I’ve posted the trailer for Jaws a dozen times before, so I am changing it up a little for this post. Chief Brody is the character in the film with the most important story arc, and the sequence above explains that his instincts are really headed in the right direction. The fact that Mayor Vaughn talks him out of closing the beaches does not make him the bad guy. Martin Brody has a huge about of guilt poured on him when Alex Kitner is killed by the shark, but remember, his kids were on the beach, and he was trying to be cautious in pursuing his responsibilities as Chief of Police for this community. The fact that he gets bull rushed by the Mayor and Selectmen about closing the beaches a second time, shows that he is not the one ultimately responsible, but he shoulders that burden anyway.
His wife Ellen, tells Hooper about Martin’s fear of the water and dislike of being on the ocean. It takes an act of courage, fueled by his own guilt, to get Brody onto the Orca and to join the fight to end the shark. Once on the boat, Brody is made a figure of ridicule by both Hooper and Quint. Their jabs are subtle, sometimes condescending, but all of them are attempts to assert dominance in the triumvirate that is on this odyssey. Martin is the realist, who believes they are outmatched when he sees the shark and utters the famous line from the film. Some might see it as cowardice, Quint certainly does, but it turns out he was entirely correct. The good man, who is not blinded by his fear from thirty years earlier, or by the intellectual superiority that Hooper assumes, is the one who had the best advice, and he was ignored because of the other two men’s assumptions.
I have seen this film well over a hundred times, and every experience bring satisfaction. Sometimes it is for the inventiveness of the director, sometimes I am awed by an actor’s performance, occasionally I marvel at a technical achievement. This time, it is the spine of the script that I was noticing the most. Chief Brody is the glue that holds the film together. He is an average family man faced with extraordinary circumstances. We watch him get out of bed, struggle with mundane issues like feeding the dogs and chastising his kids, before he gets slapped in the face with the remains of Chrissie Watkins. He finds the fortitude to try to do what is right. he defers to authority when it is necessary, and defies authority when it is clear that someone else has to act.
Roy Scheider’s Chief is the odd man out on the Orca. Both Quint and Hooper are experienced sailors. Maybe their experiences are different, but they are comfortable on the water. We know Brody is not. Quint is Ahab, chasing the White Whale. Hooper is an academic, determined to prove his superiority to the old fashioned ways of the senior fisherman. Brody just wants to kill the shark, however it can be done. It is his responsibility to take care of the extended family of the Amity Community. He is not trying to prove himself or impress anyone, he just wants to get her done.
I have written about Scheider’s performance before. He is excellent in this film, but Dreyfuss gets the funny lines and Shaw has the mic drop moment in the film. Brody is the everyday hero that a family and a town need.