The Genius of Jaws

I read about Jaws being “The Movie” of Quarantine 2020 in The New Republic recently. The article paints parallels of the shark ruining summer, destroying the economy and the people in charge ignoring the scientist… sound familiar? The author forgot to mention how much Dr. Fauci resembles Richard Dreyfus.

I don’t normally nose dive into The New Republic on a regular basis. The only reason that I even paused on this article was that iconic image of the swimmer over the shark. That visual reached out and grabbed me. This illustration is a PTSD trigger that pulled me right back to 1977 when I first saw this movie with my brother and some neighborhood kids. I was 7 and my little brother was 5.

You might ask yourself, “How did a 7 year old and a 5 year old see this R rated movie that they should never have seen under any circumstances?” Thanks to our good friend Shawn and his dad’s collection of R rated movies on laser disc, my brother and I saw quite a few movies on the down-low. Jaws is the only one I can replay in my mind from beginning to end.

After we saw this movie, I never looked at the ocean, a pool, a bathtub or even a toilet the same. Jaws ruined that carefree feeling that I once had in open water as a child. I was smart enough to know the reality that a shark couldn’t be in the pool, the bathtub or the toilet for that matter. That knowledge didn’t change my need to just do a quick check even in the smallest of puddles. Jaws is so powerful and well crafted that the imminent threat of that shark can stay with you long after you’ve left the theater or wherever you saw it. That fear can remain for up to and not limited to 42 and 1/2 years.

Don’t get me started on the music. I LOVE John Williams. I pay big bucks every time the New York Symphony Orchestra has a special event that features his work. I always look under my seat when the theme from Jaws comes up in the program as if somehow that great white is swimming underneath. Steven Spielberg better have paid John Williams a fortune for what he did for his movies. The music and visuals work so well together. The result is pure edge of your seat crescendo! That’s the genius of Jaws . When I laid eyes on that legendary illustration in The New Republic, I didn’t just feel the terror of the shark, I could hear him. John Williams’ brilliant 2 note composition played in my head instantaneously ….duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn duun… duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn  …pure sensory memory reactivated!

As luck would have it, Jaws is playing on HBO this month and I decided to watch it again to see how it holds up. I couldn’t believe it, Jaws is still scary AF. The movie feels relatively contemporary and I had to watch at least 30 minutes of comedy television to cleanse my image pallet before I could go to sleep.

The same week that Jaws came back onto my radar, my daughter was learning to write suspenseful stories, her music teacher was discussing the power of music to create feelings and we are all facing a summer that looks like no other we’ve ever experienced. Even in my very own personal life, the themes of Jaws are everywhere.

Don’t worry, I didn’t let Stella (8 yrs old) watch the movie. However, I did tell her the story about how Jaws scared her Uncle Matt and I so bad that we have always checked every pool we’ve ever jumped in or toilet we’ve ever sat on for 42 and 1/2 years. I used the story to teach her about the lasting impact of suspense. We talked about how John Williams’ music can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on edge in Jaws and how it can make Harry Potter seem more magical in The Sorcerer’s Stone. I didn’t tell her about how the shark ruined the summer and the economy. We will hold that for later days when we can watch it together …when she is 16 or maybe even 49…. duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn duun… duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn