Jurassic World: Hollywood’s Epic Ode to Woman-Shaming and Mansplaining

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If there’s anything Jurassic World gets right, it’s that the titular theme park was always going to be little more than Sea World with serial killers. The latest installment in the hoary franchise at least nails the cynical Disneyfication of dinosaurs and biotechnology in a way that the earlier films never really did—or never got around to, since life always “found a way” and mayhem ensued before business could really get going. My praise officially stops there.

Where do you even begin with this movie? The leading characters are flat and one-dimensional, each less interesting than the last. There’s Jake Johnson’s hipster dinosaur purist character, who by all rights should have been deinonychus food. There’s an utterly ludicrous Real Genius-style subplot about turning velociraptors into murderous wetware drones and unleashing them on Al Qaeda. (What?) I could not have cared less if the supposedly cute and endearing kid characters got gobbled up by any of the movie’s CGI baddies. Oh, and there’s political commentary. Corporations are bad. Nature is good… or something.

(As ToM editor Charles Lee pointed out, Jurassic World leans on an easy anti-corporatism like many Hollywood films, which pretend to be sharp and knowing about the ills of the world, but in fact merely reinforce the idea that the normative order of swashbuckling, jes-folks individualists can triumph over boardroom barbarians in the end.)

But the most appalling element of the film is its remarkable misogyny. Casual sexism is like nitrogen in Hollywood, of course (it’s 78% of the air out there), and if you held too exacting a standard for good sense about sex and gender you’d not be able to watch anything. (As one friend complained about my complaining, “So the movie wasn’t directed by bell hooks. So what?”)

Certainly, many other outlets have commented on the grotesque sexism of the film, but this filmic tumor merits another look. Why? Because it’s the biggest movie of the year and probably destined to be one of the biggest of all-time: the sort of brain-dead Hollywood comic strip whose sexist pantomime can be understood by everyone from svelte Burbank execs to Mumbai street urchins, irrespective of language or cultural context. And because it brings a newly misogynistic gloss to a film series that has always been about anxieties over sexuality and gender. To butcher an old phrase, when Jurassic World sneezes, the world gets a bad case of woman-hating.

Also, it was just released on video.

Jurassic World elevates mansplaining to a new state of art. The sort-of main character is Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a cold-hearted corporate shrew in a crisp red bob cut and a virginal white outfit that exudes sexlessness and austerity. (She is quite the opposite of Laura Dern’s character in the first film, whose was smart, earthy, and far from prissy.) Her nephews are visiting the now-functional and successful Jurassic World theme park for the week (as characters seemingly never stop saying, “They never learn”—we get it!), and she, as director of the park, is supposed to look after them and show them a good time. (Back home, their parents are on the verge of divorce—more disruption of the natural order. Sad face.)

Claire’s status as a defective woman is clear from the beginning. She noted that she hasn’t seen the boys in 3 or 4 years, and the sulky older teen corrects her—it’s actually been 7. (What a shitty aunt.) Then she promptly dumps them on an assistant, another humorless, cold-blooded cipher. The boys’ mom later calls—she’s crying at work, standing outside a corporate boardroom and basically being another crummy working woman—and scolds her for not spending every waking moment with the kids. Never mind that Claire has, you know, a job, running a huge theme park full of thousands of guests and hungry, psychopathic animals.

It gets worse. Claire refers to the dinosaurs as “assets,” in bland, unfeeling corporatespeak, and her lack of appreciation for living things is underlined by the endlessly obnoxious ex-Navy, lion-taming boytoy Owen, played by Chris Pratt. He’s rugged, charming, smart, nurturing, and daring. He’s got it all, and he actually cares about the animals, who are not just assets. For some reason, he is deeply invested in these GMO frankenlizards being real, natural things, unlike the freakishly evil, also-GMO super-monster that the Jurassic’s corporate overlords have cooked up as a new attraction for the park (which naturally goes horribly wrong).

Does anybody here know how to play this game?

Does anybody here know how to play this game?

The only person in the movie who makes any sense whatsoever is a banally evil scientist played by BD Wong, who points out that all of the animals in the park are genetically modified gizmos, with genes cross-spliced from ancient dino DNA and tree frogs and flying squirrels and banana bread. Yes, anyone who saw the first movie knows this. Where did all this hokey, granola reverence-for-nature stuff come from anyway? We’re a long way from chaos theorist Ian Malcolm’s famous intonement that “life finds a way.”

