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Woman vs Dinosaur in Jurassic World

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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.

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Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

5 thoughts on “Woman vs Dinosaur in Jurassic World

  1. Thanks for validating my decision not to see this movie. Despite the hype it got, I just wasn’t interested it. I couldn’t believe the characters would be greedy and dumb enough to create a theme park with real dinosaurs, especially when they should have learned their lesson about THREE MOVIES AGO. And the fact that it had yet another bitchy career woman stereotype? No thanks.

    1. Haha, yeah, it’s a fun movie to watch with a friend for jokey running commentary, but it doesn’t make sense even BEFORE it gets all offensive.

  2. Claire’s sister has quite a double standard, too. She is the mother, why should it be the AUNT’s job to watch them 24/7?

  3. I have no idea how this script got made into a movie.

    I know the producers had considered many versions of Jurassic Park IV but this one needed another few rewrites before being greenlit. Perhaps they ran out of time or the rewrites and delays cost too much. Which is a shame because Jurassic Park was a great ride without abusing its characters and audience.

    The problem with the script’s treatment of Claire’s character is that despite being very successful at managing a multi-million/billion dollar theme park, she gets dumped on by everyone; Chris Pratt’s character for being too icy, her boss for not being more carefree/living in the moment (or whatever he was talking about), her sister for not being married/maternal (this from the woman getting a divorce), the kids for being too preoccupied with her job…And so it goes on.

    Joss Whedon was right in his predictions after seeing the trailer. Jurassic World is laden with 1980’s era bad stereotypes of powerful women.

    And the end was just farcical…the ‘staying together for survival’ line (bleurgh) and also ’empowered’ Claire (wearing heels) outrunning the T-Rex which almost caught a speeding car in JP1?

    Bad writing all round.

  4. Ahhh, I was waiting to see your review of Jurassic World very eagerly, because you have always delivered on your perspectives and most of them I agree with, which yay, someone put my thoughts into words! Sadly, however, I must disagree with you on this one. Claire was to me one of the most important characters in Jurassic World, I love her so very much and I just can’t help but defend her a little, if you don’t mind? I’m not eloquent and not very good at getting my thoughts across, but I shall try anyway.

    So, first off, about Claire and how she feels about children. I found that whole conversation to be ironic, given it comes from a woman who was herself going to a business meeting, which, double standards much? It just rendered the whole conversation moot to me, and, thinking more on it, I found it was just another example really of how good businesswomen like Claire get so often criticised for how they are. In the movie, coming from her boss, to her failed date, to her sister, they all see some ways she’s failing, some ways she’s still not good enough and some things in which she can still improve. By the end of the movie, she proves them all wrong. She still doesn’t magically want to have kids already, but she has learnt to love her nephews for themselves now that she’s gotten to know them a little better. It is a shedding of her cold persona, I agree, but I think it is reasonable character growth from a woman who’s trying to keep her family members alive, if that makes any sense.

    Secondly, about how she needs Owen’s expertise. She is a businesswoman, so I’m inclined to think it really was good sense that led her to ask for Owen’s help. She can navigate the park just fine on her own given that she is the park manager, but if I were her I’d have a set of brawns with me too, just in case. She is still the driving force here; this is still her story about trying to save her nephews, her sister’s kin if we are to be strict about it, since as I said she hasn’t known them very well at this point. Owen’s just along for the ride. In the end, Claire does a pretty good job of keeping herself alive. Of course, in the process, her flat ironed hair will start to fizz, that’s natural. As for her business outfit getting to be shed, it eventually gets really muddied and torn, plus she’s been running through a humid jungle all day, so it follows that she would do that. I found her tying her shirt up at the beginning of her going into the jungle quite endearing actually. She’s a girl getting ready to save the world, or part of her family at least. And it was also a nice homage to Ellie Sattler from the first film, so yeah. Getting Owen at the end is just a bonus. It literally felt like it, heheh. It was never the focal point of her story anyway, so I don’t know why you’re fixating on it?

    Thirdly, it’s not so much how she doesn’t understand dinosaurs are not assets, I feel. She gets it, I’m sure. It’s more that she chooses to see them that way, because she runs a park of genetically engineered monsters with thousands upon thousands of visitors on the side and just thinking about daily maintenance of it is crazy enough without having to add on the fact that dinosaurs live and breathe and die too. So she compartmentalizes. She was there to do her job, not worry about the dinosaurs’ well being every second of the day, so.

    I agree with the fact though that the portrayal of her in the movie can so easily be seen in the way you’ve described, because it’s the easiest interpretation of her, although I’m still a little disappointed because you did a bang up job study of Rey which I couldn’t even get but not this. However, I don’t blame you. In fact, I love you very much especially for addressing the most potentially problematic part of Claire’s character portrayal, that she only gets to be badass when she sheds her femininity? Or at least the Claire we saw at the beginning of the film. I hope I understood that correctly.

