The Movie “Jaws” Is a Miniature Version of Our Pandemic

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My wife and I were waiting in line at our pharmacy recently when I picked up and began perusing a special edition publication about the 45th anniversary of the movie Jaws. As I leafed through it, I recalled watching the film as a 24-year-old in 1975, and I realized that the film’s major conflict is eerily similar to what we are facing today. For just as the Great White Shark invaded and terrorized the fictional island of Amity, we, too, are dealing with the Coronavirus invasion and the tensions that go along with it.

The cinematic invasion occurs at the beginning of summer when a female college student disappears, and the remains of her body wash up on shore. The human conflict begins at that point because no one really wants to admit that a shark attack has occurred. After all, this island community relies on the summer tourist dollars, and nothing like this has ever happened before. So even though the early evidence indicates a shark is nearby, the girl’s death is recorded as a “boating accident.” Similarly, the United States had not seen a serious influenza invasion for over a century, so those in charge were either unprepared or reluctant to “close the beaches,” so to speak.

In the film, the police chief and the mayor have to make the difficult decisions just as our president and our governors had to do the same. They had to weigh the scientific evidence of the physical danger to the community against the financial dangers of a shuttered economy. Police Chief Brody (played by Roy Scheider) initially agrees to keep the beaches open, but when subsequent attacks and deaths occur, he is forced to stand up to Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) and all the business people, and Brody not only prevents anyone from going into the water, but he also pressures the mayor to pay for a cure: Quint (Robert Shaw), the experienced shark hunter who wants $10,000 for the task.

The second half of Jaws occurs in deep ocean waters as Brody, Quint, and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), a shark expert from the Oceanographic Institute on the mainland, try to eliminate the beast. Today, too, those in charge are doing their best to solve the health problem while minimizing the economic repercussions. In the midst of this tug of war, it’s easy to argue for both sides and either claim victory or assess blame. Until this new Great White is completely eliminated, however, and we return to a certain level of normalcy, no one will be able to say for sure whether we handled this viral attack expeditiously and efficiently.

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