When we were young, sometimes mom and dad would let us watch TV in their bedroom. Perhaps there was a show on the TV in the living room that we were not allowed to see… or maybe it was some night the babysitter had the remote control so me and brother would invade mom and dad’s room and watch the tube. One night I recall watching “Jaws” in their room and I was shocked by the things I saw. Sheltered, I’d never seen anything like that, and I’m sure Mom would never approve, but there it was in all its toothy, briny glory. Funny, I never had shark nightmares then or now. Only Godzilla remains my subconscious nemesis.
I’ve watched Jaws so many times I can’t count over the years, either for the pleasure of dialogue or some background noise. Rarely do I watch the movie these days with eyes fully focused on the screen, surveying and drinking in the landscape. Last night was a game changer. The Virginia Aquarium and theater is 20 minutes away (as the GPS crow flies), and I left an hour before the movie. I mean, who needs an hour to get 20 miles? However, I forgot the daily congestion on the interstate. With some dodging and deep breaths I found a nice parking place, got my ticket and discovered the movie had only started 3 minutes ago instead of 15. I was lucky.
The screen is enormous, the sound overpowering. I wished to have a seat center, rear, but I didn’t get there soon enough to have that choice. I wound up kind of center and a chair in the aisle. It took me a while to get used to the enormity of sound and vision. I brought my knitted poncho because I knew I’d be so cold in there, and I used it to hide behind the flesh-rending scenes. (I’ve danced that dance before, and I don’t need to dance that scene anymore.) Sometimes the sound was too loud, so I had to close off my ears. The screen was bigger than our house. Chief Brody’s fingernail was the size of a soccer ball.
On this enormous screen I saw things I hadn’t before and felt grateful and blessed as a writer to see them. Why didn’t I notice the blood on Quint’s hands as he interrogated Hooper? I knew that Spielberg provided the voice of the Coast Guard at one point but never actually heard him, recognized him until last night. Quint’s fisherman chair was beaten and worn in ways I never noticed. Robert Shaw removed a tooth, put it in an envelope and never put it back. The audience was quiet for this movie. No cellphones went off, no babies cried. I wonder if we were all here for the same, tense reason, wanting to fill the same need–nostalgia, bigger than life? I wonder how many came just to hear Mr. Shaw deliver his soliloquy, that soliloquy, equal only to Hamlet?
I heard some young people in the parking lot who said they’d never seen the movie before. I wanted to ask them all kinds of questions, but did not approach because I was afraid my enthusiasm and need for answers might make me look like a crazy person. I wanted to know why they came, what did they think of it, do they believe great whites are vengeful, and so on. Instead, I drove home into a sky filled with a thrilling fight in my south, Thor smiting his foes in the clouds. I headed “west” on the interstate towards home and the sky ahead was filled with high, building clouds and flashes of lightning that could make one believe the gods are at war, but there was no sound and no rain. As I drove with windows down, a fighter jet came low across the road as I fought to keep my hair out of my eyes with my left hand, maneuvering lane to lane with my right on a homeward trajectory.
As I drove, I secretly wrote the thing about this movie and a certain moment, wondering where it will lead and hoping it will go. I won’t tell you here, because it’s still in progress. I watched a movie, enormous in story and physicality. I drove home on dark roads watching a storm flash orange in blue clouds. I am blessed, again.