I saw the Jaws restoration on the big screen this weekend, and naturally, it was dazzling. So many little details and nuances lept out at me anew. One scene in particular though, which has been remarked upon many times as a neat piece of character shading, reminded me of a scene in Steven Spielberg’s later adventure classic, Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) has reluctantly, passively, heeded the Mayor and town council’s requests to keep the beaches of Amity Island open for the tourist season, despite his reservations. The coroner has obfuscated his opinion on the possible death of teenage skinny dipper Chrissie Watkins, and because of this clusterfuck, young Alex Kintner (and a dog, don’t forget the dog!) has been gruesomely attacked and killed in the shallow waters by the same great white shark that killed the girl. After being shamed by a face slap from the boy’s grieving mother on the dock in front of a tasteless carnival of shark hunters and their potential suspect, the crowd disperse, and Brody trudges away.
At the dinner table that night, he sits deep in thought, ruminating on his guilt at allowing the boy to die needlessly. Slowly, he becomes aware of his youngest son mimicking his hands wiping his face. He steeples his fingers, the boy does too. As they pull faces at each other, he is drawn out of his black pit somewhat. When Oceanographer Cooper (Richard Dreyfuss) turns up with two bottles of wine (one white, one red – “I didn’t know what you were having”) and discusses the only way to be sure they’ve got the right shark, Brody is galvanised into action. They go down to the dock and cut the shark open to examine the contents of its stomach for human remains.
In Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Indy believes Marion has died inadvertently at his hand, blown up in the truck the Nazi agents bundled her into in Cairo. Full of guilt, he takes a bottle to the local tavern, drowning his sorrows, whereupon his nemesis, rival archaeologist in Nazi employ, Rene Belloq, turns up and taunts him. Belloq twists the knife, suggesting they are but mere shadows of each other, and the Ark of the Covenant is all that matters, and Indy knows it. “It’s a radio for speaking to God!” Belloq exclaims, with a messianic intensity. Indy seems to rouse from his torpor. “You want to speak to God? Let’s go together, I’ve got nothing better to do!” Before the massed bought sympathisers can drill him full of lead, a gaggle of street urchins and Sallah’s children rush in and sweep Indy away to safety. At this point still believing Marion to be dead, he shakes off the self pity and focuses on the task ahead – Sallah has found someone who can examine and interpret the markings on the staff of Ra headpiece.
I find this connection interesting, because Brody is Spielberg’s proto – everyman. He isn’t supercop, he moved his family to Amity to escape the crime and pollution of New York. He expected a quiet beat, and is at first easily cowtowed by the town council. In a sense, with the combination of Cooper and lusty sea dog Quint (Robert Shaw), the straw man finds his brains, brawn, and heart, culminating in taking down the Bruce, I mean beast, face to fin.
Indiana Jones was written as a more proactive hero, though always in over his head, surviving by the skin of his teeth. Here both are saved somewhat by the actions of children. Indy has a more cautious mentor, a fellow professor at his university – another Brody (Denholm Elliott). Coincidence?