Woman vs Dinosaur in Jurassic World
Three questions really stood out to me while I watching Jurassic World for the first time:
- How did this place ever pass health and safety tests? They have open walkways over velociraptors, for goodness sake.
- Why isn’t anyone concerned that those killer pteradons escaped the island and are flying to the mainland?
- Why does the first two-thirds of the movie treat Claire like it treats its villain characters because she doesn’t know how old her nephews are?
The stars of Jurassic World are the dinosaurs. Yeah, training velociraptors is cool, yeah, we want the heroes to live, but when we see the word “Jurassic” in the title, we’re really here to see velociraptors and Tyrannosaurus Rex on the rampage.
And because dinosaurs are the key to the story, it makes sense that the plot itself is also, in part, about respecting, appreciating and fearing dinosaurs. Don’t mess with them, the movie says, or they’ll mess you up. Don’t see them as “assets,” because they’re living creatures too. If you respect them, they might just respect you, or even save you. If you don’t… well. Get ready to join the body count. We think Chris Pratt’s character Owen is cool because he understands velociraptors. We know the villain is villainous from the beginning because he wants to use velociraptors for his own ends. And we know the protagonist Claire needs to change because she doesn’t understand or respect velociraptors at all.
Jurassic World even takes this dinosaur focus further by giving us sympathetic carnivores. You must have a heart of stone to see those velociraptors die without feeling a flash of sadness for them. I even felt a little sorry for the Big Enemy Dinosaur, the Indomitus Rex — it never asked to be genetically engineered and locked up alone in a cage! It’s a victim too, of people’s greed and their lack of respect for the creatures they care for.
It’s a pretty great angle for the movie, even if it means that some things don’t quite make sense (seriously. Where is the health and safety??). But the way it ties into Claire’s plotline is unfortunate, to say the least. In order to embody the anti-“understanding dinosaurs” perspective, to act as a foil to Chris Pratt and allow for her character growth, she’s initially portrayed as the super uptight female lead who’s too obsessed with her job to care about things she should care about, like children.
That last part is very explicit. It’s not just that she dares to have her assistant take care of her nephews for the day while she has important meetings with her boss, who, the movie suggests, barely ever visits the park. During a phone call, her sister literally cries about how cold and unfeeling her sister is for not ditching her work for her nephews, and tells Claire she’ll understand when she has kids. When Claire interrupts that she might not have kids, her sister dismisses that — when, not if — and Claire’s disagreement is shown as part of that cold persona that needs to be thawed.
I’m not sure if Claire’s desperate fight to protect her nephews is meant to show her “what’s important,” since she clearly cares about them from the beginning. It’s not contradictory to suggest that she could send them to the baby herbivore petting zoo (who wouldn’t want to go to that??) while she deals with work, and yet fight to prevent them from being eaten by a huge carnivorous beast.
But that’s the movie’s plotline. When things get tough, she’s out of her comfort zone, and needs Owen’s expertise to go into the wild and save the kids. Along the way, her ramrod straight hair gets wavy in the humidity, her business outfit gets shed into a camisole, and she can finally get a manly guy like Owen by acting on her feelings.
Make no mistake, Claire does get to be a badass. She saves Owen’s life, and figures out how to finally stop the Indomitus Rex, in part by unleashing the dinosaurs who are the real stars of the show.
But the connotations of how she becomes a badass are worrying. She was boring and uptight and un-motherly, and she didn’t understand how dinosaurs are living creatures, not assets. In fighting to protect her nephews, she learns what’s important — taking care of the kids, respecting nature, and heading off into the sunset with Chris Pratt. Her badass-ness isn’t part of her story as the important businesswoman in charge of a dinosaur park. It only shows up once she sheds that uptight, unnatural persona. Once she learns to appreciate the dinosaurs and embrace the natural way of things.
The story ends with Claire and Owen together, now she’s learned to see things his way, but the final shots of the movie aren’t people at all, but the T-Rex roaring, finally free on the island. She and the other dinosaurs are the real protagonists of the story, and Claire’s plotline is her learning to see that. Which would be a perfectly fine story, and one that makes emotional sense, if only the movie had made Claire’s corporate perspective a flaw in an otherwise badass person, and not a flaw in her womanliness that needs repairing.
And seriously. Why did no-one fix the cracked glass in the Indomitus Rex enclosure? They were just asking for death at that point.