• Joseph Morganti

The Antagonists of JAWS: An Analysis

Jaws is one of the most iconic films in cinema history since its release in 1975. Based on the 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, there hasn’t been a topic of Jaws that hasn’t been discussed before. One of the most popular discussions about the film is Jaws's antagonists, who should handle the entire blame of issues.


Though the apparent conflict antagonist is the shark, it makes for a fascinating discussion to dive into the themes and topics within the film. It’s more than a basic horror film of a killer shake (although the series eventually turned into that). With this in mind, let’s analyze the film's antagonists and what we can learn from it.

Still from 'Jaws'. Photo credit: It's a Stampede


The Shark


Clearly, the simple answer to who the antagonist of Jaws is the shark itself. However, we need to understand that the shark is acting upon his day-to-day business, a rapacious creature on the chase after his lunch and supper. Isn’t it obvious a shark would pursue a free-for-all buffet with the beachgoers as he did in the film?


So yes, the shark is the primary antagonist of Jaws. Still, it’s not as simple as an antagonist from a classic slasher film. Though the shark eventually turns to revenge in Jaws 4, the first Jaws doesn’t have any more resounding theme to that outside of the shark acting on its natural instinct.


I suppose that makes Jaws so successful as a horror/thriller film. It’s believable, and that added measure of reality makes for a more compelling film. Not everything in the film is entirely realistic; it’s a Hollywood film, after all. Still, the deeper antagonist of the film isn’t necessarily the shark.


Mayor Vaughn


On the counterpoint of the shark, people look at Mayor Vaughn as the film's true antagonist. Vaughn is a highly stereotypical politician who values capital and money more than the safety or well-being of others. The only reason the shark has an opportunity to attack others is that the Mayor wants the beaches to stay open.


It goes back to the deeper meaning behind a specific issue. It’s like if someone robs a store—although they’re at fault for their crime—it begs the question of an economic situation that caused them to turn to crime. It’s a parallel that some connect to the shark, highlighting the Mayor’s refusal to listen to Martin Brody as the real antagonistic force.


Who is the Real Villain?


The question of Jaws' real villain or antagonist goes back to the overall notion of how you view the film. If you’re viewing it through a clear lens, then clearly, the shark is the answer. However, if you were to look at it by discussing the root of the problem, then obviously, it's the Mayor’s fault.


Other Important Aspects


As vital as it is to analyze Mayor Vaughn versus the shark debate, other running themes fall under the antagonist umbrella. In the end, the worry of losing valuable profits from the fourth of July holiday ends up hurting the mayor, setting him back undeniably more than if he had made the right decision early on. Let’s analyze what these themes mean and how they relate to the film's antagonists.


Human Greed


Greed is the driving force behind Mayor Vaughn as he refuses to close the beaches for fear of losing profit from the Fourth of July weekend. At the point when Brody needs to close the beaches to save lives, Vaughn voices the worries of the local businesses and economy, keeping everything open.


Such is his commitment to the dollar that Vaughn finds business for the shark for all intents and purposes. Vaughn goes so far as to ask an old couple to get in the water. All the more, Vaughn's craving to keep the beaches open causes Alex Kintner's death.


The Ocean


Part of the worry and anticipation of the film comes from not realizing what character will succumb to the avaricious shark next. That worry is primarily situated within the ocean, an area few humans are familiar with outside of the casual beach. The unknown makes us worry, and Jaws utilizes that worry perfectly.


Innovation and Tradition


Innovation and tradition come down to a deeper part of the film between Hooper and Quint, with Brody in the middle. Quint clearly represents the past, with a conservative look at the means to handle the shark. We see it further during his monologue about the USS Indianapolis.


In contrast, Hooper represents a more modern variation as an educated individual who favors the latest technological innovation. Thus, we have a conflict between the two, while Brody has to deal with issues of the conflicting mindset between the only two who will help him. It makes for a fascinating analysis, specifically in the last act when tension begins to boil over.