You can't blame a father for wanting his son to watch the movies he fell in love with growing up.
Only rewatching one cherished favorite taught me how movies once portrayed masculinity. Suddenly, this was much more than a father-son moment.
My oldest son is all of seven years old, but I couldn’t wait any longer to introduce him to “Jaws.” It’s that rare, perfect film. How often can you say that and truly mean it?
The film works best in the summer months, when you can feel the heat on your skin.
My late Dad, who made me a movie critic, adored it. We watched it together over and again. It never gets old. Great art endures.
The film is technically rated PG, which meant my wife wouldn’t give me grief for letting Eli see it. To be fair, the movie’s signature scares felt R-rated to this awestruck dad.
Man, did director Steven Spielberg deliver in just his second feature film.
A Boy and His Shark
Young Eli loved it, of course, even if he recoiled when that disembodied head came rushing out of the sunken boat. Years ago, I took my future wife to see “Jaws” in a rare theatrical setting. She literally screamed during that sequence.
Like mother, like son.
Eli didn’t flinch the rest of the way. He laughed when the shark hunters compared scars and sat bolt upright when Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) dropped his weapon in the metal cage.
I’m sure we’ll watch it again, and again when he’s older. He couldn’t fully appreciate the filmmaking, the cinematography and the way the script captured those moments that make the thrills pop.
“I got no spit,” Hooper says, goggles in hand, as he prepares to meet the shark in its element. That’s movie poetry.
“Jaws” may have set the template for future summer movies. It’s still the gold standard 40-plus years later.
Only I noticed something beyond the chills and John Williams’ iconic score while watching it with my son. “Jaws” zooms in on masculinity at its near-molecular level.
Robert Shaw’s Quint is the prototypical Alpha Male. He’s in charge, and he lets you know it. He’s full of bluster, a hunter who revels in the chase and the wounds they leave behind. He’ll risk his life to prove he’s right. It’s why he takes a bat to the boat’s communication system.
He’ll die before he asks for help.
Roy Scheider’s Sheriff Brody isn’t nearly as gruff. He’s a former Big Apple cop who chose a cushier island gig. He’s afraid of the water and doesn’t feel the need to stick out his chest to compensate.
He’ll save the day all the same, even if it means swallowing every fear he could imagine during one fateful trip.
And then there’s Hooper, the bearded oceanographer. He’s got “city hands,” as Quint cracks. He’s soft. Rich. Spoiled. There’s ice in his veins all the same. Would you take a dunk in a shark cage with that beastie lurking nearby?
Didn’t think so.
Three characters. Three very different portraits of what it means to be a man.
My son didn’t mention any of that while we watched the movie. He gently cheered on the shark when Quint couldn’t scramble out of its way.
“He’s a jerk,” was all Eli would say after Quint disappeared into the water. That might have been his way of processing the awful exit. Yeah, he was a jerk. But he lived life on his own terms. I bet Eli will consider that when we watch the movie again years later.
For now, it’s not fair to ask a child to glean more than a visceral reaction to “Jaws.” It’s all emotions – fear, sympathy and relief when Brody fires off that one last round.
FAST FACT: Adjusted for inflation, 1975’s “Jaws” earned $1.1 billion at the U.S. box office.
I could have shielded Eli from “Jaws” for a few more years. I’m glad I didn’t. Masculinity is on the decline in our culture. Now, we get to pick the gender with which we identify. Major newspapers blame machismo for global warming.
Who knows what we can expect from the culture by the time Eli reaches 15 … or even 10?
Forging New Memories
For now, he’ll have his memories of “Jaws” as a guidepost. On some level he understood why Brody matters, how brave Hooper was facing almost certain death.
“Jaws” is much more than a summer movie benchmark. And watching it with my son proved far more than just another night spent together on the couch.