There are some things in life that just scream “dad.” Corny jokes. Getting excited to change the factory settings on a TV. Complaining about the air conditioning. Grills. But there’s one truly excellent movie that fits that specific bill, a film so revolutionary its status as being part of the Dad Hall of Fame has been ignored. On Jaws‘ 45th anniversary it’s time to acknowledge that Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece is the pinnacle of the dad movie.
It’s not Martin Brody’s (Roy Scheider) superb parenting skills that makes Jaws a dad flick, though he is this movie’s only known dad. Jaws, in fact, completely fails to address what kind of a father Brody is. No, being a dad movie goes far beyond even having children. It’s the embodiment of that primal parental instinct to protect with a ton of well worn fatherly tropes thrown in for good measure.
The central conflict of Jaws absolutely captures a sort of parental ethos. That’s because at its core Jaws is solely about protection. There’s a giant threat, in this case a man-eating shark, terrorizing a man’s home, Amity Island. For whatever reason it’s up to one man, police chief Martin Brody, to put an end to this threat and save his home and by extension his family. All of that harkens back to cavemen-era tropes. Beast attacks family. Man kills beast. Man is good.
It’s also the way this primal story is told that cements it in dad lore. There’s nothing clean or sophisticated about these men’s battle with their shark foe. Everything from their boats and spears down to their clothes looks worn and frayed. Even Hooper’s marine biologist gear looks weathered and his reliance on science is often played off as a joke. Brody, Hopper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Quint (Robert Shaw) are three men battling nature and the elements, and they look like it.
Then there are the small details. Quint facing off against Hopper by crushing his cheap beer? The grim humor behind the iconic line “You’re going to need a bigger boat”? Quint and Hooper gleefully comparing the scars they got while doing progressively stupider things? That’s all dad.
And who can forget how this trio finally kills the beast? Jaws doesn’t die from a spear gun or by eating some poisoned meat or in captivity after being captured. It’s literally blown to bits while Brody’s fighting for his life aboard a sinking ship. Dads have long been mocked for their love of unnecessary cinematic explosions, but Jaws contains one of the few necessary and deeply graphic ones. And it’s awesome.
This weekend you have the rare opportunity to shoot two sharks in the face with one bullet. You can celebrate one of the greatest films ever created on its historic birthday AND you can spend some quality time with your own personal Brody. Happy birthday, Jaws. You could still pass as a minnow.