Sunday 3 May 2009

The moment Chief Brody changes.

I was watching 'Jaws' (Spielberg, 1975) and the brilliance of these few scenes hit me in a way it hadn't before. It's a masterclass in acting from Roy Scheider and subtle directing from Steven Spielberg.

It's the moment in the film where Chief Brody really realises the gravity of the situation he's in. In the moments leading up to these scenes he is elated when the fisherman have brought in a shark - which he is of course convinced is the killer. And then he is confronted by the woman whose son was killed.

"I just found out that the girl got killed here last week. And you knew it. You knew there was a shark out there.. you knew it was dangerous, but you let people go swimming anyway. You knew all those things... but still my boy is dead now."

The minute she speaks - you can see the guilt in Brody's eyes. He doesn't have to say a word. In fact, his face barely moves -- but you can feel the weight of the situation and the guilt he is carrying.

"Come here, give 'us a kiss."
"Cause I need it."

In the next scene he is having a personal, touching moment with his son. He barely says a word. He feels responsible for the death of the little boy - yet here is he now with his safe and healthy son next to him. Again, Scheider barely does a thing; it's all in the eyes.

"Martin hates boats. Martin hates water. Martin... Martin sits in his car when we go on the ferry to the mainland. I guess it's a childhood thing. It's a... there's a clinical name for it isn't there?

When Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) turns up, Brody is just quietly amused. The occasional wry, painful smile. As Hooper talks to Brody's wife he just sits there between them, mulling a million things over in his head.

He pours himself a large glass of wine before giving a small glass to his wife and to Hooper. Up until this point, he's hardly said a thing. As Ellen, his wife, tries to think of the word for his fear of water; Brody jumps in with "drowning," before going in to a very specific question about sharks, which he directs at Hooper.

In these few minutes alone we see Brody's character and purpose completely change. It's a change that informs the rest of the film. Suddenly, the man who has been afraid of water all his life takes to the water without complaint. He has a job to do, it's the only way he's going to beat the guilt that's building up inside of him.

Incredible filmmaking from Spielberg, with heartbreaking music from John Williams. But most of all - Roy Scheider lays himself bare in these scenes-- what he does with his eyes and only minimal dialogue is incredible.

Care to share?


  1. Good analysis. Very true!

  2. I love that movie. My favorite part is when they trade scars.

  3. I agree, it's a masterpiece, I like the scar trading scene too and I think Roy Scheider was one of the most undeservedly, under-rated actors of his time.

    BTW love your header comment, James Stewart and Jack Lemmon are two of my favourites too, I adore old films anyway and I can watch "Harvey", "It's a Wonderful Life", "The Apartment" and "Bell, Book & Candle" over and over and over again :)

  4. "In these few minutes alone we see Brody's character and purpose completely change. It's a change that informs the rest of the film. Suddenly, the man who has been afraid of water all his life takes to the water without complaint."

    I have to disagree - Chief Brody says in the next scene that he's "not drunk enough to go out there in a boat!...I can't do that!"

    The scene where he changes is after his son Michael has been menaced by the shark. His look out to sea after draping blankets over his son who is in shock is one of a man realising that this is personal. In the very next scene at the hospital when he's talking with Mayor Vaughn - compare that with their earlier interactions when, one-on-one, Brody doesn't put up much of a fight - now THAT is a complete change of character and purpose that informs the rest of the film!

  5. The face slap was the beginning of Brody's change. The guilt was palpable, but I agree with Ivan that it truly became personal after his son was endangered. That's the beauty of the character arc, though. We can identify the first instance when Brody felt personally involved, and the first moment when that involvement became personal on a familial level. The father acknowledging for the first time that his own children are at risk. As for the headline statement of "Kid In the Front Row," I also have no patience for superhero movies. My lament is that horror and sci-fi too often dismiss character development so they can spend more time having the hero or heroine doing moronic, unrealistic stunts that have become increasingly boring.