Steven Speilberg’s Jaws is an absolute classic. Considered to be the first summer blockbuster, this tale about a killer fish wracked up critical praise while scaring beach goers out of the water for decades. And while many people consider the entire film to be perfect, there is one scene in particular that stands out. Join us as we explore the perfect scene in Speilberg’s Jaws.
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Steven Spielberg’s JAWS is iconic. It’s credited as being the first Summer Blockbuster and is responsible for terrifying generations of beachgoers into staying out of the water. Adapted from the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, JAWS is one of the few movie adaptations that is widely considered to be better than the book it’s based on. The outstanding performances, keen-eyed direction, and a perfect score helped to launch this terrifying tale of a giant shark preying on beachgoers into the cultural phenomenon that it became.
Ironically enough, the film’s best scene doesn’t involve the shark at all. While the film’s best, and most famous one-liners involve the robotic fish, lovingly known as “Bruce”, the PERFECT SCENE involves the film’s three human leads. I’m of course talking about the infamous “Indianapolis Speech Scene.” The scene works so perfectly primarily because of the stellar performances from Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw. Each of them playing characters who are vastly different, but share a common goal. Find, hunt, and kill the shark. It’s a task that proves to be more daunting than any of them could have imagined.
Scheider is Police Chief Brody. He’s a husband and a father. He’s cautious, level-headed, and deathly afraid of the ocean. Not exactly a fear you’d want to have while floating on a small fishing boat with an aggressive great white lurking nearby. Dreyfuss is Hooper, an oceanographer fascinated by sharks and driven by science. Shaw is Quint. A fisherman dead set on bringing the killer fish in himself. He sets a high price for the hunt, but when all others fail to accomplish the task, he wins the job. These three men from different backgrounds set out on Quint’s boat, the Orca, and refuse to return home until the job is done and the beaches are safe once more. It’s on this boat that we get our scene. It’s a scene that was written specifically for the movie and did not take place in the novel.
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In fact, in the novel, the three men returned home each night where they slept safely in their beds before returning to the boat again the next morning. In the movie, the men remain on the boat, day and night. Secluded and wavering from side to side with the motion of the waters below. A constant reminder of where they are and what lurks beneath the surface. It adds a level of tension that the novel lacked. There is no promise of safety each evening. No warm bed and shower waiting for them at sunset. Each night is spent as an unknown. It’s during one of these nights that the three men gather below the deck. In these cramped quarters, they share drinks and stories, bonding and beginning to understand one another in ways that they hadn’t before.
Quint and Hooper sit across from one another, slightly inebriated they begin to compare scars. It starts when Quint tells Hooper to feel a permanent lump on his head that he received from a brawl on Saint Paddy’s Day in Boston. Hooper claims, “I’ve got that beat” before showing a scar on his arm from a Moray Eel Bite. Quint shows one from an arm-wrestling competition and Hooper shows another from Bull Shark scrape. The two laugh as they each try to outdo the other with tales of injuries incurred throughout their vastly different lives. And yet here they bond and share a mutual respect. With each story, the audience understands the characters a bit more. Hooper pulls his shirt down to reveal his chest, claiming to have the biggest scar of all. It’s a light-hearted moment that delivers some amazing backstory.
However, things get a bit more serious when Brody asks Quint about a scar on his arm and Quint reveals it was a tattoo of the USS Indianapolis that he’d had removed. The Indianapolis was a real-life ship of the US Navy. In 1945, while conducting a top-secret mission to deliver parts of a nuclear weapon, the ship was torpedoed by a submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The ship sank within twelve minutes, forcing hundreds of naval seamen to jump into the open ocean where they would remain for four long days and nights. The sinking of the Indianapolis resulted in the greatest loss of life at sea from a single ship in the history of the US Navy. One of the factors for that significant loss of life… Shark attacks.
To film the scene Robert Shaw requested permission to drink alcohol prior to and during filming. His character was intoxicated, after all, and Shaw thought that tossing a few back would loosen him up for the big scene. Steven Spielberg trusted Shaw’s methods. Shaw was a seasoned actor with years of experience on the screen and stage, and Spielberg was a young, up-and-coming filmmaker. Unfortunately, Shaw indulged himself a bit too much. He was so intoxicated that crew members had to carry him onto the boat and prop him in his chair. Unable to deliver his lines, or even stay upright for that matter, filming for the evening was canceled.
Shaw later called Spielberg apologizing profusely and asking for a chance to try the scene again. Sober this time. It’s that second night of filming that we get the amazing performance found in the movie. Shaw’s delivery of his monologue is perfect. Perhaps, the best performance of his long career. Both Chief Brody and Hooper sit silent as Quint recalls his time in the water.
The speech sheds light on what drives Quint. His motives and his resentment of sharks. It makes this quest a deeply personal one for him. His description of a shark’s black, lifeless eyes rolling over to white as it attacks and the waters run red with blood, paints a terrifying vision of the traumatic experience he’s been through. The speech was so impactful that the original plan for Jaws 2 was to make a prequel that focused on Quint and his experience with the USS Indianapolis. This would have been a very different direction for the series. A wartime thriller that focused on actual events with multiple sharks, rather than one singular oversized antagonist.
Of course, that prequel was never made and we instead got three sequels with similar plots and varying qualities. But no other moment from the franchise ever equaled that perfect scene from the original. In a film centered on a monstrous, man-eating shark, one scene shined by focusing on genuine, human connections. The differences of these three men didn’t matter, because deep down… they weren’t that different. In a movie with a runtime of over two hours, these six minutes gave us more character development and background than the rest of the film combined.
Quint didn’t return for any of the sequels, for obvious reasons. But he solidified his place as a fan-favorite character in this now iconic moment. What’s your favorite scene from Jaws? Do you think we picked the perfect Jaws scene? Let us know.