Wednesday, August 2, 2023

"Jaws" Was Almost An Adultery Film

Steven Spielberg had a big problem to address in adapting Peter Benchley's Jaws novel into a film.  He wanted the audience to care about the main characters, but Benchley made the characters terribly unlikable.  The director told Newsweek, ". . . [Y]ou were rooting for the shark to eat [them]."  Much of the problem came from a subplot in which marine biologist Matt Hooper sneaks off to a motel for sex with Sheriff Brody's wife Ellen.  Tim Armitage of The Daily Jaws blog wrote, "In the novel, Ellen is a woman who feels adrift in her marriage. . . [She is] a social climber who's starting to worry that maybe marrying the local cop wasn't such a good idea.  She hears about her friends going to nice parties and living the version of life she wants and her eyes begin to wander."  The sordid Ellen admits to Hooper that she fantasizes about being a prostitute.  Armitage wrote, "The story moves along and we see Brody as more of an absent and at times, cruel, husband (calling Ellen 'a corpse' when she is so sleepy she can't have sex with him) and so Ellen moves closer towards Hooper."  It is, in Armitage's estimation,  a "grubby affair."  He wrote, "There's nothing romantic in Ellen and Hooper's affair, it's cruel and callous all the way through. Hooper would've probably slept with anyone but Ellen just happened to be there. . ."  Sheriff Brody suspects that Hooper has been fooling around with his wife, but he doesn't know what to do about it.  From the novel: 

. . . [S]uppose the worst was true. What could he do then? Confront Ellen? Beat her?  Walk out on her? What good would that do?

Ellen has no real feelings for Hooper.  She barely reacts when she learns that her motel playmate has been eaten by the shark.  Ellen has more serious romantic feelings for the mayor, Larry Vaughn, who she has long regarded as a close friend.  

Spielberg wisely ejected the adultery subplot.  He made the Brodys a loving couple.  Brody and Hooper develop a friendship and mutual respect.  Their friendship is especially evident in the film's final moments, during which time the two men paddle back to shore on a makeshift float.  Brody quips, "I used to hate the water." Hooper replies, "I can't imagine why."  It is a touching display of friendship, similar to Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains declaring their loyalty to one another at the end of Casablanca.   

Reference Source

Tim Armitage, "The steamy JAWS book affair between Hooper and Ellen that never made it to screen," The Daily Jaws, February 12, 2023.

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