FT Top 100 Films
27: JAWS

There are probably a lot of people of my generation who have never seen Jaws. It was true of me until a couple of years ago. It was a horror movie after all, a bloody shark slasher, so it was always on TV too late for me to see it in the early eighties. And then it became the late eighties, I was allowed to stay up late, but why would I watch Jaws? Its that shark movie. I had seen Jaws 3D and its hokey rubbish effect did not work on television. Everyone knows what happens in Jaws, there’s a shark, and it is hard to kill. And it looks a bit rubbery, just like the one in the Universal Studios tour*. High concept = small idea = no need to see it.

And then I saw it.

Privileged to see it on the big screen (as big as the ICA gets) the films deft handling of suspense it absolutely masterful. How doe sit do this? By using a pissed off bored police chief who could not really care less. By drafting in a keen shark expert who has absolutely no experience. And getting in a salty sea dog, in it for the money, dead set of destruction. Cliches, possibly, but fully rounded – unlike the shark.

There is a fantastic sequence in the film where Roy Scheider is at home, trying to work out what to do. He is a sleepy town police chief, not a high seas adventurer, and he is pretty sure that he does not even have juristiction over the sea. And yet the town is going crazy, the mayor is nuts and Scheider will be up for re-election. His job is out of his hands. Suddenly his son comes in, worried, and Scheider just gets it. This is a film about mans place in the natural world, about surpemacy and how everything is turned upside-down by a sudden change in this balance. Like The Birds, like other nature attacks films, this is unsettling and more psychologically troublesome than some random stalker. Unlike The Birds however, mans hubris plays a role in Jaws. Water is not our domain, we are not built for it, and the safest solution is literally to stay out of it. But we all want to swim, play on our lilos. The killer fact in Jaws is that most of its deaths are due to recreation (especially the purient shark at the beginning anti this fucking about in his ocean). For all the fortuitous psychological associations with “the underneath” the “repressed” and so on, this shark wants to stop us having fun. And in a pampered, Western way, we are not going to let that happen.

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