I’ve always been afraid of the ocean. My sister and I used to have blue carpet in our shared bedroom. I remember the fear of hanging my feet over the edge of my bottom bunk, thinking it was the ocean, my childish imagination running wild, images of ferocious teeth sinking into my lean calf, dragging me under.
I remember the first time I watched Jaws. Perhaps I should use the term ‘watched’ lightly… I buried myself in my childhood sofa, only emerging at the silent moments, still uneducated as to what the calm before the storm meant. But what I recall from behind the soft cotton cushions is an intense primal fear.
I watched it when I became a little older and felt pleasantly surprised when that old feeling of fear came back, seeing as I knew who died and who survived. Is that the definition of a classic? Having those same, original feelings stir up inside of you with a second run through? I’m not sure I can answer what makes a classic, but I speculate that that is a reliable perception.
Something else I noticed but didn’t realise until today was a very basic observation. What gender is that shark?
I’ll divulge on how I came about this possible conundrum.
I read an interesting piece in preparation for my studies. Firstly it talked about the usual concept of a monster movie and what defines the monster. Easy – something that threatens tradition ideological perceptions. Zombies, werewolves, vampires, Frankenstein… Each ‘monster’ is seen as something that goes against preconceived social constraints. 1) Zombies are meant to be dead but “They’re coming to get your Barbara!”. They threaten the sociological structure of humanity. 2) Werewolves, half man, half wolf. Hybrid? What on earth is that? No, that doesn’t fit into our species categorisation. Must be a monster. 3) Vampires, a lot like zombies, they’re undead and they want to suck virgin blood, they threaten masculinity, therefore, they are stamped as a monster.
Of course, this is a very brief overview of the definitions of ‘monster’ and to go back to my childhood and read of witches in candy cottages and crippled old men with ridiculous names, I can show there are many more definitions of monster.
Now, the shark is an interesting monster. In the first part of my reading, it seemed that the shark was simply an exaggerated fear of the threat to the patriarchal figure (Sheriff Brody) being unable to fulfil his masculine role and the threat to the nuclear family being torn apart by a tragic incident. I agreed, I do agree. This shark does threaten the ideological discourse of the quaint Amityville. But the other half of my reading suggested that not only does it threaten the town and its values, but it is also a representation of the fear of feminine sexuality.
This is where I became confused and talked myself through the film with this theory in mind.
The first victim of this shark is a young woman. Why her? In the first iconic scene of the film the young woman runs towards the water, stripping off her clothes. Behind her is an adolescent male obviously seduced by her, trying to keep up with her sexually liberated ways, stumbling while he tries to pull off his own clothes delaying him in entering the water which evidently saves his life. What follows is a violent struggle between the shark and the woman, of which my reading likened with a rape scene.
Coincidence that the sharks first victim is this sexually motivated woman? Or is this a subconscious warning to women practicing sexual liberation? Also note that twice Brodys wife attempts to seduce him which correlates with the death and possible death of a child.
When I first read this symbolic theory my first thought was, “but I thought the shark was a male?”.
Even as a child I associated the shark as a male figure. Strong, aggressive, solitary. Things society would normally associate with masculinity. (Obviously, this is the 21st century and gender is fluid, so I’d like to point out I’m using knowledge from when this was made in the 70’s).
Could this shark be a subconscious representation of societies fear of feminine sexuality? Is this what Steven Spielberg subconsciously thought? Should we now be worried of how the inner thoughts of a Hollywood director can directly influence our perceptions of women, LGBTQs and race? Or is this just simply a monster movie designed to keep you on the edge of your seat wanting more gore?