BLONDE KID PARTYING ON THE BEACH: Wait, slow up! I can swim… just can't walk. Or undress myself.
The first dude we meet in the film kind of stinks at the whole masculinity thing. First, he doesn't go skinny-dipping with the hot babe, and then he lets his damsel in distress get eaten. He's too drunk to do anything. Does this opening scene set us up to see the men in the film as generally helpless and ineffective?
BRODY: You guys were playing on those swings. […] Stay off them, I haven't fixed them yet!
Within seconds of his very first appearance, we see Chief Brody in the main role he'll fill for the entire film: the protector—especially of his family. Doesn't get much manlier than that, even if broken swingsets aren't exactly giant killer sharks. But wait—he hasn't fixed those swings. Hmmm…
MRS. KINTER: I just found out that a girl got killed here last week and you knew it. You knew there was a shark out there. You knew it was dangerous! But you let people go swimming anyway? You knew all those things. But still my boy is dead now. And there's nothing you can do about it. My boy is dead. I wanted you to know that.
VAUGH: I'm sorry, Martin. She's wrong.
BRODY: No, she's not.
Let's all say it together: "A real man isn't afraid to admit he's wrong." Brody's admission is a much stronger move than his previous one, which was caving in to Mayor Vaughn's demand to keep the beaches open.
QUINT: Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'. I'll catch this bird for ya, but […] I value my neck a lot more than 3000 bucks, Chief! I'll find him for three, but I'll catch him and kill him for ten!
Quint's speech establishes him as a different kind of man than anyone else on happy little Amity Island. He's tough as nails (on a chalkboard), competent, and decidedly rough around the edges. He's almost a caricature of the tough, manly sailor.
QUINT: You're on board my vessel. I'm mate, master, pilot, and I'm captain. I'll take him for ballast, Chief.
Quint reluctantly agrees to let Brody and Hooper go with him to hunt the shark, but he makes clear from the start who's the boss. He's bringing Hooper for ballast; i.e., he's a useless girl. Quint is one tough dude.
QUINT: Here's to swimmin' with bowlegged women!
Quint's also the bawdy one, singing suggestive songs about women and teasing Ellen Brody. Other than Quint's suggestive songs and Ellen's proposal to the Chief to "get drunk and fool around," there's almost no sexual content in the film. This is basically the only area where the men don't compete against each other. Spielberg ditched the novel's plotline of Ellen and Hooper having an affair, thinking it would detract from the story. Agree?
INCOMPETENT FISHERMAN: Why don't you stuff your friggin' head in there, man, and find out if it's a man-eater, all right?
The fishermen get really bent out of shape when Hooper questions whether they've got the right shark. When Mrs. Kintner first posts her $3000 reward for killing the shark, every boat owner in New England seems to show up. Most of them are just plain stupid—no gear, no experience, tiny boats, lots of alcohol. They're caricatures of the ridiculous guy who thinks he's a match for a giant man-eating shark—a stereotypical overconfident but incompetent man.
BRODY: Give us a kiss.
SEAN BRODY: Why?
BRODY: 'Cause I need it.
Coming right on the heels of that slap from Mrs. Kintner, what does this great moment of tenderness between Brody and his youngest son say about masculinity? Real men are affectionate and vulnerable.
ELLEN BRODY: Martin hates the boats. Martin hates water, Martin sits in his car when we go on the ferry to the mainland. I guess it's a childhood thing, it's uh, there's a clinical name for it, isn't there?
Chief Brody's fear of water comes up frequently in the film. Does this imply a lack of manliness? How does this set up his character development in the film?
QUINT: You got city hands, Mr. Hooper. You've been counting money all your life.
We see pretty quickly how Quint judges a true man. This is the beginning of a conflict between two very different types of masculine competence.
QUINT: Yeah, that's real fine expensive gear you brought out here, Mr. Hooper. 'Course I don't know what that bastard shark's gonna do with it, might eat it I suppose. Seen one eat a rockin' chair one time. Hey Chiefy, next time you just ask me which line to pull, right?
Quint and Hooper are engaged in what one might call, in polite circles, a pissing contest. Quint takes every opportunity to insult Hooper and his scientific equipment, letting him know who's the authentic shark hunter and captain of the ship. He's not impressed by Brody being Chief of Police, either.
HOOPER: I got that beat. It's a moray eel. Bit right through my wetsuit.
As the boys swap war stories and compare scars, the audience is witnessing a pretty explicit ritual where proof of manliness is demonstrated. All Brody has to show is an appendectomy scar.
BRODY: You live here?
CASSIDY: Nah, Hartford. I go to Trinity. My folks live in Greenwich.
BRODY: Your folks were born here, right?
CASSIDY: Yeah, I'm an islander. They moved off when my Dad retired. You an islander?
BRODY: No, New York State.
The screenwriters introduce the islander/outsider thing early in the script. Being an islander means being born there; living there doesn't count. Even being Chief of Police doesn't count. You can move away and still be an islander.
