We’ve all seen it, and if we haven’t seen it, we’re aware of it. That’s the power of influential movies. We all remember Spielberg’s use of the dolly zoom, Roy Scheider’s look of terror and dread, and the sound of people screaming…and little Alex being pulled from his yellow lilo in a great splash of water and a cloud of red blood. And of someone shouting “shark!”
“Jaws” (1975) changed our view of cinema, of movies, of storytelling.
Seemingly, it didn’t influence us enough, I realised last year.
What if, in the above famous scene, and with just a few tweaks to setting and cinematography, that man had yelled “Coronavirus!”
It’s shockingly allegorical. I’ve seen the movie hundreds of times; it’s one of my favourites. I was gifted Peter Benchley’s book and I sat down to read it a few days into lockdown, merely expecting a re-tread of the film and enjoying the variances between novel and screen (there are several). But just a few pages in, and with the current news batting about in my head like a trapped bumblebee, I start spotting tiny little moments… moments that reminded me of something a politician said, or a member of the public had claimed during an interview. It’s all there: Britain was Amity Island, and the great white shark was the great invisible virus about to wreak havoc across our land of splendid isolation.
Summer was officially only a few months away, and the moment the government suggested ‘lockdown’ there was an uproar. “Oh no,” people were claiming, “that means we won’t get our holiday this year.” True, I’m afraid – but rather your holiday or your life, not to mention the lives of other people more vulnerable than yourself?
We closed our beaches. The shark had already eaten too many people in china earlier in the year and was currently chewing its way through Italy. We had to do something to protect ourselves. So everybody was confined to their homes and local area, forbidden contact with more than a considered few, and the UK fell silent. Nature took a deep breath of fresh air.
At this point in my tenuous analogy we haven’t got to the infamous beach scene. It is just around the corner. For we then opened our beaches despite Officer Brody’s warnings, all because we need our tourism. I understand that, please don’t think me ignorant. But there is a definite line between sense and madness when it comes to enjoying our freedom and blatantly ignoring the signs of danger. I’m on Brody’s side – I’m staying out of the water until I have shark-immunisation or, at least, the shark hasn’t killed anyone for a good few months, letting me believe it’s gone away or lost its virulence.
The moment Boris Johnson said we could, we flooded, LITERALLY, to the beach. And Bournemouth Bay became a seething crowd of idiots. Ill-timed riots and protest marches saw people group together in, not hundreds, but thousands. Is a face mask going to stop anything in that pressure cooker environment?
America was a few chapters ahead. They’ve had the dolly zoom and the red blood splash, the scream and the resentment. If we’re not careful and don’t take heed of Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, and the lessons it was accidentally teaching us FIFTY YEARS AGO…
…then somebody is going to go up to Boris Johnson and slap him so hard his glasses fall off, demanding he take responsibility for the little boy’s death. For reopening the beaches to the public when there was still a thirty foot killer shark on the loose.
Of course, the year came to a close and that’s exactly what did happen. The shark struck again, and now the beaches aren’t being closed, but some are placed on curfew. Everyone is by law asked to wear a mask whilst swimming, and yet still there are public members, colloquially but aptly known as ‘covidiots’ by the media, who flaunt their presence to the circling shark. The problem isn’t their health, but rather the health of those they encounter.
The quest for a shark-hunter, Quint, was well underway, of course – the vaccine in my running analogy – but unfortunately what we really need right now isn’t a Quint, a Hooper or even a Brody– it is a communal sense of common sense.
A commodity currently lacking.
Its been over a year and most people are now vaccinated against my giant allegorical elasmobranch, but the stories will go down in the history books. One, a groundbreaking film about a monster fish, the other an eye-opener for our generation to show nature has teeth. And those teeth sit within jaws that are fed by the stupidity of society.