Thirty-seven years ago a film about a small, resort town shock the entire world. Jaws grossed nearly five hundred million dollars worldwide at the time of its release. Its impact has been a lasting one to say in the least. Numerous directors, actors, writers and critics site it as one of the best films in history.
Out-of-town sheriff, Martin Brody, (Roy Scheider) is spending his first summer in Amity. He has seen everything during his tenure in New York: murder, robberies, vandalism, you name it, but he has never seen anything like a shark attack. His instincts push him toward closing the beach after a teenage girl is killed, but the Mayor is uneasy, Amity depends on summer revenue. Against his wishes, Brody keeps the beach open and soon the beast attacks again, taking the life of another child.
Brody bucks the local leadership and enlists the aid of Oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) to find this shark. He doesn't disappoint: Hooper identifies the shark as a Great White. Suddenly, Captain Quint's (Robert Shaw) offer to kill the shark for $10,000 seems much more reasonable. Brody, Hooper and Quint set sail aiming to kill the shark that has plagued the town.
The plot itself may seem simplistic, but the reason Jaws is still so effective is because it captures an on elementary fear, a terror that resonates on a basic and primal level. The moment that most encapsulates that dread is Quint's monologue about the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Why this scenes works so perfectly in the film is also the reason why Steven Spielberg is considered a master of his art.
While these three men from all different walks of life compare scars in a competition of one-upmanship, Robert Shaw dials his performance up and delivers one of the better scenes of cinema. Quint, written off by most of Amity's residents as crazed, has a reason to his madness. Whatever scars Hooper or Brody have cannot compare to the haunting memory Quint shares with the audience.
"Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, 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 living... until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin' and the hollerin', they all come in and they... rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I know how many men, they averaged six an hour."
The way Spielberg cuts from the bravado of drunken men and reveals insight into true horror. As far as man has advanced, even into the age of nuclear weapons, when man is descended into water, there is a creature more dominant than us. There is no weapon that can beat it back, or keep it at bay. Advantages given to man by way of history prove useless. In these moments of Jaws fear is all-encompassing. "Bruce", the name given to the mechanical creature that is accompanied by John William's famous score, represents an existential scare: we all will die, it is unavoidable.
That sentiment separates Spielberg's film from the rest of the horror genre. The scares are not brief; they are lasting. For this reason Jaws will never cease to be a mainstay of the pop culture consciousness. For that reason it is a classic.