CITIZEN: Hey Chief, Chief, Chief! I was trying to find ya Chief, there's a damn truck with New Hampshire plates on it smack in front of my store!
Here's another illustration of the islander/outsider conflict. Would the guy have been as bothered if the truck had Massachusetts plates? Ask anyone who lives in a resort community like this, and they'll tell you it's a dilemma. They can't survive economically without the tourists, but they don't like the traffic, litter, noise, lack of parking, and other inconveniences that tourists bring along with their money. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Plus, the tourists probably have way more money than the islanders who are waiting on their tables and cleaning their hotel rooms. Another reason why they're suspicious and resentful of them.
VAUGHN: We're really a little anxious that you're, uh, you're rushing into something serious here. It's your first summer y'know.
Mayor Vaughn could hardly say it any more clearly: Don't rock the boat, buddy. You don't know what you're talking about. He's right that Brody probably doesn't yet appreciate how tourism is the lifeblood of the island. Vaughn uses this argument a lot—that Brody's an outsider, that he doesn't get it. The pressure Chief Brody feels to give the town leaders what they want will be a constant struggle until the final act of the film.
BEN MEADOWS: But we never had that kind of trouble in these waters.
This line sums up how the townspeople generally feel about the shark: It's never happened before, so they don't want to believe it's happening now. Bad things like that just don't happen in their town. Is it hard to believe they could have this attitude? Hooper is up against some pretty rigid thinking.
VAUGHN: I don't think you appreciate the gut reaction people have to these things. […] Martin, it's all psychological. You yell "barracuda," everybody says, "Huh? What?" You yell "shark!" and we've got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.
Mayor Vaughn is hyper-sensitive about using the word "shark," but he has a pretty good grasp on how the people in his town, especially the tourists, are going to react. His town depends on tourism to survive, so he has to manage those tourists carefully.
ELLEN: When do I get to become an islander?
COUNCILWOMAN: Ellen, never! Never! You're not born here, you're not an islander.
Do you think it's really true that the Brody family will never become "islanders"? Ironically, we detect a New York accent in the councilwoman's speech; she doesn't seem like a native either. Our guess is that she's just repeating what she thinks the locals think.
VAUGHN: Look, we depend on the summer people here for our very lives. […] And if you close those beaches, we're finished! […] I don't think either one of you are familiar with our problems!
Mayor Vaughn is turning the island's economic survival into a literal life-or-death situation. Brody and Vaughn are responding to two very different demands. Hooper, who's a complete outsider, doesn't care one bit about the economic consequences of closing the beaches. He's more rational than either of the other two.
VAUGHN: [T]omorrow is the Fourth of July! And we will be open for business. It's gonna be one of the best summer we ever had! Now if you fellas are concerned about the beaches, you do whatever you have to to make them safe. But those beaches will be open for this weekend!
Some film analysts have likened the Mayor's cover-up of the shark attack to the Watergate cover-up that had taken place a few years earlier. So Vaughn would be a stand-in here for powerful politicians who strong-arm people into doing their bidding. Brody sure doesn't want to lose his new job in this island paradise.
QUINT: You got city hands, Mr. Hooper. You've been counting money all your life.
HOOPER: All right, all right. Hey! I don't need this! I don't need this working class hero crap!
Here's a really explicit reference to the class divide between Hooper and Quint. Which of the two do you think is more intimidated? What other factors complicate the class issues at play between Hooper and Quint?
HOOPER: Quint, that doesn't prove a damn thing.
QUINT: Well it proves one thing Mr. Hooper. It proves that you wealthy college boys don't have the education enough to admit when you're wrong.
This is one of the first instances of crazy Quint actually making some sense. Hooper doesn't like it one bit. Fact is, both Quint and Hooper are experts, but Quint has 25 years' experience on Hooper. Hooper just sees him as out-of-touch and behind the times.
BRODY: You know, Ellen, people don't even know how old sharks are. And I mean if they live two, three thousand years. They don't know!
Before Hooper (the science guy) arrives, Chief Brody's doing some research of his own. But he realizes almost from the get-go that science is limited—we actually don't know all that much about these mysterious creatures.
HOOPER: The torso has been severed in mid-thorax […] massive tissue loss in the upper musculature. […] Partially denuded bone remaining […] It indicates the non-frenzied feeding of a large squalus possibly Longimanus or Isurus glaucous.
With this scene Hooper quickly establishes his bona fides as the resident scientific authority. The guy's a total pro. If he can't help Chief Brody, nobody can. You gotta wonder, though—what would a frenzied feeding have left of Chrissie Watkins? Not much, we assume. (Shudder.)
HOOPER: Now, the enormous amount of tissue loss prevents any detailed analysis; however, the attacking squalus must be considerably larger than any normal squalus found in these waters.
Although Hooper acknowledges that this ain't your garden variety killer shark, he still uses scientific terminology, grounding his perspective in scientific reality—at least for now.
ELLEN BRODY: My husband tells me you're in sharks.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves: Hooper's the shark guy.
