When debate over whether or not to cancel the Newport St. Patrick’s Day parade broke out last month – a conflict that seems like eons ago now – I couldn’t help but notice that the argument to “Cancel the parade!” paralleled the cry to “Close the beaches!” in the film Jaws. The Jaws metaphor fit well for our New England island community that relies heavily on seasonal tourism dollars. But as the crisis rapidly escalated throughout the country, the parallels between the fictional public health crisis in the film and the very real one happening presently continued to align on a national level.
The internet took notice as well.
In a sad turn of events that truly connected the film to the present crisis, Jaws actress Lee Fierro, who played the bereaved mother of Alex Kintner, died earlier this month due to complications from coronavirus. She was the character who smacked Chief Brody and fought back tears to tell him “You knew it was dangerous, but still you let people go swimming anyway” in this powerful scene:
The irony is both eerie and heartbreaking.
Some parallels and symbolisms in the film are easily drawn:
- The Great White Shark = The novel coronavirus; a public health threat that’s not well understood, and terrorizes the people.
- Chief Brody = The governors who are tasked with enforcing and protecting the people of each state.
- The Mayor = President Trump who must consider economic consequences
- Matt Hooper = Dr. Fauci, DOH directors of each state, and the scientists who try – often in vain – to warn us of impending danger and influence leaders to enact policy change
But one important Jaws character who isn’t as symbolically clear-cut in our current crisis is, of course, the inimitable Quint. Independent, battle-hardened and knowledgeable, Quint plays an integral role in the resolution of the crisis, but in the end it means he must make the ultimate sacrifice. In a way, Quint’s role is playing out through the front-line healthcare workers who are putting their lives on the line in order to protect the lives of their patients. The fate of Dr. Li Wenliang, the Chinese opthamologist and whistle-blower who sounded the alarm among his colleagues during the early days of the outbreak, perhaps suffered the parallel fate of Quint.
I’m staying optimistic that the annual WhatsUpNewp Jaws Summer Party will go on as planned in July, but like everything these days, that’s uncertain. One thing that’s for sure, though, is that re-watching Jaws in the wake of COVID-19 will bring a new level of resonance and a deeper appreciation for the film’s prescient depictions of the conflicts that arise during the battle against a novel and deadly public health threat.