he had the right idea of closing the beaches and informing the national guard. It’s hard because both sides have valid points, yet one has a better stance as it costs people’s lives.
I also realized Jaws has a slow beginning. Yes, you see the victim mauled in the first ten minutes. But you don’t see the shark until much later, and I believe it gave it a much more menacing atmosphere. Some people think that not showing the monster or villain works better, and I agree, as the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby didn’t show the baby but had the mother’s reactions, which terrified the audience more. With Jaws, it needed to show the shark. The suspense of waiting and seeing it still allowed viewers to be afraid.
Lastly, and unexpectedly, Jaws was funny. I love dry humor, so I found myself laughing with the movie and not at it. It was more fun with my dad because we have a similar sense of humor. The boatmen cracking jokes to Hooper, him and Quint bickering with each other, and Hooper trying to have Brody get to the front of the body so Hooper could photograph and compare his height to the shark all were elements I found humorous despite the movie’s darker topic.
It’s mesmerizing to watch Jaws some years later and look at it with young adult eyes compared to seeing it as a child. I was more emotionally attached to the shark as I tried to reason with its actions of it being a mother shark that I felt empathy for. Though as an adult, I saw the movie as not only the summer blockbuster hit it was, I understood the humor and the gravity of the situation, but it brought back fond memories of my childhood, whether related to Jaws or not, like swimming in the ocean, playing with dolls, and being with family. The movie to me was someone’s The Lion King or Spongebob Squarepants, and it holds a special place in my heart and childhood memories.
I watched Jaws for the first time when I didn’t have many memories to look back at, but when I saw it now, I had a flow of flashbacks of myself growing up. Truly, Jaws is like a time capsule for me, with memories flooding out like falling pictures from a box.