Aug 15, 2012

Jaws and Gay Romance

In 1975, I was too young to see Jaws. I saw it anyway.  All of my friends told me that it was terrifying -- and it was -- but no one mentioned the sizzling intensity of the attraction between police chief Martin Brody (43-year old Roy Scheider, veteran of many two-fisted shirtless roles):

And grad student shark expert Matt Hooper (27 year old Richard Dreyfuss, fresh from playing a high schooler in American Graffiti). 

Gruff Brody hates his small town by the ocean, and citified Hooper doesn't fit in among his intellectual grad student peers.  At their first meeting, Brody and Hooper feel an instant affinity: both are using the sea to escape from themselves. Later, Brody returns to his house, feeling guilty because he has not warned people adequately about the shark attacks. His wife tries to console him, but then Hooper arrives with bottles of wine in hand and asks, with compassion, “How was your day?” The wife, increasingly ignored as they seek solace with each other, butts out. 

For the next few days, Brody and Hooper are inseparable. They dissect a shark; they take a moonlit cruise in search of a lost ship; and they hire a sailor named Quint to help them seek out the killer shark. Hooper’s expertise is superfluous once Quint is on the case; but he stays at Brody’s side anyway, even though it means skipping a glorious eighteen-month long shark-study expedition that he has long desired. 

They sail out into the ocean and find the mad super-shark, and Hooper decides to descend in a shark-proof cage and shoot it. He gives Brody his glasses to hold, and since his hands are occupied, Brody puts them in his mouth. The gesture is amazingly intimate. 

The shark bites through the cage and attacks Hooper, who floats to the sea bottom, apparently dead. Then it eats Quint, and almost eats Brody, but he manages to fire his gun at an air canister it is chomping, exploding it. 

The original Peter Benchley novel is over, but the movie isn’t. As Brody floats, alone and heartbroken, clinging to the wreckage of the ship, Hooper reappears, unharmed. He swims over and places his arm atop Brody’s and smiles. It is their first deliberate touch, aching with joy and desire.

When the credits started to roll, I knew that the story was just beginning. Brody had found his redemption in Hooper’s smile, and Hooper had found a home in Brody’s arms.