Jaws ★★★★★

The entire Earth used to be an ocean a long time ago. Land gradually started to form and grow apart. Life started to take shape from within the waters but couldn't go on land just yet. Fast forward to millions of years and we see living things hanging out on land for a while. They could now lay eggs on land and be known as reptiles. A couple more million years later combined with some ice ages and meteors, came the dawn of us warm-blooded mammals. We would go on to dominate land with our opposable thumbs evolution gave us.

But that's the thing, isn't it: we used to be fish, then we left the sea to become apes. Now we can't adapt back to that original state, and it would take millions of evolution years even if we could. While all this was going on, the shark - the oldest killing machine - prevailed. This inexplicable force of nature has evolved to smell a single drop of blood in all that water!

It's always frightened me how little else we know about the waters. Every now and then, humans will declare some new abyss as the deepest part of the ocean, only to discover a new one. We show off with our fancy rockets when it comes to space travel, but we haven't even touched down on the deepest of depths underwater - the seismic pressures alone would crush any divers or diving equipment. We might be the self-appointed apex predators on land, but we are unwelcomed prodigal children to the ocean.

Steven Spielberg has his camera pointed at the ocean a lot of the time in Jaws; sometimes characters are on land or in a boat but there's still that inescapable ocean in the background. Spielberg went the Hitchcock route of letting the audience fill in the gaps of the shark whenever he held the camera on the waters, but he knowingly or unknowingly tapped into this existential fact that we are nothing in the ocean. Every frame containing ocean now fills me with existential dread. Chief Broady is very much right to be cautious of the waters - there's scarier truths than jaws down there.

I realize humans kill way more sharks than they do us. I'm well aware the chances of a face-to-face shark encounter are low. I might have outgrown Bruce (Spielberg's lawyer at the time was called Bruce, and it became an inside joke and ultimately the name of this movie's monster) considering how much awareness has been shone on sharks since 1975. But I will never not feel this Lovecraftian horror of how little we know about the ocean.

Jaws gets right what a lot of movies gets wrong. How many horror/suspense movies depict inconsequential deaths? The villain/monster kills someone, giving the audience a moment of excitement, and then the movie goes on almost as is nothing has happened. Sure, the other characters are briefly shocked by the death, and maybe the death ratchets up their fear of the villain/monster, but that's about it. That's why the Kitner scene in Jaws is pivotal. Everyone is rejoicing because they think the shark is dead. Brody's on top of the world. And then boom, he gets a gut punch (or face slap) from reality. This sends him into a depression, and eventually strengthens his resolve to get the shark. And what makes the scene especially powerful is Lee Fierro's performance as Mrs Kitner. She's so small and defeated and mousy, you don't expect the slap. So when it happens, you're rocked. And then she's embarrassed about her outburst. She realizes that isn't her. So she calms herself and continues, speaking so softly that it makes her words much more powerful than if she'd yelled and cursed. It's brilliant writing, perfect casting, and inspired acting - emblematic of the whole picture. So many movies now try so hard to be dramatic and exciting and cool that it makes them boring, because they're not real. Mrs. Kitner is a real person, thanks to Lee, and you ache for her. But you also ache for Brody - also a real person. Jaws works because the characters are real and you care about them. I don't know why today's filmmakers are unable to learn from the great movies of the past, or why today's audiences don't demand better.

P.S How prescient is this film in accurately predicting elected official's response to a force of nature claiming lives! The mayor's response to this calamity puts a premium on the profits over human life and decency! Even in the midst of overwhelming evidence that the shark is still out there, the mayor brands this as fake news and would rather project strength and maintain a false sense of calm that doesn't highlight the gravity of the danger at hand. The tourists would rather ignore caution than be told to not go out in the ocean are just as complicit. Seriously, our species hasn't learned a thing!

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