Second Time Unlucky: The Ripples of Post-Traumatic Stress in ‘Jaws 2’

I

f there was one thing that hounded me in the weeks and months following the miseries I endured whilst in the ensnarement of a manipulative abuser, it was the fear of not being believed. A fear so scorching it made me question my own sanity. Had these heinous acts of emotional violence really occurred? If not quite imagining them, I could at least perhaps be exaggerating them. Right?

And therein lay the victory of this monster, the person I had surrendered myself to at the expense of sound reasoning and self-regard; the revolting bullyboy whose Machiavellian scheme was to reduce me to the rank of unreliable witness, with fractured recollections and—according to him—a penchant for histrionic fakery leaving my assertions of domestic maltreatment null and void. Only, I was a reliable witness; I just didn’t have the fortitude to see it. Had I approached the authorities back then, there is every chance they would have treated my account as what it was and still is to this day: the truth. (I am fortunate to live in a country where ‘coercive control’, a term I had not been aware of during my five-and-a-half-year purgatory, is recognised by criminal law.)

I know what you must be thinking: Where is he going with this and what the fuck does it have to do with Jaws 2!? Allow me to explain . . .

The climax of Jaws (1975) is one of the most iconic in all of cinema. It’s also pretty outrageous. Having thrown us through the wringer for the best part of two hours, Spielberg treats us to a spectacular bon voyage with Chief Martin Brody—nestled atop a sinking boat—firing bullet after bullet into the water, his adversary closing rapidly in for the kill before BOOM! . . . an explosion of blood, brine, and shark belly as the eviscerated brute slips down into the sapphire abyss, John Williams’ celestial symphony its sole accompaniment to a sandy grave. At last, Brody’s nightmare is over. He swims to shore. All is well. But is it? How can we expect this earnest everyman—once so cripplingly afraid of the water and now, presumably, even more so—to pick himself back up and not fall prey to the destructive aftershocks of his ordeal?

To describe him as a shadow of his former self would be teetering on hyperbole, but the Brody we catch up with some three years later is undoubtedly a changed man. Older, yes, and a touch greyer, but his eyes are clouded by an impassive weariness that wasn’t there before. Spielberg’s Brody was fresh-faced and feisty, with a colourful, cock-of-the-walk demeanour belying his oftentimes boyish naïveté. In Jaws 2 (1978), he’s crestfallen. Beaten down and bruised, his solemn visage speaks of a bloke who’s been to hell and back and has the weathered countenance to show for it. The alcohol dependency alluded to in Jaws feels a little more conspicuous, the relationship with his wife a tad more strained.

The backdrop of Jaws 2 as it was first conceived—by director John D. Hancock, later replaced with Jeannot Szwarc—was Amity in the guise of a ghost town; a battened-down community forever blighted by the events of ’75. At the behest of producers Zanuck and Brown, this concept never made it to the screen—instead, the island remains blissfully unaffected by that infamous summer, its locals embracing a “business as usual” mantra while poor Martin resides in a state of haunted disquietude. When bathers start vanishing all over again, his reaction is one of half-panicked indifference: “I think we’ve got another shark problem”. It is as though he was expecting it, like he’d known all along that one day his deepest, darkest fears would resurface and mutate into a great white reality, one that he sure as shit does not want to relive but is fated to.

If only he could convince those around him that what he feels with every grain of himself to be true—an impending catastrophe that no amount of head-in-sand imprudence can avert—is precisely that. Alas, a solitary shootout on a jam-packed beach (the result of his mistaking an innocent school of fish for something else) sparks vitriol from local bigwigs: to them he’s nothing but a crank, the paranoid policeman who cried wolf. Mind’s playing tricks on him, the sad fool! The rest of us, naturally, are two steps ahead: we know that the wolf is out there. He’s twenty-odd feet in length with knife-sharp gnashers and a dorsal fin. Pile up as they might, it isn’t the corpses that keep us hooked but Brody’s broiling inner bedlam, with Roy Scheider’s magnetic performance—a melting pot of exasperation and pent-up grief—touching upon rivers of poignancy that most likely weren’t there on the page.

Of course, this being the action-propelled adventure yarn that it is, the tide eventually turns from character study terrain into a torrent of exuberant bloodshed, as a vindicated Brody sets sail to recover his two stranded sons and their buddies. Gratifyingly familiar as it is, the denouement—cop versus aquatic culprit, this time with death by electrocution—feels somewhat more defeatist here. Brody has triumphed, again, but I can’t help wondering—as he paddles his dinghy toward the horizon, a gaggle of whooping teenagers in tow—what fresh horrors lie in store for him on dry land? There’ll be a hero’s welcome, for sure, and perhaps a few apologies from the sceptics who gave no credence to his claims. But think about it: what can this twice-bitten casualty hope to reap from an aloof ’70s society that, with respect to matters of the mind, still has such a vast amount to learn? Could counselling be on the cards? Medication? Maybe, though I wouldn’t bet on it.

As someone that has peered into the snarling jaws of danger more times than I care to recollect, I anticipate that panic attacks, sleepless nights, and a plunge into full-blown alcoholism could well be the chief constituents of Brody’s future—a cognitive prison born of the unshakeable belief that he could, and should, have done more to stop it.

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