Animal Attack Movies: Jaws

Survivors of the USS Indianapolis

Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)


This movie dips into history for two important shark incidents. One is the New Jersey attacks of 1916. Five people were killed in a few days that summer, at least three of them by the same shark. Commentators at the time theorized that the shark was a “rogue,” because in less enlightened times, all animals that attacked humans were considered aberrations. The movie borrows that theory, and adds the notion of territorial defense to the shark’s motives. (Nobody buys those motives anymore.) The other bit of history in Jaws is the sinking of the Indianapolis, the ship that delivered the components of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Sharks devoured hundreds of men as they waited for rescue. In a famous monologue, Robert Shaw’s character recounts that incident: “You hear the terrible high-pitched screaming. The ocean turns red.” The movie also owes a lot to Moby-Dick, the greatest animal attack novel, which was itself based on the true story of the whaler Essex, destroyed by a sperm whale. The survivors drifted away in life boats, eventually resorting to cannibalism. 

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