Matt Hooper, a shark expert from "the oceanographic institute on the mainland," is a loveable, charismatic, cocky know-it-all who represents institutional money and the latest scientific knowledge of the day. He's been obsessed with sharks since age 12, and he's the main vehicle for teaching the audience about Sharks 101. He's also an expert sailor, having piloted yachts, pleasure boats, and scientific craft.
Cutting open a shark is just another day at the office for Hooper.
He and Brody join forces to defeat both the bureaucracy of Amity and the shark that's been preying on the swimmers and boaters. His fancy education and rich family make him an outsider like Brody, as does his rational approach to the shark problem in the midst of some pretty irrational people.
Hooper knows everything in the book about sharks, and he sports scars from previous encounters with dangerous animals. He's also young (like the field of shark study itself), which makes him fearless—maybe even a little naïve—and headstrong, with at least a hint of scientific hubris. He tells Brody,
HOOPER: You're going to be the only rational man left on this island after I leave.
He can't believe how reckless everyone is being, especially the amateur fisherman who are convinced they're going to catch a shark but can't even drive a boat:
HOOPER: Uh, you know those eight guys in the fantail launch out there?
HOOPER: Well, none of them are going to get out of the harbor alive.
On land, Hooper acts as both Brody's guide to the shark world and his conscience, prodding him to defy Vaughn and solve the shark problem. Unlike Brody, Hooper has no problem confronting the mayor about being a total idiot.
VAUGHN: I don't think either one of you are familiar with our problems.
HOOPER: I think I am familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and BITES YOU ON THE ASS! […] That's it! Goodbye! I'm not going to waste my time arguing with a man who's lining up to be a hot lunch!
Hooper and Brody form a strong bond that's tested at sea when Hooper chafes as Quint lords it over him. The Hooper vs. Quint conflict is one of the major plotlines in the film. Both men are brash and confident. But Hooper represents the youthful idea that technology will solve all our problems (some things never change), and Quint's the old guy who relies on traditional methods and age-old wisdom. It's intellect vs. instinct, the generation gap, technology vs. the natural world.
Hooper arrives on the scene loaded with expensive scientific equipment and a tricked-out boat, all underwritten by his personal wealth.
BRODY: Do you get the late show on this thing?
HOOPER: No, it's a closed circuit TV system. I have underwater cameras fore and aft.
BRODY: Who pays for all this stuff? The government? The Institute? This stiff costs a lot of money?
HOOPER: Well, I, uh, I paid for this stuff mostly myself actually.
Hooper's enthusiasm for techie solutions is coupled with a rich kid's sense of entitlement, which sometimes lets him take things a bit too far. At one point, he orders Brody to walk way out to the end of the pulpit of the boat (the railing at the very front of the boat) just to get a photograph that shows the scale. That's chutzpah.
Hooper is brave, no doubt about it. Going into that shark cage, knowing the size and power of the shark? Hats off to him. He's scared spitless, but he does it anyway once Quint realizes that the gang's options against the shark are getting limited. The shark destroys the cage in about two seconds. Score: Natural World 1, Technology 0. (Well, give technology some credit for getting Hooper about of this scenario alive He's wearing scuba gear that keeps him underwater until the shark's blown up.)
For all his youthful bravado and presumptuousness, we love Hooper and we're glad that Spielberg decided not to kill him off. He's smart, direct, brave, and has a wicked sense of humor. In the end, he comes to deeply appreciate Quint, especially after he listens to Quint's story about the Indianapolis. We like to think he was humbled by his experience on the Orca, but we think he left the shark business afterwards to become obsessed with UFOs.