Indeed, the most obnoxious thing about Jurassic World is the way that it inverts the pro-family message of the original film. Say what you will about Jurassic Park –it at least plays with the notions of sex, gender, and parenthood in an entertaining way. There’s some genuine give-and-take between Sam Neill and Laura Dern’s characters, as she pushes for kids and he resists in good old man-fashion (“They smell”). By the end of the film, he has learned to nurture young children in the face of trauma and confront the joys and horrors of reproduction in the metaphorical form of the park’s experiment with life.

It’s a natalist message, but it reflects some kind of character development and does not seem to have the nasty judging tone of Jurassic World. That is, of course, because a man resisting parenthood but coming around to being a dad is warmer and fuzzier than a woman doing the same. From being a cold fish who’s not interested in kids whatsoever, she becomes a hysterical, overprotective mom figure by the end of the movie. She’s scolded at one point—”you don’t even know how old your nephews are?”—as if a lot of aunts and uncles could accurately guess their teen or preteen nephews’ ages. (Get it—it’s because she’s a heartless, sexless bitch.)

She’s also a prim, helpless damsel-in-distress. When Claire and Owen have to venture out into the park, he informs her, “You’ll last two minutes out there… less in those ridiculous shoes!” (Women and their shoes – amiright?) He also puts this dumb, silly woman who has a high-powered corporate job and actually runs the park (admittedly, not well) in her place: “Let’s get one thing straight—I’’ in charge out here. You do everything I say.” She of course acquiesces because, dumb woman.

When they come across an apatosaurus that’s been savaged by the big, evil monster, Owen kindly consoles the animal, who’s not just an asset, and Claire for the first time begins to get in touch with her maternal side. She’s not even good at being a dumb woman, until a rakish bad-ass who cares about animals shows her how.

When they do finally find the lost children, though, Claire is transformed. She has gone from chilly corporate manager to sweaty, ragged, loving mom. “I am never leaving you as long as I live!” she declares, clutching the kids she didn’t care about a few hours ago. But the kids are uninterested. They’re taken, like we’re supposed to be, with the derring-do of Owen. Claire is basically chopped liver. “Your boyfriend is a bad-ass,” the sulky teen says. Claire only smiles contentedly, as Owen goes out there and kicks dino butt. He completes her!

In another nauseating moment, one of the kids asks Owen, “Who’s the alpha?” “You’re lookin’ at him, kid.” And in the end, as the majestic strings swell, Claire asks, “So what do we do now?” Owen knows just what to say. “We stick together… For survival.” If a cynical satirist wanted to make a parody of an overblown, hokey Hollywood schlockfest, they could do much worse than this. The film indulges in a sort of crude sociobiology that embraces the worst kind of 1950s thinking about gender roles, casting an earthy lion-tamer as the ultimate sensitive-male action hero—loosening the loins of our frigid non-heroine and standing up for the innate dignity of living, breathing theme-park props.

So the great riddle of the 1980s has been solved: who’s the boss? Is it the successful, powerful female executive, or the boyish, charming rogue? In Jurassic World, the answer is beyond obvious, and gaggingly simple. Women need to put out and have kids, and guys need to kick ass. Only then, will the natural order that we have tried so hard, at such great cost to tamper with, be restored.

Alex Sayf Cummings is the author of Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century, an editor at Tropics of Meta, and the secretary-treasurer of the Ruining Things Other People Like Society, mainly because he ran unopposed.

Comments

  1. Great post.

    As you say, Jurassic Park, filmed in the 90s which was not exactly a big decade for “real” feminism, was so much less sexist than Jurassic World. There was lots of mansplaining in Jurassic Park too — when Jeff Goldblum’s Malcolm is unsuccessfully, grossly, hitting on (slash condescending to) Laura Dern’s Sattler. She just gives him this look, like, “Really? You think explaining a math concept to me while groping my hand skin is going to work on me?”

    Whereas when Chris Pratt starts condescending to Bryce Dallas Howard (I have no idea what their character names are) she’s practically fanning herself with excitement.

    • Alex Sayf Cummings says:

      Yes! When we saw Jurassic Park in 3-D a few years ago (pretty much the only movie I’ve seen in 3-D that was actually worth it), I was surprised by how much its early-90s hokey gestures at feminism seemed refreshing in retrospect. Compared to Jurassic World, the movie looks like it was written by Simone de Beauvoir

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