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Jaws – the shark cage scene Essay

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Updated: Jan 16th, 2019

STORY: Three men alone on a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean attempt to neutralize the monster shark that has been terrorizing them for hours by using a submersible cage. Their goal is to get close enough to inject the shark with poison. The failure of their plan and its disastrous consequences underscore the characters’ woeful underestimation of the intelligence and aggression of the shark.

The scene begins with the Quint character assessing the damage to his boat. The camera lingers on the water slowly filling the hold. Quint steps down into the hold and the water immediately covers his foot. Splashing sound effects accompany each step. No words are spoken, and Quint is alone in the shot; however his performance, particularly the fear in his facial expression, the watery sound effects, and ominous music tell the viewer that he is scared, and that the situation is dire. The boat is sinking, and they need a plan fast.

The scene then shifts to the outside of the boat, where Quint joins the other two characters, Chief Brody and Matt Hooper. Quint’s action, significantly, is to throw each of them a lifejacket. Brody and Hooper react grimly.

The three men share a brief, tense moment of silence, each reflecting presumably on how screwed they are, before Quint picks up a spear gun and asks, “Hooper? What exactly can you do with these things of yours?” “Well, I think I can pump 20 ccs of strychnine nitrate into him,” Hooper replies, “If I can get close enough.” Hooper then approaches the shark cage.

Brody angrily rejects Hooper’s idea: ‘That shark’ll rip that cage to pieces!” Whereupon Hooper shouts, “You got any better suggestions?” The camera lingers a moment of Hooper’s face (Jaws).

The scene then jumps to Brody, assembling the cage with the other two characters. The most significant storytelling element here remains the shift in tone created by music. Hitherto in the film most of the music has been heavy and foreboding. Now, the music shifts to a lively, rousing, and hopeful tone that underscores the building of the cage.

The music solidifies the storytelling idea that if only the men can transcend their differences and work together, they can solve the dilemma of the shark. The filmmakers spend significant screen time on Hooper as he fills a giant syringe with poison, and attaches it to the spear gun.

Once Hooper steps in to the cage, the music immediately shifts dramatically, back to the dark, threatening tone we’ve grown accustomed to in the film. Simultaneously, Hooper fidgets nervously in the cage, and remarks to Brody, “I got no spit.” His saliva has dried up, along with his resolve. “Try and keep him off of me until I’m lowered,” Hooper says. He and Brody share a long sad look, each understanding the danger this plan represents (Jaws).

The camera then slips underwater. The camera angle here bears scrutiny. Previously, the camera was above Hooper, looking down, consistent with Brody and Quint’s point of views. Now, it is underneath him. We have switched to the point of view of the shark.

Underwater, both sound and music are used to great effect to create suspense. Upon Hooper’s initial descent, we hear the underwater echo, the metallic clanging of the cage, muffled by the water, and the bubbling of Hooper’s air tank. At this juncture, there is no music. The camera’s point of view shifts to that of Hooper, staring out into the murky ocean through the bars of the cage, and he sees the shark, a ghostly flicker, far away, but approaching fast.

The famous Jaws theme begins at the same time. Together these two elements create terror. Hooper is in for it. Above the water, Quint and Brody see the flotation devices that they previously fired into the shark rush through the water. Below, the shark glides past Hooper in the cage, and dwarfs both. Hooper readies his spear gun. However, the shark is not close enough yet.

The shark then vanishes into the depths with a quiet swish of its tail. The music fades instantly. We are left watching Hooper, who grips his spear gun, and waits.

A very long screen moment transpires here. We wait, with Hooper. Periodically, the camera shifts back out to the water. But there is no sign of the shark. Also, the sound effects are muted, and for the most part, only silence reigns. Over 20 seconds pass, in relative quiet, and the sole action here happens when Hooper removes the spear gun cap.

The shark charges the cage from behind with the full force of its weight, and knocks the spear gun out of Hooper’s hands. This event represents the most vital storytelling element. We see, through the action of the shark, its predatory instinct in play. It has disarmed its enemy, Hooper, who can only watch helplessly as the spear gun drifts down toward the bottom of the ocean.

The shark immediately moves in and rams the cage. Hooper screams underwater. The camera pulls in tight on his terror-stricken face. The monster shark rams the cage over and over, warping the cage bars. Hooper has nowhere to go and no means to defend himself. The camera movement and editing cuts are extraordinarily swift, and the music pulses with fear.

The filmmakers employ multiple close ups of the shark’s massive teeth. Finally, the shark pushes its nose into the cage, and Hooper stabs it several times with his diving knife. As the shark retreats, Hooper scoots out of the demolished cage and flees for his life, straight down to the bottom of the ocean.

Meanwhile, in the boat, Brody and Quint struggle to pull the cage away from the shark. Intercut with this tug of war are flashes inside the boat, where the water level has risen, reminding us of their plan’s failure. The boat is still sinking. Finally, the winch snaps, and Quint and Brody bring the cage up by hand. The filmmakers linger here, on Brody and Quint and their reaction to the cage, now a twisted wreck, devoid of Hooper. Nothing is said. Their facial expressions read devastation. The shark is still in charge of their fate.

The scene ends with the famous moment when the shark flips itself onto the back of the boat, which sets up the major turning point that results in Quint’s death, leaving Brody alone to fend for himself in the foundering boat.

Works Cited

Jaws. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Roy Schieder, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss. Universal, 1975.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Jaws – the shark cage scene." January 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/jaws-the-shark-cage-scene/.


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