Lacan's objet petit a

Jaws (1976)

A simple psychoanalytical view

A cardboard psychoanalysis view of Jaws

Slovene cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, a major interpreter of Lacan for critical theory, examines Jaws from this perspective in one of his most famous demonstrations of philosophy as performance.

The shark in Jaws (1975) is not just international communism or environmental catastrophe, but both and anything we happen to find disturbing enough to require a saviour. Lacan calls this symbol the objet petit a — whatever it is we substitute for the real threat to our capacity to control over our lives, which he terms the Real.

Žižek does not examine the symbolic roles of the sheriff (Roy Scheider), the outsider captain (Robert Shaw) or the sympathetic young intellectual (Richard Dreyfuss). In any case, it does not require much brainwork to understand the manipulative dramatization of stereotypes by Steven Spielberg.

Material for some amateur psychoanalysis

And here are some notes for your own YouTube psychoanalyis. Skip this section if you can't stand another quickie analysis of Jaws. But there is a reason, as you'll appreciate later:

We can also compare it, as David MacGregor Johnston, has brilliantly done, to standard Universal horror movie for all its similarities:

Instead of the monster’s terrorizing a small European town, the shark terrorizes the bucolic Amity Island. Instead of an angry mob with torches and pitchforks chasing the monster through the countryside, islanders and other fortune seekers take to their boats to hunt the shark with shotguns and dynamite. Instead of being trapped on the moors with no possibility of escape, our heroes are trapped at sea with no land in sight. Jaws even relies on the expert scientist to help the early believer kill the monster, this time with a gun and oxygen tank instead of a wooden stake or a silver bullet. Spielberg himself admits that Jaws is just a variation on his own feature-length directorial debut, the 1971 made-for-television movie Duel, in which the leviathan stalking our hero is a seemingly supernatural semitrailer truck" (Johnston 2010:235).


Thomas Richard Fahy, ed. 2010. The philosophy of horror. The philosophy of popular culture. Lexington, Ky: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN: 9780813125732.

David MacGregor Johnston. 2010. Kitsch and Camp and Things That Go Bump in the Night; or, Sontag and Adorno at the (Horror) Movies. In Fahy 2010.