When Dinosaurs were feminists
Perhaps the most humorous thematic element early on in Jurassic Park comes during the arrival of the helicopter at the park, when a nervous Dr. Grant grabs for his seat belt to find that he has two female parts and cannot connect them.
Yet as Malcolm later shows when the dinosaurs find a way to breed, Grant finds a way to make do by tying the two parts together.
This gives us a significant foreshadowing of sexual conflicts that underscore this film.
Revolutionary feminists have long contended that science deliberately robbed womanhood of its power, seeking to undermine female control over the birthing process. But in some ways, the truth is even more odious, and this film seems to echo the historic conflict for control of creation, begun perhaps in modern science fiction with Mary Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein.
Although this film does not use the words “Mother Earth, “Gaia,” or “Mother Nature,” all of them are implied, and we get the sense from the story-telling that like the old butter commercial from the 1960s, it isn’t good to fool with Mother Nature.
The film constantly confronts us with female images, from the aforementioned seatbelts to even the name of Dr. Hammond’s original flea circus, “Petticoat Lane,” underscoring the conflict that has a very male-oriented science violating some of the most sacred trusts of nature.
Malcolm uses strong language to describe this process of creation as “the rape of the natural world.”
Science with what appears to be an odd coalition with the Christian faith supplanted Celtic and pagan beliefs in order to take control of the most fundamental sources of power: reproduction.
Malcolm becomes the spokesperson for preserving Mother Nature, describing discovery as a violating act.
“You’re so busy seeing if you could, you never stopped and asked if you should,” he says at one point.
Male- Female, mother-father form one of the central conflicts of the first in the series of Jurassic Park films – with each male figure (except for Malcolm) depicted in varying degrees of irresponsible fatherhood, while females become the dominant force.
In some ways, we get the sense that males need to learn to embrace the female parts of them – as Malcolm clearly has from the beginning, and Dr. Grant eventually does, in accepting his reasonability as a parent.
Even Hammond has a soft part in his soul, a redeeming value in that he loves his grand kids and wishes to protect them.
But the film give you a more direct indication of the conflict, when we get Hammond’s concern over his daughter’s divorce, needing to address it even before he confronts his investors over the possible dangers of the park. This hints of a theme where man has become divorced from Mother Nature.
Even the opening sequence suggests a conflict between man and woman when the female raptor grabs one of the workers, and the hunter yells for the others to “Kill her.”
Malcolm continues the theme when he points out that he is always on the look out for an ex-wife.
The film manages to narrow the number of characters in the final conflict, and as a consequence we appear to get a handful of people who have become symbolic representations of the them, each a snap snow of the psychological battle between male and female, mother and father.
As with most Spielberg films, this film emphasizes the concept of what it means to be a proper parent. Even those elements that are contained in the original book, Spielberg reshaped to fit this pattern.
Parenting images and their antithesis appear in almost every sequence, even in some of the humor such as in the trailer scene when Hammond refers to rides that will thrill kids. Dr. Grant asks what those are, and his presumed future wife tells him, “little adults,” forcing the focus onto the concept of parenting rather than on rides. This reinforces the early scene in which Grant scared a kid with tall tales about raptors, then questions why his potential wife would want to have kids at all.
Hammond, the ringmaster of Petticoat Lane flea circus, who moves into the big time with his dinosaur park, coos over the birth of his creation, clearly a misguided by not terrible parent. He cares about his daughter and his grand kids, suffering over the divorce even though he appears to also be a careless parent – especially when it comes to his dinosaurs. He misses the point when he told that he should take more responsibility for their upbringing. They are more than invisible fleas, yet he still seems them as merely attractions, not his children.
