There are many scenes in ‘Jaws’ that are a contender for my favourite. There’s the beach attack scene containing that amazing ‘dolly zoom’ shot of Sheriff Brody. Then, the first time we see the shark, Bruce (Spielberg’s lawyer inspired nickname for the mechanical shark) rising up from the water below in always its razor-toothed glory. That’s not even mentioning the shooting star, unintentionally captured film.
My favourite scene, however, is far more simple. No clever camera trickery, no celestial happenings, no mechanical man eaters, just 3 men, a boat a fucking great story.
For those not familiar with 'Jaws', what the fuck have you been doing with your life? A Great White terrorises coastal tourist town Amity Island over Fourth of July weekend. With a penny counting mayor unwilling to close the beaches it falls on new Sheriff Martin Brody, marine biologist Matt Hooper and rough, tough, salty sea dog Quint to hunt the water dwelling beast. Whilst Brody, Quint and Hooper bob about in search of the killer shark that’s terrorising Amity, they relax with a drink and a preverbial pissing contest of scar comparisions. Quint reveals a scar that used to be a tattoo, "U.S.S. Indianapolis '45." The mood changes instantly as Hooper recognises the name and Quint remembers everything.
The camera pulls in close on Robert Shaw's Quint, and stays there almost permanently, as he recounts the story with spine tingling horror. A hint of craziness peeks through Quint's voice as he rasps, slurs and mumbles his way through arguably the best monologue committed to screen. The tale of the U.S.S. Indianapolis has the ability to send shivers down the spine of the steeliest of men
and it's all based on a true story.
As an audience we feel the terror, the desperation, the sheer horror felt by the crew of the Indianapolis. We witness the reactions of Brody and the gobsmacked Hooper. Most of all, we get a glimpse past Quint's staring eyes and into his soul, we understand his determination to catch this shark, understand the feeling he holds and the retribution he longs for.
Quint is a remarkable character and interesting from his first scene to his last, but nothing gives more of an insight into the mostly mysterious man than this 4 minutes account of unimaginable terror he and his comrades suffered at the jaws of the beasts.
For all of modern cinemas gloss and shine, for all it's FX and CGI, nothing has ever terrified me as much as one story and three men in a boat. That's why this is my favourite scene, starring my favourite character, from my all time favourite film.
Hooper: You were on the Indianapolis?
Brody: What happened?
Quint: Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte... just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail fin. What we didn't know, was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin', so we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like you see in the calendar named "The Battle of Waterloo" and the idea was: shark comes to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark will go away... but sometimes he wouldn't go away. 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. On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain's mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. He bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon, the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us... he was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened... waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.