Spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.
I’ve been excited for Jurassic World since I saw the first trailer proclaiming The Park Is Open. The Jurassic Park franchise has forever been a part of my childhood–the first movie gave me nightmares for weeks after I saw it, but also got me obsessed with dinosaurs for the longest time. (I can still identify all of them in the movies.)
So a few weeks ago when I saw this story by Business Insider saying the new movie didn’t keep up with the science like the first one had, I was disappointed–and even Tweeted about it. But it wasn’t until I read an article calling the film sexist that I had second thoughts.
(I’d link to said article, but there are now so many, I can’t find which one it was.)
However, I’ve been waiting to see this film for months–waiting so hard I bought the original trilogy and rewatched each of them–so I wasn’t going to let claims of sexism prevent me from doing something fun for myself just for the raw sake of doing it.
So I did it.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
But as I sat in the theater today, these claims of sexism (and scientific inaccuracy) became the lens through which I watched the film–and now they seem unfounded.
First and foremost, midway through the film, Misrani (owner of the park and successor to John Hammond, of the first three) is arguing with lead scientist Dr. Wu (played by BD Wong, the only returning cast member), who remarks that “Nothing in this park is natural” and since Misrani wanted a theme park, “reality wouldn’t look like this.” So the exclusion of feathers and more palatable science must be forgiven in context: the park isn’t operating as a zoo, but rather it’s purely entertainment–just as the movie itself is meant to be.
I still hope, however, that it gets kids excited about learning the real science just as Jurassic Park did for so many–and I think it will. Throughout the early parts of the film, many children are shown digging through a recreated excavation site, and the majority of them are young girls (from many diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds to boot). It may be subtle, but for kids watching the film, it’s an encouraging nod in their direction.
This brings us to our main female protagonist: Claire Dearing. Park operations manager, classic cold-blooded CEO type. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with women in this role, but the controversy surrounds the idea that throughout the film, her business-centric character is unraveled and replaced with a romanticized mother-to-be.
Now, recall I came into this film expecting to see this stereotypical and sexist storyline play out–but I must admit, I didn’t see it. Yes, throughout the film, Claire loosens up and becomes more compassionate toward her family and former romantic interest, but along every step of the way, she rushes forward and refuses to stand down.
At one point, shortly after the escape of the Indominus Rex (the genetically-modified monster who leads the show), Claire enlists the aid of Owen to search for her two nephews–who by now have already been attacked by the I-Rex and are on the run. Owen tells her to turn back and he’ll go on to find them, but instead Claire rolls up her sleeves and says she’s going with him–and she does, and she’s at his side the whole time.
The one exception to this is when Owen, raptor trainer and alleged alpha, takes them on a mission to subdue the I-Rex and Claire stays in a van with the boys. Yeah, at first it seems she’s playing the role of concerned parent, but these are her nephews, and why should we complain if somebody looks after them with any amount of heartfulness? Let’s also not forget, when the raptors turn on them, she drives like a badass back to safety. She rocks.
Not much later, during the final showdown, when all the odds seem against them, Claire does the unimaginable–she risks her own life to unleash the T-Rex to bring the enemy down. That takes bravery, wits, and intelligence to do–and she did it all in heels.
(To that point, my brother leaned over at one point and asked me, “How didn’t her heels break by now?” to which I replied, “Nothing in this park is natural”)
To really wrap our heads around the movie’s themes, it’s important to look at the other duo in the film–Zach and Gray, Claire’s two nephews, who have come to the island to enjoy a family weekend with their aunt while their parents work through marital problems. At the start of the movie, Zach shares a long farewell with his presumed girlfriend, but until the I-Rex escapes, spends all his time trying to impress the girls around him while pushing Gray away (the younger boy once asks, “What do you think’s gonna happen if you stare at them?” to which the group of teenage girls laugh as they walk away).
Once they’re pushed into harm’s way, however, Zach’s forced to resume his role as older brother and doesn’t just become protective, but encouraging: He celebrates Gray’s courage to jump into a lake while being chased by the I-Rex, he shows faith in his younger brother’s ability to help fix a broken-down jeep, and admits Gray’s stronger than he is.
In a way, it’s the same character growth that Claire goes through–but since Zach’s a guy, nobody seems to talk about it. Instead, we just look at a single story, and from that the entire core theme of the film is missed–it’s not a story about putting women in their place (which is senseless, since any place a woman wants to be is her rightful place), but rather the importance of family and community–the same themes shared in the first three films.
Of course, one thing that makes this franchise so noteworthy is that it isn’t a single-note story: rather it’s an orchestra of nuanced meaning. Just as the ones before have, it inspires awe for nature and all animals. Echoing when the scientists in the first film shared a concerned moment over an ill triceratops, there’s a touching moment in Jurassic World when Claire and Owen come across a fallen brachiosaurus that dies in their hands. For a beautiful moment these dinosaurs are humanized for the viewer, and at once the audience realizes the cruelty that’s been inflicted upon them–for the first time, Clair finally notices these dinosaurs aren’t just theme park assets, but living, breathing, feeling creatures.
That’s not sexism. That’s compassion.
It does, however, force us to examine the real monster of the film–the capitalistic, profit-driven Ingen corporation that not only wants higher financial returns, but also aims to militarize the dinosaurs. Their goal is the weaponization of nature and the destruction of human life. They aren’t interested in science; they’re interested in money, war, and power.
It’s ironic, amid claims of sexism, that nobody seems to have mentioned the demonization of these three catalyzing forces in patriarchy. While all our characters are running for their lives and learning to love each other in our human family, it falls on the viewer to realize these were the forces that have brought Jurassic World tumbling to its own bloody death.
As a cigender male in our society, I know I have my biases, but I don’t think Jurassic World is any bit sexist–to say a high-powered, business-driven woman can’t also be compassionate and romantic precisely upholds the sexist classification of women in two disjoint roles, negating the real possibility and potential for women to be both or neither. It also ignores the undertones that remind viewers to appreciate and value family, nature, and other living things, and to reject the blind pursuit of money, war, and violence.
So if that’s still sexist, show me something that isn’t.