Jaws became the biggest and fastest grossing film in the history of the industry on September 5th, only 78 days after release. Three days later it had passed the previous record gross of The Godfather by more than $38 million (Variety, Sept. 10, 1975, p. 3). This enormous popularity means Jaws is an expression of the society’s consciousness, and should be approached critically in terms of that consciousness rather than as the private vision of a director. Spielberg’s film and Benchley’s novel have cashed in on the emotions already attached to people-eating sharks by creating fictional and filmic structures which involve audiences with the shark as an image. But these structures are more than simply a series of individually created narrative events. They are also a series of explanations and interpretations of the shark image in terms of the shared concerns and fears of our society.
In Jaws the shark reflects a disguised hatred of women and the preoccupation of our society with sadistic sexuality, a view of business as predatory and irresponsible in human terms, and a fear of retribution for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The film resolves these issues and fears by externalizing them from the protagonists and solving them in a macho fantasy, fear-and-bravery ending which denies any possibility of concerted social action, excludes women as weak and ineffectual, and erases the past and its guilts.
Dan Rubey i Jump Cut nummer 10-11, 1976