Chief Martin Brody is the "everyman"—the character with whom the audience can most easily identify. No special powers, no genius; just a good guy with common sense doing his job the best he can.
He's also one-third of Jaws' triple entente of Brody/Hooper/Quint.
While Hooper represents science and Quint represents tradition, Brody fills the role of law and order (makes sense, what with him being a police chief and all). Though Brody/law and order is at first unable to stop the shark's killing spree, with help from Hooper/science and Quint/tradition, it's ultimately Brody who's brought to a final showdown with the shark.
It's the ultimate good guy vs. bad guy face-off.
He may be the Chief, but as someone not born on the island, Brody's an outsider. Recently arrived from New York, he doesn't know much about island living and is still learning the ins and outs of life in Amity. His fear of water makes him even more of an outsider than he already was with the islanders. It's a definite hindrance in his job and a constant source of anxiety. It's the running joke of the film, but sometimes it's not so funny. During Alex Kintner's attack on the beach, while other parents (including Ellen) run into the waves to grab their children, Brody stays planted on the shore, gesturing frantically but unable to enter the water.
Vaughn throws Brody's outsider-ness in his face every time the two face off. He repeats over and over that "It's your first summer, y'know" and says that Brody's not "familiar with our problems!" The Brodys are well aware that they're not part of the cool kids. The first conversation they have together references how different their New York accents are from Amity's. When Ellen asks when she (and her family) will get to call themselves islanders, the answer from a local is good-natured but emphatic: "Never!"
It's partially because Brody feels like such a fish out of water—a New Yorker in a cliquey New England island town, an aquaphobe on an island—that he's unable to muster the courage to overrule Vaughn's orders before the pond attack. Only after the fourth attack does Brody really swing into action.
Flawed, But Not Fatally
For a Chief of Police on an island, Brody's got a laundry list of failings. Let's take a look:
- He can't really hack it as a cop in New York—too much crime.
- He doesn't fix his kids' swing set and his son gets bloodied.
- He knows zilch about sharks prior to the attacks.
- He caves to the Mayor's demands to keep the beaches open, resulting in the death of a young boy.
- His own son is traumatized when Brody lets him go in the water and he witnesses the third shark attack.
- He can't keep the crazy fishermen in line when they flood into town to try to claim the shark bounty.
- He doesn't fix the flue in his chimney and has to warn his wife about it so she and the kids don't die from carbon monoxide poisoning while he's out shark-hunting.
- He can't handle Quint's moonshine.
- He can't tie a decent knot.
- He's helpless on a boat.
- Last, but most important, he's terrified of the ocean and won't set foot in it even when he needs to get the swimmers out of the water after the shark attacks Alex Kintner.
One writer goes so far as to say that Brody isn't a man at all for much of the film: He's a child, his authority ignored and his skills ridiculed. On the Orca, he's the helpless kid doing the nastiest chores and trying to win the approval of his bickering "parents," Quint and Hooper (source). In sum, the guy's got plenty of room for improvement in the traditional manliness department. In fact, that's really what this movie is about, in a way—Brody's redemption as a man.
But with all these shortcomings, he's our guy and we root for him. He's likable, fair, well-intentioned, and willing to admit what he doesn't know. The Fairness in Shmoopcasting Law requires us to present Chief Brody's good qualities after we've humiliated the guy with our list of his weaknesses, so here's the opposing viewpoint.
Brody's a protector. We assume he went into the police business because of a desire to serve and protect, and we definitely see that in his role of Chief in Amity. Maybe New York was a bit much for him, but he says he came to Amity because…
BRODY: […] in Amity, one man can make a difference.
He takes his job seriously. As soon as he gets the medical examiner's call about Chrissie, he orders the beaches closed. When Vaughn balks at closing the beaches, he reminds him:
BRODY: I'm responsible for public safety around here.
Brody fails miserably at that task at first… oops, we're supposed to be talking about his strong points. Okay, then.
Even more than a policeman, Brody's a husband and father whose first responsibility is toward his family. That's important because it means he has same concerns that most of the people in the audience have. He hints that the main reason the Brodys moved to Amity was to get the kids out of New York City:
BRODY: […] violence, rip-offs, muggings… Kids can't leave the house, you gotta walk 'em to school.
His concern over a broken swing set in the very first scene sets up Brody's preoccupation with his family's safety. After the shark attack, he insists that Michael sail in the pond rather than in the ocean, and he rushes to Michael's side after the shark attack in the pond. Until that pond scene Brody's concern with the shark is mainly a professional responsibility. But now… it's personal. He finally finds his nerve:
BRODY: You got a pen? […] You're gonna sign this voucher so I can hire a contractor.
VAUGHN: I can't… I don't, I don't know if I can do that without the clearance.
BRODY: You're gonna hire Quint to kill the shark.
VAUGHN: Aug… August…
BRODY: What? What? Larry, what are you talking about? The summer's over! You're the mayor of shark city! These people think you want the beaches open!
VAUGHN: I was… I was… I was acting in the… the town's best interest. I thought I was acting in the town's best interest.
BRODY: That's right you were acting in the town's best interest. And that's why you're gonna do the right thing. That's why you're gonna sign this and we're gonna pay that guy what he wants.
From this point on, he's a man on a mission.
Facing His Fears
To his credit, when his family's directly threatened, Brody puts the mayor in his place, closes the beaches, saddles up, and assembles his shark-hunting team. Despite his fear of the water, he accompanies Quint and Hooper on the Orca. There, he's even more out of place than he was in Amity. He clearly never got his seamanship merit badge. He can't tie knots, safely handle equipment, steer the boat, or do much of anything other than throw fish guts overboard. As Hooper and Quint swap manly stories about their war wounds, the only thing he has to show is an appendectomy scar.
Brody's the one who gets the first look at the huge shark, and it sure doesn't help his dislike of the ocean:
BRODY: [looking shell-shocked] You're gonna need a bigger boat.
Brody's knows he's no sailor or shark expert, so he accepts his secondary role on the hunt and does what he's told. But, being blessed with common sense, the Chief goes against Quint's wishes and tries to radio for help when it's clear that this shark isn't going to go down without a serious fight. Quint reasserts his authority by smashing the radio to pieces.
But before long Quint and Hooper realize that all their weapons are powerless against the shark, and Brody literally and figuratively straps on his holster. Time for the lawman to restore the peace.
Brody's journey reaches its climax when he's left alone to fight off the shark aboard the rapidly sinking Orca. He's just witnessed Quint being jawed to death and he thinks Hooper's dead, too. Clinging to the sinking and swaying mast, and making inventive use of tools Quint and Hooper left behind, Brody finally kills the shark with a compressed air tank and a well-aimed bullet. He goes from the scared, clueless landlubber to the manly shark hunter—nay, the sea monster killer; nay, the aquatic dragon slayer! As he and Hooper kick toward home in the final scene, Brody says,
BRODY: I think the tide's with us.
HOOPER: Keep kicking.
BRODY: I used to hate the water.
HOOPER: I can't imagine why.
Somehow we think the Chief will be accepted as an "islander" by the Amity folks when he gets back to shore.