Fireworks, Fatherhood, and JAWS

RJ talks about his time-honored family tradition of watching Jaws!

The white screen my father had recently purchased in conjunction with a far too advanced projector was placed about 15 feet from the pool I currently resided in. It was dusk, and the water began to darken to the point where you were unsure what else lurked beside you and most importantly, below you. My father fumbled with this new technology as a caveman would crafting the first wheel, but after a few choice swears under his breath, it was ready.

The film began innocently enough with scenes of a bonfire and two young lovers racing off for a moonlit skinny dip. The companion was too drunk, stumbling to get his pants off, a surefire sign the night would probably end disappointingly regardless of our fearless females’ future adventure into the water. She dove in and made her way toward the distant buoy when arguably the most recognizable two notes played, duh-nuh…duh-nuh. Building slowly and then into a frenzy, the music was in line with the anticipated attack as her body bobbed up and down. Looking out for any savior, and screaming to her already incapacitated beach lover, we witnessed this woman be yanked through the water easily by her tormentor below. As quickly as the struggle began, it was over; the music had reached its crescendo and our satiated monster disappeared. My chest got tight and the hairs on my leg felt every slight movement in the water below me.

You can never be too sure that a 25-foot Great White shark is not skulking in your father’s 15-foot pool. Trying to hold on to my last vestige of dignity, I toed the bottom of the pool with my float secured around me. All the while wondering, “Do I look like a donut to the ocean’s apex predator?” Luckily, I made it out unscathed. I finished the film in the comfort of a lounge chair with absolute awe and amazement as fireworks began to shoot off in the distance. The date was July 4th and that night unknowingly marked the start of a tradition that I have yet to miss (excluding the pandemic); watching Jaws with my dad.

This year will be my 15th viewing of Jaws on Independence Day, and a tradition I plan on continuing. My love for fireworks, hot dogs, and the occasional summer beer aside, I honestly would rather sit in front of my TV and watch this masterpiece unfold with my dad. My Father said it best when I asked him to be part of this: “Please don’t interview me.” I think even he cannot fully explain the draw of the film, especially during the height of summer.

The movie is essentially two films; one on the island before the hunt and one aboard our heroes’ boat, the ORCA. The first hour of the film builds the shark as a ruthless menace in the water, evidenced by the traumatic devouring a young boy in a raft. As the victims begin to pile up on the shore town of Amity, Police Chief Brody, played effortlessly by Roy Scheider, pleads with local government to close the beaches. As any shore town local would tell you, Summer is the season to make money and unless the shark decides to pay taxes, everything is to remain open thanks to spineless Mayor Vaughn. Is it strikingly familiar seeing a local government clearly ignore the warning signs of something dangerous, yet allow their citizens to carry on without fear for the sake of the economy? Ponder that for a moment. Are we living in Amity?

Apologies for the interlude, but after further urgence from our hunky scientist, Matt Hooper, portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss, Chief Brody tries his best to keep order on the beaches. The Shark, whether it be a scent-based vendetta or pure luck, almost succeeds in attacking Brody’s son, but misses the opportunity. Our team of Hooper and Brody decide to hire intimidating fisherman Quint, the role Robert Shaw was born for; and this unlikely crew take their fateful voyage aboard the Orca to kill the shark once and for all.

Growing up, I saw a lot of similarities between Quint and my father. They both worked long hours and had this gruffness about them that I could never quite pin down. Not to say I was afraid of my father, but just the looks he gave were enough to make me question if I really did finish my homework or if I was just full of shit. The parallels between the two made me look forward to the latter half of the film; when it was Robert Shaw’s time to shine. From his USS Indianapolis speech, which I used as an audition piece at one point, to his smashing of the radio, I simply thought he was the most badass sea captain. It wasn’t until recently that my opinions on such matters started to change.

As you grow older, you start to revisit the films that shaped your childhood and see if they hold up to the test of time. Upon viewing Jaws in 2019, as the film reaches the point where Quint is slowly being eaten and all hope seems lost, I had this strange epiphany. My father was never Quint. I had built my father up as Quint as a means to see my dad as some sea-fairing badass, but that just wasn’t the dad that I had finally gotten the chance to know. The dad who watched me raise my own son, the little boy who now sits between us as the big shark eats the angry man (his words). No, my dad was not Quint. He had always been Brody. The man whom worked just as hard, but also lived for his family and did the absolute insane thing of following this shark out to open water. Not to say my father would board a boat, but I’ve seen my father make more sacrifices for his family than anyone else. 

There is no perfect relationship with any parent. Finding common ground can be a struggle, and luckily, this is where Jaws came in. Even when my patriotism for this country is negligible, when it comes to the 4th, I can always look forward to these two hours with my father where nothing else really matters. When pitching this article, I insisted that Jaws is the greatest 4th of July film of all-time, and while I still stand by that, I also will admit that it is my favorite 4th of July film of all-time. To this day, when I sit down to watch it, I think back to that first time sitting on the float in the pool, and watching my father smile as I made a mad dash to a chair on dry land, because I was too fearful of the non-existent shark possibly swimming by me. Every year after, we still enjoy our Root Beer Floats and laugh at the same parts we have seen dozens of times, including our tandem howl of, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

Some things change, but some things stay the same.

Our annual tradition is coming up soon and after missing last year due to the pandemic, there’s almost nothing more that I’m looking forward to. So, this 4th of July, start a tradition, make a memory, or just do something you love. But don’t forget to check the pool for a shark. 

By RJ Durante

Writer - @ArghRJ

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