Intro: We are men, men who enjoy movies. Within the diverse canon of films that comprise our favorites, male characters exist whom we count among our heroes. These are men who often represent the archetypes of manhood, for better or worse. These are the Reel Men and we will be studying these characters in order to determine what lesson of mandom can be gleaned from them.
The Film: Jaws (1975)
Who’s The Man: Quint
When the tourists of Amity Island, so essential to the economy of that seaside community, begin washing up in bloody chunks on the beaches, even the greedy mayor can no longer deny they have a shark problem. Without the foggiest notion of how to deal with sharks, especially those of the great white and extremely ravenous variety, Chief Martin Brody enlists the aid of local seadog Sam Quint, whose asking price of ten thousand dollars to catch and kill this nautical monster seems instantly more reasonable when a third beachgoer ends up a shark snack. Together with Chief Brody and a Mr. Hooper from the Oceanographic Institute, Quint sets sail on his rickety but trusty vessel, the Orca, intent on bringing back the beast’s head, its tail…the whole damn thing.
What Makes Him a Reel Man?
Being that yesterday was Father’s Day, Quint seemed an entirely appropriate selection for Reel Men induction. The first time I ever saw this movie, it was while sitting between my father and my grandfather, both of whom championed this film to me from about the time I had the capacity to formulate memories. For me, this is a film inextricably linked to quality time between a father and son and Quint became one of my earliest cinematic models of manliness. But by a less idiosyncratic measure, Quint is especially apt for a Father’s Day by virtue of the lesson he teaches us about mandom: how to be a better fisherman.
Much as when you were a kid and your father took you out on the water to share in that quintessential male bonding experience, Quint understands the value of this sport and in fact makes his living hunting and killing sharks. Though slightly more dangerous than your average Sunday on the lake with dad, the third act shark hunt in Jaws is described as a fishing trip by Chief Brody. As such, Quint understands that there are certain imperatives for a successful fishing trip.
Obviously the first of these ace fisherman tenets is a mastery of the basic equipment. Quint is a stalwart defender of the provincial tools of the trade. He turns up his nose and sneers at the idea of modern fishing technology like sonar, fish trackers, and shark cages. He sits strapped to what looks like a barber’s chair and helms an enormous fishing pole whipping back and forth as the monster thrashes below trying to free himself. He knows his way around a harpoon gun and how to use barrels to force sharks, at least most sharks, to the surface. There he sits like a Hemmingway hero, bravely battling the forces of nature with steadfast determination; refusing to relent.
Another requirement of the master fisherman, as professed by Quint, is that he must be an expert storyteller. This may seem a superfluous trait for an angler, but the nature of the sport itself demands it. Fishing is an activity that requires Zen-like patience, as you are often adrift for several hours before earning so much as a bite. Therefore the fisherman who can spin yarns with ease elevates himself to an entirely separate echelon. Quint demonstrates his ability to command attention with his words even before the Orca sets sail. In the town council meeting, he silences a volatile crowd and the camera slowly pulls us in as he lays out in graphic, but reserved detail precisely what Amity Island is up against. Then, during the shark hunt, his swapping of scar stories with Hooper is one of the more human moments of the whole film; trumped only by his chilling recount of his nightmarish experiences on the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Boredom? Not on Quint’s watch.
Finally, Quint understands the most important facet of being an adept fisherman: binge drinking. Tantamount to the ability to pass the time with great storytelling, the doldrums of waiting for the fish to bite can be endured more easily with the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. One of the demands made by Quint upon accepting the assignment of eliminating the killer shark was a case of pear brandy. Keep in mind, there was no way of determining exactly how long they would be at sea so it was entirely possible that he ordered a full case of brandy for a three-day excursion. And yet, with his ability to pound shot after shot regardless of the escalating direness of this crew’s situation, this hardly seems like an overestimation of their needs. At any rate, it brings out the singer in Quint and produced more than one chorus of Spanish Ladies.
The Man Behind the Man: Robert Shaw
Robert Shaw is one of my favorite actors/screen personalities of all time. He has such an intense focus as a performer that his casting in this role makes perfect sense. Quint is essentially Captain Ahab chasing his great white whale. The occasional playful silliness that tempers Quint’s severe demeanor turns to madness when he suspects the Chief may be calling for a retreat; his refusal to accept defeat against his monstrous enemy driving him to smash their only lifeline with the shore. But even then, Shaw manages to keep this character likable enough that when, like Ahab, he ends up meeting his demise at the hands of his quarry, the audience still feels that loss. It’s a remarkable performance.
The Man’s World
Jaws was Spielberg’s second feature film so he had yet to really establish himself. In a career that would come to be marked by iconic characters of both the human and creature persuasion, it’s safe to say Quint was the first of the former category. Spielberg had several different designs in terms of the casting of this character. First, he wanted Lee Marvin, but when he was unavailable, Spielberg went after Sterling Hayden. But problems with the IRS made it impossible for Hayden to accept the part so the producers recommended Robert Shaw. The thought of anyone else in this role is inconceivable. Shaw proves that old adage: give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish while aboard the Orca and you give him the tools necessary to blow a giant shark into next week. Quint is one of our favorite Reel Men.
Though a trifle belated, I would like to raise a toast to all fathers out there. Here’s to swimmin’ with bowlegged women.