    So, to address that. I’d like to argue that in fact, it’s because she’s the manager that saves her and her companions’ skins a couple of times, especially by the end. She knows the layout of the place, so when she found the Indominus (it’s spelled Indominus by the way, not Indomitus :)), she could easily direct the military dudes to where it was. Sure, that eventually backfired because the security of the place is freaking low bar, but that’s hardly her fault is it that security is so incompetent? That falls under INGEN’s jurisdiction, not Masrani’s, which she’s working under. The only thing she could’ve done was direct what forces they did have to kill the thing. Also, note that, she wanted it killed. She saw the damage it had done. It wasn’t Owen however that changed her, it was the fact her nephews nearly died because of that thing, and she saw its destructive capacity for herself. Anyway, throughout the movie we keep seeing her give orders. She’s still the one in charge.

    And at the end, when we see her getting the T-Rex, I think that’s when we see her abilities fully come into play. I hope you don’t mind if I steal a quote from theyoungfolks, because they put my feelings on this matter more easily than I can. “In this moment, all of her character “flaws” from the first half of the film become her greatest strengths. If she hadn’t been an obsessively focused administrator she wouldn’t have remembered that the Tyrannosaurus rex was close enough nearby to be a possible asset. If she hadn’t been highly, almost neurotically intelligent she wouldn’t have known that the Tyrannosaurus rex would instinctively challenge and fight Indominus upon contact. If she hadn’t been headstrong, she wouldn’t have dared confront one of the park’s most dangerous creatures when all the men could do was cower in fear.” Heheh, I’m getting really worked up about this.

    I do wonder why you haven’t mentioned what I see Claire getting most criticized for, which, really, were her heels. To me, personally, they were the biggest testament of her still retaining who she was throughout the movie. In the face of all her growth, the heels were what reminded me that she was still irrevocably herself, unapologetically and unashamed. She may have had to shed her workplace persona, because she was no longer in that environment, but her heels stayed, because they were her. It’s why I must disagree with what you said, “corporate perspective a flaw in her womanliness that needs repairing”. She doesn’t need repairing. She is still Claire the businesswoman, with her heels and skirt and walkie talkie, she’s just also more. (I had a much more logical and comprehensive argument about this in my head that I hoped would win you over, but by the time I’d got to this sentence it’s already completely left me arghhh. I hope you understand anyway.)

    About Owen as well, which, it would seem a pretty nice red bow to tie up the end of the humans’ side of the story, a shade of romance, but I’d disagree she’s learned to see more of him than he got to see more of her. The Claire Dearing persona that she dons everyday to do her job efficiently as she does, the skin she’s most comfortable in, as opposed to the Claire we’ve seen in high-level stress situations, was still as attractive to him. He did go out for a date with her after all, and his petty, whiny, probably well-rehearsed complaints of itineraries and diets after he’d just given her a lecture on mutual respect (hypocrite!), told me he had some growing up to do as well, which he did by the end of the film. In the end, he’s learnt to see things a little her way too, her enormous responsibility to the people of the park which he sees for himself, and got past his own inability to look beyond appearances which he’d also formerly accused her of. He saw what a gem she was, and took his chance. Can you blame him?

    Hence, I would say that the way her womanliness is handled is not so much harmful as you think. In fact, I would argue Claire for a feminist character, by virtue of all the reasons I’ve stated above. Namely that, first, she doesn’t immediately want to get married and pregnant and whatever by the end. She’s a little maternal to her nephews, but they had just survived a traumatic experience together and they’re her nephews, she’s entitled to be caring to them. She respects nature, yes, but that’s character growth for you, and not inherently problematic. After all, she goes through the entire ordeal in her heels, so at the end of it all, she’s still a little defiant to the fact that she needs to be a nature girl now. She heads off into the sunset with her new boyfriend. Well, not exactly, because it’s probably actually sunrise, and again, they’ve been through a crazy day with each other, seen each other at their worst and best, and it’s not surprising they’d feel drawn to each other, being the only two who had experienced what they had if you discount the other survivors from the previous film and her nephews. And again, not inherently a bad thing in itself, because it’s not what her character was about.

    The whole point of Claire Dearing is, yes, at first, to point out the flaws of looking at things Hammond’s (the guy who made Jurassic Park in the first place) way, but also to see that the same girl can be the hero of the story, without sacrificing who she already was, and bringing out even better things in her instead. I would ramble on even more heheh, but I think I’ve written a lot already and I don’t know if you get all of it, so I’ll just stop here.

    In short, I respectfully disagree with your implications of Claire’s portrayal being non-feminist, if simply for the fact that she has from the start been put in such a light where she’s seen as a career-driven person that no one takes seriously because she’s a woman. Not maternal, uptight and boring. And yet, it’s the fact that she was so committed to her job that saved her and her nephews’ and Owen’s lives for good, finding and drawing the T-Rex out to do battle with the Indominus. She’s still terrified of the dinosaurs, still distrustful, but she trusts the people that handle them, trusts herself after it all. She may have lost her job in the end, but not the parts of herself that got her the job and had her keep it for so long. In short of the short, Claire Dearing saved the day as the businesswoman who wore her heels and ordered her subordinate to let loose the Rex. Her femininity was intact, she is still herself. She deserves all that’s got too, and if part of that package was Owen Grady, well mmm.

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