SECOND TIME UNLUCKY: THE RIPPLES OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS IN JAWS 2

I

f there was one thing which plagued my every waking moment in the weeks and months following the miseries I bore whilst in the ensnarement of a manipulative abuser, it was the unshakeable fear of not being believed. A fear so scorching it made me question my own sanity. Had these unspeakable acts of emotional violence really occurred? Surely if not 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 wholeheartedly 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 them) a proneness to histrionic fakery rendering 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 that 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 nightmare – has, in recent times specifically, been recognised as a legitimate criminal offence.

I know what some of you must be thinking. Where is he going with this and what the bleep does it have to do with Jaws 2?!

Allow me to explain . . .

The closing moments of Jaws (1975) are some of the most iconic in all of cinema. They’re also some of the most outrageous. Having thrown us through the wringer for the best part of two hours, Spielberg treats us to a spectacular grand finale that sees Chief Martin Brody (nestled precariously 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 guts as the mangled brute descends laboriously into the sapphire abyss, the celestial orchestration of John Williams its sole accompaniment en route to the seabed. At last, Brody is safe. He swims to shore. All is well. But is it? How can we expect this earnest everyman, once so cripplingly afraid of the ocean and presumably now even more so, to slot subserviently back into society without succumbing to the cataclysmic aftershocks of his ordeal?

To describe him as a shadow of his former self would be immoderate, but the Chief Brody we catch up with some three years later is undoubtedly a changed man. A little older, of course, and a touch greyer, but there’s an impassive weariness in his eyes that wasn’t there before. Spielberg’s Brody was feisty and fresh, with a sort of rich, cock-of-the-walk complexity that belied his oftentimes boyish naïveté. In Jeannot Szwarc’s Jaws 2 (1978), he seems dejected. Beaten down and bruised, his handsomely grave 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 a later-replaced John D. Hancock – 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 mouthwatering concept never made it to the screen – instead, the island and its occupants remain blissfully unaffected by that infamous summer, most of them embracing a ‘business as usual’ philosophy while poor Brody seems destined to languish in a sullen, simmering malaise. When bathers start vanishing all over again, his reaction is one of half-panicked resign: “I think we’ve got another shark problem.” It’s 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 to be true, with every grain of himself, is very much an increasingly dire predicament that no amount of head-in-sand imprudence can avert. Alas, a solitary shoot-out on a jam-packed beach (the result of his mistaking an innocent school of fish for a starving predator) sparks nothing but vitriol from local bigwigs: to them he’s 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. But as the bodies continue to pile up in ingeniously frightening ways, it’s Brody’s inner turmoil that keeps us so fixedly invested in the narrative, with Roy Scheider’s magnetic performance – a melting pot of exasperation and pent-up grief – touching upon rivers of poignancy that perhaps weren’t there on the page.

Of course, this being the action-propelled adventure picture that it is, the tide soon turns from character study territory into a torrent of exuberant mayhem, as a vindicated (and reinvigorated) Brody sets sail to recover his two stranded sons and their buddies. Gratifyingly familiar it may be, but the denouement here – police chief versus aquatic assailant, this time with death by electrocution – feels decidedly more downbeat than the air-punching exhilaration of the original’s. Brody has triumphed, again, but at what cost? As he paddles his inflatable dinghy toward the horizon, a troop of grateful teenagers in tow, I cannot help but wonder: what fresh horrors await our dispirited protagonist on dry land? There’ll be a hero’s welcome, for sure. Apologies, one would hope, from the sceptics who gave no credence to his impassioned pleas. But, when all is said and done, what can this twice-bitten casualty hope to reap from an uncomplicated Seventies world that, with regard to matters of the mind, still has such a vast amount to learn? Could counselling be on the cards? How about medication? Maybe. If he’s lucky.

Speaking as somebody who has stared into the snarling jaws of danger more times than I care to recollect, I anticipate that panic attacks, sleepless nights, and a spiral into full-blown substance abuse could well be the chief constituents of Brody’s future; a psychological purgatory born of flashbacks, crippling anxiety, and the unshakeable feeling that he could, and should, have done more to prevent it.

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