Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Jaws (1975) Film Review

Fig 1: 'Jaws' (1975) Poster
The Film 'Jaws' (1975) is a classic thriller movie that features a large great white shark as it terrorises the inhabitants of Amity, a small island community and favoured holiday destination for many tourists. The plot is an adaptation of a novel written by Peter Benchley, it contains just the key elements of the novels plot and refines it into something very simple but incredibly effective; favouring action over complicated themes. This, however, leaves many scenes from 'Jaws' open for audience interpretation and analysis, giving this film an abundance themes and narratives stemming from the audience's imagination.

"What this movie is about, and where it succeeds best, is the primordial level of fear." (Siskel 1999)

This film succeeds in its attempts to create a thrilling and frightening experience in many different ways but all inevitably boil down to the same emotional response that drives both the narrative and cinematic experiences, fear. The instinctual fear of humanity is heavily played upon in 'Jaws', with the embodiment of the this emotion concentrated on the great white shark that runs rampant throughout the film. This focusing of fear allows Spielberg to let the over arching plot of 'Jaws' or lack of one fall by the wayside. The audience becomes entranced by this notion of the invisible killer in the water and allows the flimsy narrative to coat over the lynch pin of the film, doing nothing to aid the cinematic experience or capture the character's emotions. Each construct can be simply replaced by something else, exchanged and the difference would be hardly noticeable.

Fig 2: Roy Scheider in 'Jaws' (1975)
'Jaws' is rife with sexual connotations and interpretations of its main antagonist, the shark.

"...in his first megahit he summed up what was best in the old -- the humor, the perversity..." (Denby 2005)

The way in which 'Jaws' deals with its sexually alluring scenes, in particular its starting sequence with a teenage girl skinny dipping, is both obtuse and bland, choosing to ignore any association with sexuality as an overt theme in favour of bloody violence and action. This, however, does not hold true for the incredible amount of sexual undertones with these bloody and violent action sequences, one such example of this would be the starting scene, in which a teenage girl strips nude and dives into the ocean. The scene doesn't focus on the sexual tone of the teenager's action and instead glosses over this in favour of the shark's attack on her. This scene can be viewed as an imitation of rape on the young girl as she screams in terror while a beast shaped similarly to a penis ravages her lower body, this can also be interpreted as a loss of innocence as she begins to bleed from the attack, the beast deflowers her and strips all childlike purity away to leave nothing but flesh and blood. These tones are not only secluded within this scene as another death scene, the boat captain Quint's, spurs audience thoughts of sexual association; as he is eaten by the shark his lower half is completely devoured as mother nature, symbolised by the shark, castrates him and devours his genitalia. The shark then drags the other half of the now dead Quint underwater and out of reach of any aid, this can be viewed as mother nature forcing him, a character noted for his overt masculine behaviour and overtones, into submission and portraying his relinquishing of life and control as a stereotypical and idealist feminine action.    
Fig 3: Quint's Death in 'Jaws' (1975)
The film encourages audiences to enjoy the gore filled spectacles it provide, with focus upon the fear and twisted pleasure of such moments.

"making the audience pay for its illicit pleasures." (Hoberman 2011)

The blood lathered scenes of innocent deaths at the hands of the shark both frighten and excite audiences, grasping their attention and forcing these vivid images to be watched from start to finish. One particularly disturbing scene is the starting sequence which, as mentioned previously, contains sexual connotations and undertones while being slightly overtly alluring, only for her to be wrench around like a chew toy by an invisible attacker under the water for at least a minute. The scene echoes of underlying themes and ideas but is visually alluring and horrific while the latter is supported by her high pitched screams of agony. This capturing and overall elevation of gore into the spotlight and forcing the audience to enjoy such scenes is part of the perverse charm of this film but also its scariest features, as the audience catch themselves enjoying the blood and gore of the death scenes and find themselves confused between feeling frightened or delighted by the shark and its actions; this moral dilemma can then be considered why the film works less as a narrative and story driven piece and so well as a cinematic and visual experience.

List of Illustrations

Fig 1: 'Jaws' (1975) Poster [Poster] At: http://2warpstoneptune.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/jaws-poster.jpg

Fig 2: Roy Scheinder in 'Jaws' (1975) Directed by Steven Spielberg [Film Still] America: Universal Pictures. At: http://nobodyputsbabyinahorner.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/roy-scheider-jaws.jpg (Accessed 04/02/2014)

Fig 3: Quint's Death in 'Jaws' (1975) Directed by Steven Spielberg [Film Still] America: Universal Pictures.
(Accessed 04/02/2014)


Denby, David (2005) At: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/06/13/050613gore_GOAT_recordings3 [Film Review] (Accessed 04/02/2014)

Hoberman, Jim (2011) At: http://www.villagevoice.com/2011-02-09/voice-choices/jaws/full/ [Film Review] (Accessed 04/02/2014)

Siskel, Gene (1999) At: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1999-10-15/entertainment/9910200025_1_movie-reviews-star-film/2 [Film Review] (Accessed 04/02/2014)


  1. Hi Kyle,

    Be careful of your turn of phrase...some of the sentences sound a little odd - ' the great white shark that runs rampant throughout the film' and ' innocent deaths at the hands of the shark' for example! :)

    It might have also been worth mentioning the now-iconic musical score, as a device for creating tension...

    1. because sharks don't 'run' and sharks don't have 'hands' you see...