This irresponsibility appears to be best represented in Hammond’s relationship to the programmer, Nedry – although this relationship as explained in more detail in the book tends to be justified. Nedry helped Hammond create the computer network. While Hammond was willing to “spare no expense” in every other aspect, he appears to have gone cheap when it came to Nedry, and during a scene when Nedry is plotting to steal the creations to sell to Hammond’ competition, he claims being cheap was Hammond’s big mistake. Later, when Hammond is lecturing Nedry (almost like a stern father lecturing a wayward son), Nedry even calls Hammond father in mockery, saying “Thanks, Dad.”
Almost in every case, the male population of Jurassic Park has serious psychological issues to work out, while struggling to keep the female population under control.
In what seems to reflect the historic conflict in which the society of male-dominated scientists sought to take control over the breeding process from a women-centered system of midwives and such (often using the church as a vehicle to burn such women as witches), Jurassic Park has a mostly male society of scientists trying to control the birthing habits of the new society of recreated dinosaurs.
“There is no unauthorized breeding in Jurassic Park,” Dr. Woo tells Grant.
Men even control the genes to keep females in their place, even as Malcolm warns them against their arrogance, telling them that their effort is folly since life has a way of “breaking free.”
The hunter sees the female raptors as “clever and dangerous,” claiming they should all be killed.
Yet as the film progresses, men die, the women don’t – except in the concluding scenes where the T-Rex rescues Grants and the kids from the raptors.
The male survivors of Jurassic Park appear to be those who have learned to get in touch with their parenting side, acquiring wisdom that modern science seems to lack.
Female power pervades the film so fully that it is impossible to ignore.
Ellie, the female human hero, for instance, even jokes about God making man, man making dinosaurs, dinosaurs eating man, women inheriting the earth. While a joke, it also signals to the viewer just who actually controls creation, and how men and science have co-opted the process while women still remain the ultimate power in creative process.
Grant, of course, prefers to deal with dead dinosaurs than with live kids, and when he isn’t scaring kids with horror stories about the raptors of the past, he is running away from them. Not until he is confronted by man’s Frankenstein creations in the flesh, does Grand need to decide which side he is on and takes his place as a parent seeking to protect Hammond’s grandchild, becoming a parent figure.
In a definitive scene nearer the end, Ellie confront Hammond over a dish of melting ice cream (perhaps an inside joke about global warming) and tells him that the man-made creations are an illusion, while Hammond clings to the idea that creation is an act of “pure will.”
She tells him he has to think with his heart and that the only thing that matters are the people they love.
In the end, even Hammond sees the light, although with great regret and reluctance.
He expresses some of this role confusion when he suggests he should be the one going to a remote shed to turn on the power because – in somewhat primitive gestures – he is a man and she is a woman.
“We’ll talk about sexism in survival situations later,” she tells him, then goes off to restore power to the park.
Even with computer hackers, we get something of this female-male conflict, and how men misuse their power, and the uses and misuses of technology.
What we have is a girl mocked as a nerd who has acquired the skills needed to help undo some of the damage done by Nedry, the evil hacker, and as a result, she manages to help save those she loves.
Nedry, who designed the software, betrays his trust and misuses his talent, allowing the dinosaurs to escape. He doesn’t fully understand and has very little respect for the forces he has unleashed on the world, and in the end, those forces destroy him – symbolic of the larger picture where man’s Frankenstein return to destroy their creators because they have fiddled with nature.
At one point during his trip to the dock to deliver the stolen embryos, Nedry mocks a small dinosaur thinking the small size made it less danger. His test of the beast’s intelligence is to have it chase a stick.
When the creature doesn’t, he mocks it.
“No wonder you’re extinct,” he said. “I’m going to run you over when I get back.”
He never gets the chance, the dinosaurs kill him.
While the girl is afraid of the dinosaurs, she eventually uses her reason to escape the raptors in the kitchen, saving herself and her brother, and eventually – by using her computer skills – the others.
Possibly overlooked as a symbol of female power if the head of the raptor brood, who took over early and began a systematic test of the electric fences, looking for weaknesses.
While males historically have tried to “keep females” in their place, life finds a way to restore nature’s balance.