BRODY: Yeah, now this guy, he, he keeps swimming around in a place where the feeding is good, until the food supply is gone, right?
HOOPER: Yeah, it's called territoriality. It's just a theory that I happen to agree with.
Once again, Chief Brody is checking his own research against Hooper's expertise. He's done some homework. Both of them still see the shark as an animal, not as a monster.
BRODY: This is a great white Larry, a big one! And any shark expert in the world will tell you it's a killer! It's a man-eater! […]
HOOPER: It's a carcharodon carcharias. It's a great white!
This speech fails to move Mayor Vaughn. All the references to scientific classification, experts, etc., fall on deaf ears because Vaughn has other things on his mind, like fear of ruining the tourist season that the island depends on. He's a shark-attack denier.
HOOPER: Mr. Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It's really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks.
This nifty simplification of what a shark is has been a thorn in the side of every shark conservationist since 1975. But it demonstrates that Hooper thinks of the shark in terms of natural instincts, evolution, etc.
QUINT: Nowadays, these kids, they bring everything. Radar, sonar, electric toothbrushes. […] Yeah, that's real fine expensive gear you brought out here, Mr. Hooper! 'Course I don't know what that bastard shark's gonna do with it. Might eat it, I suppose.
Quint's dismissive of Hooper's super-scientific, Jacques Cousteau-like approach to catching the shark. Is he right? Is he just being stubborn and territorial? What in his experience might make him suspicious of technology?
QUINT: Hooper, what exactly can you do with these things of yours?
Contrast this quote with Quote #8 about radar, sonar, electric toothbrushes, etc. Why is Quint suddenly so willing to try out Hooper's scientific gear? See: Real men can admit they're wrong.
[The shark rams the shark cage, and Hooper's poisoned harpoon is knocked out of his hand, floating harmlessly away.]
This scene seems to illustrate the limits of technology against powerful natural forces. In the novel, the point's driven home even more forcefully—Hooper doesn't survive this attack. Spielberg didn't want to kill off the character, so he has Hooper survive via his scuba gear. So in this particular science vs. nature showdown, it's a draw.
[Agonizingly prolonged death of Chrissie Watkins]
If this were a normal hungry shark, he would have eaten Chrissie and just gotten it over with. It almost seems as if he's toying with her and enjoying it. Not your typical predatory shark behavior.
HOOPER: Well this is not a boat accident! It wasn't any propeller! It wasn't any coral reef! And it wasn't Jack the Ripper! It was a shark.
Whoa, whoa, whoa—who said anything about Jack the Ripper, Hoop? The fact that the scientist is invoking the name of a notorious (and vaguely satanic) serial killer adds to the shark's unearthly aura.
HOOPER: It's really a miracle of evolution.
Wait—didn't Shmoop just use this quote to illustrate the "Science" theme? What gives? Well, even though Hooper understands the shark's behavior as having evolved over the eons, the description still tells us that it's not going to be a hunter's typical prey. It has menacing overtones. How can a man compete with millions of years of perfecting an "eating machine?"
[An unseen force takes the fisherman's holiday roast bait and pulls it out to sea along with the pilings and the end of the jetty, dumping the fisherman into the water. The end of the jetty makes a 180-degree turn and heads back toward the shore, chasing the desperately swimming fisherman.]
If we didn't realize it already, here's another demonstration of this shark's larger-than-life strength and cunning. It seems to have planned it so the fisherman would be thrown into the water and thus become easily available for a late-night snack.
QUINT: He's a smart, big fish! He's gone under the boat! Keep it steady now! I got something very big!
Quint recognizes something strange when he sees it. He's killed hundreds of sharks and this one's different.
QUINT: You know the thing about a shark—he's got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitched screamin' and the ocean turns red…
Quint's speech introduces the image of the shark as an undead monster—a 6,000-pound swimming zombie.
BRODY: How do we handle this? How do we handle this?
Why don't Hooper and Quint really have an answer to this question? They've worked with sharks their whole lives, after all.
HOOPER: He ate the light.
As the shark rams the boat, the cabin almost turns into a haunted house. The men surrounding the table, as if at a séance, get thrown around, we hear pounding noises, and the lights flicker and then go out. What kind of ghost is haunting the Orca? Is it related somehow to the story Quint just told about the USS Indianapolis?
HOOPER: Look at that mother! […]
BRODY: He's eating his way right through that line!
HOOPER: Yeah! And he's workin' his way, right into us! […] It's impossible! It's impossible! […] He's pullin' us!
As the shark starts eating its way toward the Orca, then tows it with the force of an aircraft carrier, it starts to seem that he has a kind of evil intelligence.
HOOPER: You ever have one do this before?
QUINT: I don't know. […]
HOOPER: He's chasin' us. I don't believe it! […]
BRODY: Ever have a great white do this?
As if we needed any more reminders that ordinary great white sharks—which are only Ford Bronco-sized torpedoes of muscle with hundreds of shredding teeth—don't do this, here it is. Both of the shark experts are starting to freak out at not just this shark's size, but at its behavior.