Autism in Jaws

Jaws, known for its terrifying deaths caused by a massive great white shark and the pursuit of it led by Police Chief Martin Brody, marine biologist Matt Hooper, and shark hunter Quint, is a highly successful film adaptation of Peter Benchley‘s best-selling novel. As a movie fanatic, I believe captivating films are worth revisiting, regardless of popularity.

At 7, my grandfather introduced me to Jaws, giving me (a copy of) the book. That very night, I watched the movie directed by Steven Spielberg with him and my grandmother. Surprisingly, I never screamed or shouted fearfully. Despite feeling tense while watching it, I was encouraged to stay and witness the climactic battle between the three heroes and the shark. The score by John Williams added to the experience, representing the presence of the unseen shark. Reading the book later, I realized that movies often differ from their adapted books.

When I was 17, I discovered that Jaws had always been my favourite film, even though I hadn’t realized it. As I watched documentaries about its making and found connections to famous people I admire, I embraced the belief that a movie’s success shouldn’t determine its value. If it offers a great story, it’s worth watching repeatedly. Later, I had the fortune of seeing an interview with Benchley, the author of the book in Singapore, a place dear to my heart. Interestingly, the film adaptation of another Benchley novel, The Deep, did not do as well as Jaws, but I still loved it, especially its remake Into the Blue, released on the 30th anniversary of Jaws. Additionally, other box office hits like Schindler’s List and Driving Miss Daisy (which by happenstance are connected to Jaws in different ways since Spielberg directed Schindler’s List and the producers of Jaws also produced Driving Miss Daisy), are also movies I consider worth watching again.

Being an autistic person, movies are a major interest of mine. Despite being a selective viewer, I believe that any movie with a captivating story is worth watching, regardless of its success. The production of Jaws is as famous as the film itself. Due to the limited technology available at the time, the mechanical effects used for the shark often malfunctioned, causing delays and exceeding the budget. This aspect of the movie’s production inspired me to write about my own autistic experiences (because I thought I saw Autistic patterns in the making of the movie), which I would like to share. Discovering my autism at the age of 13, I believe that earlier knowledge would have prevented some of the challenges I faced, but I am proud of my identity as an autistic individual.


Obsession and straying away from the main topic
Producer David Brown and his colleague Richard Zanuck discovered Benchley’s novel through Brown’s wife. Impressed, they obtained a preview copy and read it overnight. Convinced by the book and an accompanying card, they believed it would make a great movie. However, Brown believed that had they read the book twice, they would have never pursued it due to filming challenges of certain sequences. Initially, their preferred director was Dick Richards, who insisted on calling the shark a whale to fulfil his dream of making a sea movie since he had never done so and completely overlooked the film’s creation by putting in his own vision for the movie putting not only his dream first but also using it the wrong way. This annoyed Brown and Zanuck, leading them to replace Richards with Steven Spielberg, with whom they had previously collaborated on The Sugarland Express which was his first feature film. Spielberg had shown interest in directing Jaws even before Richards was dismissed, drawn by parallels to his television film, Duel, which excited him and solidified his decision.


How it reminds me of me
As a child until age 22, when participating in group activities, I often suggested themes for our stories. However, my suggestions frequently diverged significantly from the intended medium. For instance, during my last year of intermediate, when taking performing arts lessons, we were planning a story about children playing in a playground. While I wanted to reference Will Smith and Pokémon, I was informed that such references were not allowed, and I respected that decision.

As a person on the Autistic Spectrum, I have many unfulfilled desires in life, but I am grateful for recent accomplishments and eagerly anticipate achieving more. While I am hesitant to discuss my personal life, one source of seeming daily distress is my lack of a girlfriend and the absence of dating experience which sometimes causes me to tell people in relationships that I am not (in a relationship) like them (and wish I was). Through counselling, I have learned to limit discussing this issue to close friends and acquaintances. Although for reasons unknown I feel finding a girlfriend may seem unlikely in this lifetime, I hold hope for the future in getting a girlfriend. I also wish to gain dating experience not just for myself but also to honour the support and confidence of my friends who encourage me to pursue relationships.



Fear due to circumstances
Despite Spielberg’s initial enthusiasm to direct the film, he later hesitated due to concerns of being typecast and wanted to join 20th Century Fox for another project, specifically Lucky Lady. However, his request was denied, and it seemed like he might even consider dropping the current film. Brown intervened and convinced Spielberg to stick with the project, assuring him that he could make all the movies he wanted (to) after completing Jaws, which eventually happened in the following years.


