We have grown desensitized to death in our film, television, and gaming diet. Life is often cheap in entertainment. But sometimes the creators in media find a way to make a connection that goes beyond the norm and makes us truly feel. In this column, we share the deaths that hurt the most. The ones that stick with us long after they’ve moved past our eyes. Today we mourn the loss of Quint from Jaws.
Previously: Lane Pryce from Mad Men
Jaws is a masterpiece. There is no film like it in history. It’s a movie that is as effective, funny, thrilling, and powerful today as it was forty years ago. And it has no right being so. The pacing is considerably slower than any of the films in release nowadays. The special effects that were poorly executed when the film was released are absolutely abominable today. Even Steven Spielberg has lost some of the brand recognition that made him a juggernaut for decades. Jaws could have easily faded into nostalgia.
One of the key elements in allowing the film to persevere is the transcendent filmmaking and music that is so iconic but at the end of the day, it’s the trio of main characters that have allowed the film to be timeless. Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider are the fun and attractive leading men but it’s Robert Shaw‘s Quint and his unfortunate death that is the glue that holds the recipe together.
Quint is a character who has dodged death before. In one of the film’s signature scenes the man tells the story of the USS Indianapolis and the tragedy which cost so many men their lives. A gruff and temperamental man, Quint is the least outwardly likable of the trio with his tantrums and standoffishness. His death also serves the story at its most fundamental level. It forces the hand of the passive and less experienced combatants against their aquatic adversary. Quint should kill the shark. It’s what he’s built to do but his pride gets the best of him and it becomes clear that the shark in Jaws is a cut above the average great white. The movie isn’t a classic if there’s no sacrifice. But Quint is one of the last old-school greats and it’s tough to see him go.
Think about Quint a moment. He has a rather small amount of screen time in the grand scheme of things. His first appearance in the film is like nails on a chalkboard. Literally. He has an awful temper that in many ways directly leads to his own demise. Written or portrayed poorly Quint would be a character audiences rooted for the death of. Instead, the moment that the proud and strong man loses his life is a draining one. Robert Shaw made a living as a man’s man. Hard men. Men of action and grit. Quint is the distillation of a career of seminal performances. His balance of grumpy and determined allowed Quint to be lovable. It made the audience able to enjoy Richard Dreyfuss and his eccentricity. It allowed the viewer to identify with Roy Scheider’s journey through paranoia and real-life danger. Quint was the glue holding it all together.
When the salty sailor becomes Bruce the Shark’s latest meal, the air is sucked from Jaws. In a really effective way. Robert Shaw’s work not only makes Quint the film’s only truly believable adversary for the shark but he also serves as the catalyst to his compatriots’ eventual rise. It’s quintessential [intentional pun] Hero’s Journey stuff. Jaws is a crackerjack story. The structure is very singular and the film serves a terrific guideline to building an effective thriller. Every cog in the machine is vital. Quint is one of them and his death not only executes an important part of the film’s design but also makes a very visceral and emotional impact on the audience.
Rest in piece, old man.