JAWS (1975), Jeremiah, and the Futility of Warning Others
NOTE: Originally published in The Monster Gospels (2017). Photos added.
“You're going to need a bigger boat.”
Distributor: Universal Studios
Producers: Richard D. Zanuck, David Brown
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, based on the novel by Peter Benchley
Runtime: 124 minutes
Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 7:12-28
In an era when we have to stick sharks in tornadoes just to keep them interesting, it can be hard to remember the beautiful simplicity of this film. Jaws was a massive hit, making $470 million against a $9 million budget. The film spawned a number of sequels, each infamously worse than the one before, as well as an entire sub-genre of shark-attack horror films. I also wonder if Discovery Channel's annual Shark Week owes some debt of gratitude to Jaws. Still, my favorite byproduct of Jaws isn't a movie or show, but rather the ride at Universal Studios.
I vividly remember the first time I rode Jaws. It was around dusk as I stood in line, and it was night when I disembarked, giving the feeling of having gone on a more epic adventure. It was sadly shut down a few years back to make way for an expansion of Universal Studio's Harry Potter section. Granted, the Potter attractions are great and worth checking out if you are a fan, but I still miss Jaws. It joins Back to the Future and Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Theme Park Heaven as rides I reminisce over. Universal's rides are interactive. Although most rely on video, in the early days the employee running the attraction would be a character, navigating riders through their experience. Jaws starts out as a tour of Amity, with our “captain” giving us the thrilling recount of what transpired in the film. The boat is targeted by a persistent great white who pops up throughout the ride but is set ablaze by our host. Jaws makes one final leap from the water, charred, before gurgling into the icy depths.
I had never been so close to such an intense fire as I was the first time I rode Jaws, and it genuinely terrified me. Then, when Jaws made his final appearance, he was right by my seat! I was startled at first, but then bothered to see wads of gum all over his snout, having been stuck there by riders past. Not too unlike the people of Amity Island, the patrons of Jaws: The Ride didn't take him seriously, treating him like a friendly beast rather than a “perfect engine” of killing.
The attitude of those riders is an apt metaphor for the film. Amity Island depends on its 4th of July tourists to keep its businesses solvent for the year. Chief Brody wants to shut the beach down, but Mayor Vaughn will have none of it. Ironically, even though the beach remains open, no one wants to get into the water. Mayor Vaughn coaxes someone to get in, inspiring others, and, of course, chaos ensues. If I had one complaint about the movie it would be that Mayor Vaughn never gets any comeuppance. He acknowledges to Brody that his children were on the beach and could have been killed, but that hardly gives any catharsis at the end of the movie, which just sort of stops as soon as the shark is slayed. Much of the film's drama comes from the mayor's unwillingness to heed Brody's warnings and the catastrophes that result from his hardheartedness. I wanted closure as an audience member, but that isn't always how things work out. People don't always listen, nor do they always admit to the error of their ways, even after everything goes wrong.
In Jeremiah 7:12-28, God gives Jeremiah an indictment against Israel and tells the weeping prophet everything He wants him to say to them but adds that they aren't going to listen or change. The message of the book is obedience; our willingness to do the right thing even when we know that nothing good will come of it. While Chief Brody repeatedly (and fruitlessly) warns Mayor Vaughn, I think of Jeremiah and his pointless quest. Like Jeremiah, we find ourselves in Brody's position when we caution others about the sharks of life, knowing that they'll go swimming anyway. That doesn't get us off the hook from warning them, though.
As with the passengers of the Jaws ride, we can be so cocky that we wad gum on the snouts of the monsters that hunt us and lose sight of their power to harm us. That's the flip side; sometimes we are Brody, warning people not to go into the water, but sometimes we're the ones racing out to sea and ignoring a Brody of our own. We might not need a bigger boat for the “Jaws” of our lives, but we need bigger hearts for one another's folly, and we can take comfort in knowing that God has big enough grace to keep us all afloat.
- Describe a lesson you learned from not taking advice.
- Has someone ever not taken your advice only to regret it?
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A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.