Roy Scheider was the third actor cast as police chief Martin Brody in Jaws. Spielberg met him at a Christmas party two years after The French Connection, where Scheider starred. Initially hesitant, Spielberg thought Scheider would play a similar character, but he was proven wrong. Spielberg after seeing Richard Dreyfuss in American Graffiti (which Lucas directed) approached him to play Hooper but Dreyfuss turned down the role thinking he would rather watch the movie than shoot it. However, Dreyfuss regretted his decision after The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (which he starred in) premiered, thinking his career was over. He contacted Spielberg again, offering to take the role if it was still available. Luckily, Dreyfuss became the seventh actor cast.


How it reminds me of me
I have often hesitated to pursue things I wanted, backing out or stopping midway due to fear of failure as well as paranoia. But over time, I have realized that not trying is the true failure. Now, I do not let hesitation hold me back. Sometimes, I even ask for a second chance when I regret turning something down, although I respect the outcome. Fortunately, I usually get another opportunity and am always grateful when that happens.


Overdue work
Benchley and other writers adapted his book into a screenplay after its rights were purchased. Brown and Zanuck then hired Spielberg’s friend, Carl Gottlieb, to finalize the script by removing certain subplots that portrayed the characters negatively. This made the three lead characters more likable. Additionally, Gottlieb was also cast as a character from the book. However, due to a potential actor’s strike, the script remained incomplete, and shooting was delayed until the following year. When the director and the team arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, the filming location for Amity Island in the novel, Gottlieb had to write a scene for the next day’s shoot.


How it reminds me of me
Many academic students who appear lazy or have overdue work bear no self-discovery and understanding of their life priorities. Although I rarely had overdue work or exam failures during my academic years, I often experienced a similar sense of self-searching, despite my overall good university results (though grammar and intermediate details are uncertain).

Fight in frustration
During filming, there were at least two food fights due to malfunctions of the shark, nicknamed ‘Bruce,’ (after Spielberg’s attorney Bruce Ramer) which delayed the production. Water interference affected its mechanics, causing it to slow down and sink during the initial test and divers had to retrieve it. These delays led to the film going over budget and schedule. Frustrated with the delays, Scheider started a dessert-based food fight at a buffet, initiated by whispering to Verna Fields’ son, the movie’s editor. Scheider flung a gravy and potato pie at Spielberg, resulting in Dreyfuss retaliating with his own dessert. The food fight escalated, with a few others joining in although seeing it coming, the producers left immediately, sparing themselves from the culinary battle. Despite the setbacks, filming continued at the behest of the producers as stopping production would have risked cancellation. During filming, the fishing boat used in the movie sank, mirroring the shark’s earlier incident. Divers were once again deployed to salvage the boat. To simplify filming, Spielberg used a camera technique for the shark’s perspective until the shark finally worked properly, enabling the completion of the movie’s last third. After filming concluded, another food fight broke out but in a humorous situation.


How it reminds me of me
In times of hardship, family conflicts can exacerbate existing sadness, causing people to view each other as enemies rather than blood relatives. This has happened to me three times, particularly during tensions related to my parents’ irrational fears and concerns about my choices. The most challenging moment was when my uncle (who I was very close to) passed away from COVID, intensifying the family conflict surrounding my decisions. However, after a pivotal incident where my parents insulted me by saying I was pushing people away and I hit myself (brutally) in frustration (in their presence), my parents realized their unfair treatment and sincerely apologized. They committed to respecting my choices and acknowledging and reminding me of the love I receive from both friends and family. Eventually, our conflicts subsided, teaching us the importance of avoiding further divisions during tragic times. Thanks to counselling, we have since worked on repairing our familial relationships, understanding each other better, and honouring my uncle’s memory by strengthening our family ties (which I know he is proud of).


Disrupting the shoot
During pre-production of Jaws, Spielberg secretly worked on script rewrites and the new ending. In the book, the hunt against the shark differed from the film, with the novel’s shark hunt taking place over three days and the men return to shore at the end of each day of the hunt. Hooper dies on the second day when a shark cage he is lowered into to wound the shark with a bangstick is broken into by the shark who kills him, and the shark is killed on the third day due to excessive wounds and which Quint who harpoons it also dies due to getting entangled in his harpoon (both the shark and Quint sink as a result) while Brody survives and returns to shore. However, Spielberg proposed a new ending where Brody, after Quint’s demise which was changed (from harpoon entanglement during stabbing the shark) to actually being attacked by the shark, fights off the shark and ultimately blows it up using a scuba tank which he throws in the fish’s mouth and shoots. Hooper also survives and reunites with Brody and they both return to shore. Benchley, initially disapproved of the new ending (save for Quint’s new fate and Hooper’s survival) even when Spielberg told him that the new ending would excite the audience and kept turning up during filming to declare that the new scene should not be done due to which he had to be banned from set until the end of filming. When the movie came out and he watched it, he later regretted his actions when he realized that indeed audiences loved the new ending and apologized to Spielberg. He appreciated being offered a cameo role (thanks to Brown who suggested it) and admired Scheider’s iconic line, ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’.


