Shark City Sacrifice: A Girardian reading of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, https://3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2022/02/shark-city-sacrifice-a-girardian-reading-of-steven-spielbergs-jaws.html
As the title suggests, it is a revision of my original post – a different, tighter, ending, a sharp observation in the middle, and a revised order.
But am I finished? I like the 3QD piece. I think it’s better than my original post. Does it fully satisfy my curiosity, my interest, in Jaws? I don’t think so, but I have no specific plans to continuing working on the film. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.
The problem: death in a pattern
What I’m seeding to understand is a pattern. Let’s say the pattern has three elements: 1) the film has two distinct parts (one set in Amity, the other on the ocean), 2) an obsessive shark hunter, 3) who is killed by a shark in the second part. For lack of a better term, let’s say that pattern is sacrifice, where sacrifice is understood as a kind of religious ritual. This is where Girard comes in, as he is a theorist of religious sacrifice.
The problem, of course, is that there is no explicit religious ritual in Jaws. Rather, I’m reading it that way. Critics do this kind of thing all the time. What authorizes it? The pattern, no?
Jaws the film is also very much about death. Death came come as the natural end of a life well-lived; the body just wears out and one dies. But that’s not what happens in Jaws. The deaths in the first part are unexpected and brutal and happen in youth and middle age. They are “answered” by two deaths in the second part, both brutal. The shark kills Quint, Brody kills the shark. The pattern in the previous paragraph is organized around these deaths.
Quint shows up in the first part, abrasive, arrogant, but offering to kill the shark, for a price. He’s made his living hunting sharks, and everyone knows it. He’s identified with and obsessed by them. There is thus a coherence, an order, in the second part when the shark kills him and is, in turn, killed by the Chief. This is in stark contrast to the four deaths in the first part, which exhibit no human logic.
And so forth and so on. I could continue in this way and so once again work through the whole argument. I can see little point in doing that now. Perhaps I would fare better if I took some time to build some conceptual apparatus. But what would that apparatus be?
What of religion?
Here’s the original 1975 trailer for Jaws:
This is the opening voiceover:
There is a creature alive today, who has survived millions of years of evolution, without change, without passion, and without logic. It lives to kill, a mindless eating machine, it will attack, and devour, anything. It is as if God created the devil, and gave him, JAWS.
I don’t recall God being mentioned in the film at all. How’d God make it into the trailer? I suppose it’s nothing more than a conventionalized gesture, but still, it’s there. What of the reference to “millions of years of evolution”? The reference is secular, but it evokes a context stretching far beyond the small town of Amity. The shark, those JAWS, is not merely a hungry animal. It is a force of Nature.
Spielberg is pushing beyond the bounds of naturalistic realism, as he would do two years later in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and then again in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Why? What need does he thereby satisfy? Whatever it is, that’s what underlies the sacrificial plot in Jaws.