Jaws Ending Explained: I Used To Hate The Water

In a lot of ways "Jaws" ends exactly where it begins. A victim in the water, copious amounts of blood, and an egregiously large shark as the culprit. It's what makes Steven Spielberg's tense tale about the town of Amity's assailing by an abnormally aggressive great white shark so potent. No one is made safe from this seemingly unstoppable and voracious underwater predator – a fact made all the more frightening if you live on an island like the good people of Amity do. As more and more chewed and mangled bodies start to pile up, a rag-tag trio of unlikely companions band together.

It's aboard the Orca that chief of police Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), eccentric shark hunter Sam Quint (Robert Shaw), and Oceanographic Institute shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) begin their hunt. As expected, things go all but according to plan, and Quint's boat is quickly damaged beyond repair by the massive shark. Without a radio to call for help, the three men are set adrift and make one more desperately hopeless bid to kill the terror. The resulting scenes are without a doubt some of "Jaws" most hair-raising, as they see each of the would-be heroes earning themselves their intimate show-downs with its titular antagonist. And not everyone makes it past the gauntlet — or in one case, the gullet — of the bloodcurdling and explosive finale of "Jaws."

Hooper is sharkbait

The first to take on the shark is Hooper, who hatches a plan to poison it before it from behind the safety of their "shark-proof" cage. But as he puts on his scuba gear and tries to spit-clean his goggles, he finds his mouth completely dry out of fear. It's a chilling moment surpassed only by the ferocity with which the shark decimates the cage and the absolute terror of Hooper fending it off with only a knife. Somehow he manages to slip past the monstrosity and into a reef – narrowly escaping what audiences could've only thought would be his last dive.

His comrades back on the Orca can only assume Hooper is shark bait when they pull up the mangled cage. His faux death is a blow to both Brody and Quint, highlighting just how much the three have bonded. After all, when Hooper first arrived on Amity island Brody saw the shark expert as a lifeline. But the grizzly Quint assumed he was nothing more than dead weight. "You got city hands," he grumbles at him at one point to Hooper. But by the end of the film that tension has given way to burgeoning respect. Brody and Quint's esteem for Hooper no doubt peaking the moment he volunteered to climb into that cage, an act of courage that proved to both he was worth his salt.

Quint gets munched

Before Brody and Quint can even process the loss of Hooper, the shark crushes and sinks the boat's stern. In an instant, the two men are clinging to the boat's sinking cabin as everything not tied down slips towards the maw of the shark. Though Brody tries to save him, Quint inevitably loses his grip and slides towards those glaringly sharp teeth. And in a film with some pretty brutal shark deaths, nothing really comes close to the devouring of Quint. It's bloody, visceral, and intimate, with the salty-seaman going down at least swinging, stabbing the shark even as half his torso hangs out of its mouth.

Unfortunately, for the captain of the "Orca," from the moment he was introduced, this moment felt foreshadowed. If anyone on the crew was going to be eaten gruesomely. it was going to be that man with a Captain Ahab-sized vendetta against a shark. His wall of jaw trophies seemed to guarantee it. We don't think there's been as ferocious a brawl between man and animal since "The Revenant." But Quint's maddened obsession to kill it at all costs, as seen by his willingness to destroy the radio, was always going to end bloody for him.

Brody finds his courage

As the last man swimming Brody finds himself alone facing down the shark that's claimed his two comrades. After lodging a pressurized air tank into the shark's eager jaws, he climbs the boat's mast to remain above water. In a last ditch effort to kill the shark, Brody starts firing maniacally as it charges him one last time. But just as he and the audience start to believe, it all ends with another shark meal just as his bullet hits its mark. Cue a fantastic deluge of water and shark chunks cascading around an incredulous Brody.

His shock underscores just how much the chief of police believed he was seconds away from becoming another meal. But atop that mast, Brody is no longer his tentative, unsure self. The man who at the beginning of the film floundered trying to deal with a deadly shark, a delusional mayor, and frightened townspeople is long gone. In losing both Hooper and Quint, he finds something in himself to keep fighting, despite knowing he's still in over his head. Despite the gorey tragedies that have played out throughout "Jaws," the film manages to give audiences a fantastic catharsis to all that horror. It's no accident that Brody even starts to sound a little like Quint when he grits his teeth and gives that iconic line, "Smile you son of a — "

Reunions and a fearless swim back home

With the shark dead, Brody is left floating on "Orca" flotsam and jetsam, and he's treated to the surprise return of Hooper. Their reunion is not just a relief for Brody but the audience too. In a film that literally makes meals out of many characters, there's always been something meaningful about Brody's realization that Hooper is alive. Even with the shark blown to pieces, the trail of bodies left in its wake are hard to reconcile, especially for a small town like Amity. "Jaws" would be a very different movie if Brody had been left out there to return alone, his triumph undercut by the death of both Quint and Hooper.

When the two survivors start to swim back to Amity, the film takes a huge tonal shift. From the moment "Jaws" begins, it becomes brutally clear that no one is safe in the water, and at any other point in the film, this scene would've ended gruesomely. You almost expect to hear John Williams' tell-tale score and see a fin on the horizon again, despite seeing Brody blow it up just minutes before. As you watch the two swim back home, like two heroes riding off into the sunset, it becomes almost symbolic of the idyllic life that will return to Amity. The island will longer be terrorized by its underwater killer – though who could blame anyone for not wanting to be the first person back in the water?