How it reminds me of me
When I was 9, I auditioned for a play called ‘The Catwalk’ but was declined due to my difficulty following instructions. Despite multiple requests from my mother to the organizers, I was consistently told that I would not be a good fit at the time. Frustrated, I often tried to join the shoot dressed as a centaur, as I was fascinated by them. This mischievous behaviour earned me a reputation, which I seemingly embraced. Eventually, just before the play ended, the organizers offered me a different role. Instead of being part of the play, I was given the opportunity to give a speech about the production and its journey. It was presumably their compromise to bring me satisfaction.



Nervousness both in the present and future
Despite Spielberg proposing his new ending for the movie, he was not actually present during the final shoot when the shark explodes thanks to Brody. He left the wrap party early because he heard rumours of being thrown overboard even if it was all in fun and games. In Boston, he met up with Dreyfuss, who noticed Spielberg’s stress about missing the shoot. Dreyfuss reassured him that everything would be fine when they returned to Los Angeles. The production’s budget overruns and delays made Spielberg fear for his career, along with production designer Joe Alves and the producers. However, they were proven wrong when audiences loved the film during previews and its release.


How it reminds me of me
One important lesson I have learned in life is that problems are not the real issue: it is our perspective on them. When faced with challenges, we should strive for a positive outlook and transform them into successful projects. The fear should not be failure but rather not making an attempt, as exemplified by Steven’s experience during the troubled movie production. Despite facing setbacks and doubting his career’s future, the film turned out to be a tremendous success. This concept applies to both Autistics and neurotypicals, as complex or demanding work schedules can emotionally drain us to the point of feeling like it is the end of our professional lives. I recall instances where I had to complete a last-minute university assignment, and thanks to my supportive parents and our move to New Zealand (which is another country dear to my heart), I could overcome the challenge and submit it on time.



Think it’ll work?
Jaws marked Spielberg’s second collaboration with composer John Williams. The theme that Williams conducted for the film is known for simplistic two-note score that has become synonymous with sharks, particularly the great white shark. The score also became a symbol of danger, representing approaching threats (of all kinds). Initially, Williams thought the film should have a pirate-like theme and composed the score accordingly. When Spielberg heard it, he found it amusing, thinking it was a prelude to the actual theme. However, Williams clarified that it was indeed the intended music for the movie. After Spielberg heard it multiple times, he realized the simplicity of the score worked well and trusted Williams’ judgment (realizing to this day that without that score, the movie would only have been as half as successful as it is today). The score played a crucial role in building tension, even when the shark was not on screen. Thanks to Williams’ music, he received his first Academy Award for a Spielberg-directed film, and it significantly contributed to the movie’s success.


How it reminds me of me
My parents are spiritually supportive and motivating, sharing my interests with many others. I always turn to them for help, and they provide solutions that often work well. Even when things do not go as planned, they suggest alternative approaches that often succeed. Their affirmation of these techniques forms the foundation for success.


Jaws created the first summer blockbuster, grossing $472 million worldwide. It had a cultural impact through merchandise, sparking interest in real sharks. The movie went on to win three Academy awards (for editing, sound and music score) although it perpetuated the view of sharks (such as not just the great white but even the tiger shark and bull shark) as villains. This led to the killing of many sharks for trophies and food. However, later discoveries of less menacing shark species, like the whale shark, changed perceptions of sharks. Shark conservation projects (even Benchley and Spielberg themselves) now fight for their survival, recognizing their crucial role in the oceanic ecosystem and they rarely have any desire to attack people. Sharks have inhabited the Earth longer than humans, and their disappearance would be a significant loss.


How it reminds me of me
I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 9 but not informed at 13. I have always been considered weird, even after understanding right from wrong and it took me time to find myself which helped me to overcome the habits that made me a strange person. My purpose has been to discover my true self. Many view Autistics as burdens, yet some see their capabilities and support them. While I felt this way at times, I achieved greatness through education, writing, and advocating for the Autistic community. Autism is often labelled a disability, but organizations like the Autism Rights Movement separate it from physical disabilities. Neurodiversity, including Autism, can be seen as a gift, providing inspiration in life. Autistics, famous or not, have achieved greatness through various means, finding personal fulfilment. They have the right to succeed and pursue their dreams as well as find greatness in their lives, just like neurotypical people.



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