Morbidly Beautiful

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While celebrating one of the genre’s most influential films, I catch “Jaws” at the drive-in and reflect on timely lessons learned from Amity Island.

This past weekend marked the 45th anniversary of one elected official’s idiotic choice to open beaches before they were safe to do so. There was also some bit about a shark or something.

In all seriousness, on June 20th, we celebrated the release of one of the greatest horror movies ever made, one that launched the ever popular shark sub genre of horror. Jaws is a masterpiece, and it is highly likely you have seen it at some point in your life. The film’s influence can be seen in countless forms of popular culture, from books and magazines to movies and tv. The homages to Jaws are are vast as the ocean itself.

My personal favorite comes from the movie Mallrats (1995), when two characters are discussing a marriage proposal while Jaws pops out of the water at Universal Park.

And while the iconic imagery of the Great White Killer is forever ingrained in our collective and cultural consciousness, it appears the underlying lessons of the influential film didn’t quite sink in. 

Nearly five decades later, and life finds itself imitating art. Much like the beaches of Amity Island, places across the country are opening without being made sure they are safe.

In Jaws, Mayor Larry stands in the way of science and safety, putting his own public image and the town’s income ahead of its residents’ safety. This leads to the unfortunate deaths of a few swimmers. Those iconic shots of blood churning in the water as the shark feeds elicit a sense of terror that kept many of us landlocked for some time after first viewing the film.

But while that first public attack caused an uproar, with fishermen from all over the land coming to catch the beast, it wasn’t until a very public second attack that the Mayor finally changed his tune — and even then it was only because his own children were in danger.

There are strikingly similar parallels between this fictional story and our own modern tale of terror.

Despite the constant outcries from the scientific and medical communities, people are gathering unprotected in large numbers, while a deadly virus continues to spread at an alarming rate.

While things might seem calmer now, I’m reminded of the scene in Jaws when those fisherman caught the wrong shark and everyone celebrated prematurely. A false sense of security leads to complacency, which often results in a much bigger problem. Much like the beaches of Amity Island, things will likely continue on a destructive path until something drastic happens again.

This is not meant to shame those who are leaving the house. The mental and physical strain of quarantine has been heavy for many. And it’s understandable that people people crave a return to normalcy and human interaction, especially when their public officials seem to be signaling that it’s completely safe to go back in the water, so to speak.

I, too, have been sinking under the weight of social distancing, shutdowns, and isolation.

Being stuck indoors for such an extended period of time has felt like torture to me.

However, in the growing darkness, a savior emerged. For me, a die hard cinephile, that savior has been the the drive-in theater. It’s a magical place that has allowed me to venture out of the house, while still maintaining a safe social distance from others. While other traditional cinemas have remained closed, those lucky enough to have access to a drive-in theater can still experience the magic of movies on the big screen.

My local drive in, The Auto-Rama, has taken countless steps to keep patrons safe, while still offering an enjoyable evening out in the world. Small changes, such as vehicle distance and online ticketing has helped limit patron interactions. But they’ve made bigger sacrifices, too, including not just allowing but also encouraging moviegoers to bring in outside snacks.

Even as major theater chains, including AMC and Alamo Drafthouse, make plans to open back up, it remains to be seen how these theaters will adapt to the challenges posed by the pandemic — and how willing audiences will be to dive back into those potentially dangerous waters. For now at least, the safest way to experience the magic of movies is at the drive-in.

The drive-in also offers a level of comfort that movie theaters are unable to rival.

Being able to sit in your own car or chairs covered in blankets while you gaze at the gigantic screen is an experience that can’t be beat — one that feels both refreshingly new and nostalgic at once.

I was fortunate enough to see Jaws at my drive-in, and seeing the shark pop out of the water on a gigantic screen was enough to make anyone jump. It reminded me how effective the drive-in is at taking a film you’ve seen countless times and making it feel new again. While Hollywood pushes pause on major new releases, even during the Summer Blockbuster season, it’s a great reminder that there are still so many timeless classics begging to be discovered — or rediscovered, as if for the first time.

The drive-in is on the rise again, and we horror and film fans can certainly appreciate their importance now more than ever. Let’s all remember the important lessons of Jaws: stay off those crowded beaches for now, and keep the horror on the big screen where it belongs.

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