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.