Duhhh-NUH. Duhh-NUH. Duh-NUH. Dud-DUN-dun-DUN-dun-DUN-dun-DUN-dun-DUN...
It's really cool to get to see a movie that I've specifically heard about so many times with such a specific context, folks. It's an excellent movie, too, with great actors who work well together and, of course, Jaws himself, more often heard and implied than actually seen but with a lot of charisma for being a probably-right-there eating machine.
I think the most obvious of the basic conflicts (I'm sure everyone who's done high school English remembers this idea) is man vs. nature, but I'm not sure to what level I agree with that in the case of Jaws. Sure the menace is a thing of nature, but it doesn't feel like a man vs. nature story. It's not about survival (not until the end anyway) or overcoming a fact of nature or transformation or anything like that; it's practically Man vs. Man where one man happens to be a bigass shark. I say this because Jaws doesn't act like a mindless force of nature and he doesn't get treated like one. Jaws seems to be the fish devil, springing up in a "safe" harbor right after a couple of idiots get everyone distracted with a fake shark routine and almost vindictively pursuing the Orca trio. He even smashes at and later leaps up to just straight-up friggin' EAT the boat. Jaws is like big saltwater hate incarnate.
So maybe not man vs man either. Maybe man vs. god. After all, hubris is a really obvious thing going on here. Mayor Larry Stupidfuck and his cronies are all "shark? what shark? propellers have teeth too, you know" and follow it up with "I'm not saying two victims is a good thing, I'm just saying maybe we don't call it a tragedy until it's three, eh?" Even Quint (thank you Anonymous... wait, where's Rachel?) and Hooper are too sure of themselves. Hooper's all "I'm an expert" and nobody listens to him. Quint's all "I kill sharks, hire me to do it" and then, of course, he gets gulped down like so many leftovers. The shark is practically there to be Mr. Spielberg's equivalent of saying "piece of cake" in the Labyrinth - every single time you tempt fate, Jaws shows up right where you don't want him and someone else goes goodbye.
It's like the little town island place pissed off Poseidon. Or whatserface from the Forgotten Realms, the sea goddess. Point is, a shark bigger than is reasonable hunts far closer to shore than is particularly likely, and just happens to show up whenever and wherever Murphy's Law would be most apropos. Love that word. It's basically a force of bitey fate, and that's man vs. god in brief, isn't it? Mind you, man vs. god stories don't usually end with the deity in question exploding, but I would have no issue at all with more of them taking that route. :D
One thing I really noticed, and I'm going to set aside the low proportion of female characters for this (you know I'm thinking it, but I'm trying to be fair here), is that again I get faced with this sort of troika of male characters who hit the notes of the Freudian psychology. I think during the show I said the Chief was the superego, but to be fair, the other two were drunk at the time. Looking back, I want to say Hooper, Mr. Science and Methods and Tools, is very much Mr. Spock. The Chief, by virtue of being the sort of hinge between the loco sharkbuster and the know-it-all researcher, is Captain Kirk. Quint makes a very unhinged Bones indeed, but I could see an episode of Star Trek where the good doctor sinks into a wicked and destructive obsession with, say, developing a cure to save the life of someone important to him. Come to think of it I want to see that episode. Tell me it exists. :D
Getting back on point, was this a thing in that sort of time in Hollywood? The three guys, ego, id and superego sort of idea? That's twice now where it's been in place clearly and both times it's in older things. I'm going to start obsessing over this, aren't I. Crap.
Obvious kudos have to go to Mr. Spielberg once more. It's not his best movie - Jurassic Park is still taking the reins on that one, doing some of Jaws's shtick (including the hubris and the power of nature) and doing it much better. He is, once again, backed by Mr. John Motherfucking Williams doing his wizardly duties with both charming sea-shanty type melodies and also that incredible I HEAR SHARK theme. Everything about that theme is sheer excellence, not just how much power he draws from such a basic motif, but the fascinating kind of musical structure it has when it moves away from the main two-note thing and the harp/bells/strings/whatever instruments come in and do that sort of "wonder" or "magic"-sounding flourish. Wonderfully stressful and still just great.
I hear people comparing this movie to That Movie. This is not That. That Movie is far more stressful than This Movie. I don't know if it's because the attacks are well-lit, the monster has a clearer and more obvious parameter/limitation, there are just so many more potential victims that it doesn't feel like a countdown, or simply because whatever else it may be the thing is still identifiable as A Shark, but for a huge number of reasons I would consider the two movies very very different. The only part that I would compare to That Movie is when they come upon the destroyed ship and the guy bobbing about inside it. That gave a chill which I would say reminded me a bit - just a bit, mind you, of That Movie. This movie I would watch again and I'd probably cheer for the shark - not because I don't like the guys, because I do (in particular, Quint's long monologue about being in the water with the sharks was so amazing I just sat there not typing anything), but because the shark is fun. The humans, in the general sense, deserve to be chewed-upon for going out in waters where they've been told there's a shark. The guys on the boat, who don't go back for a bigger boat and more help, are kind of asking for everything Jaws throws at them. Quint's actually insane at one point. Et cetera.
This one's an obvious classic and now I'm in the privileged position of knowing why. Folks, this is a good way to start a week. :D