How does the director, Steven Spielberg, create tension in the opening scene of the film Jaws?
As the film commences, the first thing we notice is the music, which is quite possibly the most famous theme music in the history of film, a terrifying, tension building piece, which mimics a heartbeat, this rapidly increases as the tension builds. The first visual thing we see is a dark, black background with contrasting bold, white writing. As the titles continue, the background moves to a dark marine theme where we assume that we are looking through the shark’s eyes. Viewers develop a trapped feeling, a feeling of being chased as we are racing throughout the seabed; alien territory to us, home territory of the shark. As we continue in this motion, the music’s tempo continues to increase. Then it stops. We feel safe.
We find ourselves in the presence of a community of young, careless adolescents. The harmonised atmosphere, folk music and happy people, is a direct contrast to the fear that we just experienced which also sub consciously builds tension. The group are relaxing near the beach; it is dark so they have a fire, which, as it is a warm orange colour, symbolises safety and security.
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Two characters appear, staring into each other’s eyes, one a young, attractive man, and the other a young girl, sitting alone, isolated from the rest of the community. The man has a cigarette and blows smoke towards the girl; this causes a barrier between the two, which indicates isolation surrounding the characters.
They start to run off, leaving the friendly, safe atmosphere, and heading towards the unexplored, dark sea. We see the two distinctive figures running away from the protected crowd, alongside a fence, the girl undresses as she runs, as the man stumbles about. The fence stops at the beach, which shows that the territory beyond is foreign, dangerous. The fact that the girl is naked adds to her vulnerability. The man attempts to strip but evidently concludes to pass out on the beach.
She looks graceful in the dark sea, which is particularly ironic as she is about to endeavour a savage end. He, unconscious, is unaware of his surroundings and the trouble ahead; surrounded by light, he is safe.
A buoy floats in the water nearby and we hear a single bell sound, which represents the death knell.
We feel as if there is something following the girl, an unwelcome presence, but there is no evidence of this. The music once again starts to race, which increases the tension further. Then it stops. She goes under. Silence until she rises from the forbidden dangerous sea, then her screams surround us, we see her struggling and splashing around tumultuously, fighting for her life. Her heavy breathing and constant shrieks make us nervous.
The man lies on the beach peacefully; he is safe, calm and unaware of the happenings to his lady friend.
The bell starts to ring more frantically, as does the music, tension rapidly building. The manic screams and struggles stop. The music stops. She loses, not only the fight, but also her life.