A common truism is that the book is always better than the movie they make from it. Both Peter Benchley’s book and Steve Spielberg’s film version were enormous commercial and critical successes. Explain why Jaws is not an example of “the books was better.”
In the novel, the conflict between man and beast that takes center stage when the trio that goes out hunting for the shark is complicated by dramatic tension of sexual complications between Brody and Hooper as a result of Hooper having an affair with the sheriff’s wife. The novel provides ample opportunity for Benchley to work this layer of conflict into the tension of the hunting trip, but the film loses absolutely nothing in terms of drama by completely jettisoning this subplot. In fact, without the intrusion of the personal conflict between Brody and Hooper, Spielberg’s direction can focus all the greater building the tension between the men and the shark.
Analyze how Jaws engages the theme of man against nature by showing that conflict from perspectives revealing man as both prey and predator.
The dramatic of structure of the narrative path of Jaws constructs a parallel so that the second half of the film is a kind of mirror image of the first half. The first half of the story is all about how nature is capable is capable of terrorizing an entire section of society and reveals that man is very subject to becoming the prey of the unpredictably violent randomness of the natural world. The hunting expedition undertaken by Brody, Hooper and Quint that takes up most of the second half of the movie flips that dynamic so that the shark that was formerly the predator now becomes the prey.
Explain how Jaws combines the literary devices of irony and setting by making the 4th of July a prominent part of the plot.
The sequence showing how the mainlanders descend upon the island to celebrate the nation’s independence is filled with ironic commentary on how the 4th of July has devolved from a date for celebrating emancipation from oppression into just another big day for big and little businesses. The entire film is about nothing else than fighting off a relentless foreign invader to ensure freedom and liberty. Set against that metaphor is the more concrete concerns expressed by the town’s mayor about local businesses losing their vital summer revenue as the result of having to close the beaches. The irony of the struggle for survival against the shark set off against the commercial devaluation of the meaning of Independence Day is unmistakable.
Identify the villain in Jaws.
At first glance, the shark seems to be the requisite villain in the thriller that is Jaws. In reality, however, the shark exhibits none of the malicious intent that is normally associated with characters delineated as villains. The shark is a brute animal acting out of pure instinct; he needs to survive, therefore he eats whatever is at hand. In contrast, the Mayor of Amity Island puts townspeople and tourists at risk by refusing to close the beaches. In his zeal to put the commercial interests of local business (or, as the Mayor views them, voters) ahead of the safety of everyone else, the only character in the entire movie who even comes close to demonstrating the kind of malice associated with villains is the Mayor.
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro considered Jaws one of the best critiques of the American way of life Hollywood ever made. Explain why a communist revolutionary would view Jaws as successful Marxist propaganda.
The summer season means one thing for many people on Amity Island, including the Mayor: profits. They stand to gain the bulk of their yearly income from the enormous influx of tourists and mainlanders who pour onto the island by the boatload. The appearance of a menacing shark—and, more importantly, the appearance of a bearded liberal scientist who recognizes the hazard the shark poses—threatens to plug up all that potential profit enjoyed by happy voters if the access to the beach is closed as the scientist recommends. The Mayor will lose his power if he fails to get re-elected and Amity’s business owners won’t vote for him if he caves into liberal pressure to shut down the beach and plug up their income stream. And so the purely animalistic shark becomes less a threat to life and limb than an economic peril to be avoided through political influence and by those least likely to actually suffer loss of life as a result of being safely on the shore selling their wares to public purposely kept ignorant of the actual level of danger they are facing by unwittingly risking their very lives for the purpose of making sure the Mayor gets re-elected. Little wonder that the world’s longest-serving communist leader views Jaws so positively.
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