A hot summer in a small island town called Amity gets upset by the arrival of an oversized killer shark. The local police chief, a marine biologist and a wayward fisherman join forces to bring it down.


“The great fish moved silently through the night water...”

Opening line of the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley1


“We can be bitten by a spider. Stung by a jellyfish. Mauled by a bear. Gored by a bul. Constricted by a python. Trampled by an elephant. Eaten by a shark. Only through the shark’s jaws is the other side visible – the actual place where the victim will be moving to. It is a topological description of the after-life. You can be swallowed by a whale and still live. But the shark’s jaws are the physical gates to the next world. A portal at which you stare and stare to discern the other side of life. It’s the one thing that asks you to puzzle it out, compelling a question to which you will never living know the answer. [...] Right before our eyes Spielberg is inventing the almost aggressive purposelessness of his ‘Indiana Jones mode’. Jaws is perhaps the most totally comprehensive thriller ever made – sheer exhilaration at lacking an agenda or a subject in any classical dramatic sense. The film is sometimes nothing more than a dance to music. Spielberg never meant anything really. But neither did Fred Astaire.”

Antonia Quirke2


“After all of the shark-establishing and curtain-raising scenes, the heart of the movie is in the long passage at sea, where Hooper and Brody (who is afraid of the water) join Quint on his boat. Brody is right, they need a bigger boat. Quint's boat is terrifyingly inadequate, leaky, with an engine that produces clouds of black smoke, a bridge that seems designed to topple a crew member overboard, and a harpooning platform jutting out from the bow so that a man standing on it looks like an appetizer on a kebab stick. [...] When the shark does appear for its closeups, it is quite satisfactorily terrifying, and most audiences are too startled to ask why the shark seems prepared to inconvenience itself so greatly, at one point even attempting to eat the boat.”

Roger Ebert3  


« Dans Jaws tout est corps, c'est-à-dire sac. Voire sac-poubelle. Un dedans et un dehors, un dehors qui enferme un dedans (son principe vital). Au regard des dents de la mer, les différences s’abolissent entre un homme, un chien, un matelas pneumatique, un bateau à moteur, une bouteille d'oxygène. Comme le requin lui-méme n’échappe pas à la règle, comme il est fait lui aussi comme un sac, il est mortel. The Birds (1963) de Hitchcock étaient autrement plus redoutables. Cependant, cette obsession du corps comme un sac ou comme une boite (soit la plus simple expression de l'imaginaire) appelle une remarque; l’horreur, c’est que le corps soit ouvert. La gueule béante du requin presentifie cette horreur sur le mode dramatique, et l’on ne manquera pas d’évoquer à cet égard le vagin denté, la castration, etc. (voir le récit de Quint : il vous fixe d'un œil mort, puis, quand il vous happe, il fait les yeux blancs, etc.). Plus intéres­sant, plus significatif cependant me semble ce que cristallise la figure de l’océanographe : à savoir l’obsession – horreur et désir mêlés – de voir ce qui se trouve à l’intérieur. A l'intérieur de quoi? Du corps, c’est-à-dire ici, donc, de n'importe quoi; ça commence par les débris humains dans l’espèce de bac à glace de la morgue, puis le cadavre du pécheur dans son bateau crevé, les dé­ chets hétéroclites dans l'estomac du premier requin, enfin le requin lui-méme comme ce qui se cache sous la surface de la mer. Compulsion de voir l’innom­mable, de faire sortir la puanteur des mauvais objets internes. C’est ainsi que le chasseur de requins et l'océanographe sont complémentaires, et forment un ta­bleau cohérent de la névrose sociale de notre époque, et spécialement de l'américiane: la paranoïa du premier coiffe et guide la névrose obsessionnelle du second, paranoïa et névrose obsessionnelle dont le léger excès est corrigé et normativé par la figure du flic, l’Américain moyen. Histoire d’hommes, bien sûr, et d'homosexualité œdipienne de groupe: voir la séquence de l’exhibition mutuelle des cicatrices, les sérieuses, du chasseur et de l'océanographe, et celle dérisoire, mais si sympathique et humaine, de l'appendicite du flic (degré zéro de la scarification symbolique). Qu’est-ce qu'elles signent, ces cicatrices, plaies refermées et intégrées à la mémoire du corps, dans cette séquence de tendresse virile dont l’effet spéculaire est garanti dans la salle? La chaude appartenance à la tribu humaine, c'est-à-dire horsexe. »

Pascal Bonitzer4


“What can scare more than three hundred thousands spectators in one week? And what can reassure them? The mise en scène of violence which, as Alain Bergala rightly points out ‘guarantees the precise conditions of the spectator’s pleasure and his subsequent adhesion to any form of counter-violence.’  

This is the same old shout of ‘I only want to see one head in the rank!’ Nothing must stain: one body (military or social), full, sleek, homogenous. A body that can be compared to a circle closing on itself – except in one place where there is a gap. This place is where the shark comes forward: the shark is what Lacan calls the obturator, the a object. Who is the shark? Nothing more than the actualisation – from a hallucination – that there is something rotten inside which attracts the fish.

[...] A normative imaginary, which must be staged, simply. It means shooting (events, extras) from two – and only two – points of views: the hunter’s and the hunted’s. There is no other point of view (spatial, moral, political), no other place for the camera, and therefore for the spectator, than this double position. We talk lightly of ‘identification’ in cinema if we haven’t seen that in these types of movies, it is identification to the hunted/hunter couple, with speculative oscillation, bypassing of knowledge and point of view, loss of any reference, getting under the other’s grey skin, and in a word: everything that leads to a total irresponsibility. Flapping between these two points of views, the camera is with the swimming child for whom the shark is only a dark rectangle, and it is with the shark is in the next frame, for whom the child’s leg is only what stands out from the surface of the water.”

Serge Daney5

 Photograph taken on the set of Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

  • 1Peter Benchley, Jaws (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1974) 
  • 2Antonia Quirke, Jaws (London: British Film Institute, 2002), 69-83.
  • 3Roger Ebert, “Jaws,” Rogerebert.com, 20 August, 2000.
  • 4Pascal Bonitzer, « L’écran du fantasme (2) (Jaws), » Cahiers du cinéma, Mars 1976.
  • 5Serge Daney, “Grey Matter - Jaws by S. Spielberg,” Serge Daney in English, 15 October 2006. Originally published in Cahiers du cinéma, nr. 265, March 1976.
UPDATED ON 28.06.2021