Monsters and Motherhood: An overview of articles comparing Jurassic Park with Jurassic World and the latter’s treatment of its female lead

Promotional Image copyright Universal
Promotional Image (c) Universal

Jurassic World is due for a Blu-Ray and DVD release on 20 October. I didn’t see the film at the cinema and while I may see Jurassic World at some point it’s not high on my list of want to see movies.

I’ve seen the other three films and read the first book, and there’s been a lot of buzz about the action and Chris Pratt. Yet even in the trailers and teasers there was a clear harkening back to the sexism of an earlier era. I’ve read many articles addressing the themes and tropes in Jurassic World and I’ve gathered them up here – this is not a review, more of a meta-analysis of existing articles which all speak to the same problems the movie has, particularly when it is compared to Jurassic Park, the first film in the franchise. As a childfree woman these articles are of especial concern to me.

As the article “The biggest problem with ‘Jurassic World’ isn’t a woman running in high heels” points out:

Gender roles in action movies are having a moment. Maybe it’s because Mad Max: Fury Road set the bar so high, or maybe because the Jurassic franchise seems to have taken a big step back from its legacy of empowered female characters, or maybe women are just really, really fed up with the status quo…
It would be easy to write off action movies as a male-dominated genre where casual sexism just comes with the territory…But if the last few months have proven anything, it’s that women are in fact a huge market when it comes to these types of films, and their thoughts and opinions about them matter. Mad Max: Fury Road —an action movie that managed to be both very good and explicitly feminist—did incredibly well at the box office. Statistics show that nearly half of the attendants of Jurassic World‘s opening weekend were women. Turns out that men aren’t the only ones who love fast-paced, high-adrenaline blockbusters.
[d]

One article, entitled “Jurassic World’s Mother of a Problem”, has the sub-heading “The once-progressive franchise takes a big step back” and posits the problem thus:

Sure, Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire occasionally gets a few scenes when she gets to kick a little ass; but it is almost always her mirroring Pratt’s character. Plus, those scenes of Howard are often punctuated with the “It’s a girl” wow moment, which is just annoying – like when she’s running in the dark in front of a T-Rex and we’re treated to a close-up of her stiletto heels. But that’s only at the end of the film; for the majority of Jurassic World, Claire is a punchline for the macho guys’ jokes, or the character who represents what’s really wrong with this park. Just like the animals hatched in a lab, with no family to provide them roots, she has forgotten her family for work, and chosen career over motherhood.[a]

The article compares Claire with female characters from the previous movies in the franchise:

These weren’t women missing some fundamental part of their personality until they had children of their own, and they weren’t using their accomplishments to hide their feminine personalities. Ellie allowed herself to be vulnerable, while saving the day and voicing her opinions in a room full of guys, and while she was often the voice of reason on the island, she didn’t feel the need to berate… While Ellie and Grant were “discussing” whether children would be a part of their future as an option, Claire is being told she want[s] kids, that there is something wrong with her for not feeling that way herself.[a]

While another article points out that:

Jurassic Park didn’t have any of this gendered nonsense—and it was made back in 1993. In Spielberg’s film, which holds up remarkably well, the two protagonists, played by Sam Neill and Laura Dern, are on equal footing. They’re both brilliant doctors who each evade and kick their fair share of scary dino ass. And its patchy sequel, The Lost World, had a kickass woman in the lead, played by Julianne Moore. This new entry is a big step back for a franchise that prided itself on featuring courageous, complex women.[b]

And a third article concurs:
Jurassic Park was an excellent sci-fi thriller with well-rounded characters, tight themes and an intelligent screenplay, whiffs of anti-science sentiment aside…There are three “experts in their field” in Jurassic Park — Alan Grant (paleontology), Ian Malcolm (chaos theory) and Ellie Sattler (paleobotany). And at no point does anyone cut off, disrespect or underestimate the lone lady’s expertise by virtue of her lady-ness. Sure, Ian flirts with Ellie during the first half of the film, but never in a disrespectful way, and nothing that makes Ellie uncomfortable…The characters of the original Jurassic Park don’t take each other for granted because of age or gender; it is a crisis, and they need all the expertise they can find. In Jurassic World, the constant second-guessing Claire is confronted with is baseless.[c]

“‘Jurassic Park’ is 100 times more feminist than ‘Jurassic World'” is emphatic that Claire is a step backwards:

Unlike Claire, [Ellie] Sattler is one hell of a character. She’s brave, passionate, and brilliant, as intellectually and physically capable as anyone else in the movie (perhaps even more so than anyone else in the movie). Sattler, a paleobotanist, is in a low-key romantic relationship with her colleague Alan Grant (Sam Neill), with whom she shares a bond that’s built on mutual respect. On Isla Nublar, she doesn’t bat an eye at Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) heavy-handed flirting. And it’s certainly worth noting that, in contrast to Claire’s heels and pencil skirt — which, at some point that I missed, gets an inexplicable, revealing thigh slit torn into it — Sattler is practically dressed for raptor evasion in hiking boots and khaki shorts. 1993’s stylish comfort sure beats 2015’s rigid constraints. She’s also an unapologetic feminist. [f]

So the movie isn’t standing up well to the preceding films for these reviewers. As Foz Matthews points out regarding the Owen and Claire stereotypes in their dress and behaviour, this film is echoing back to an earlier time:

Yes, hello: nineteen eighty-four called, it wants its Romancing the Stone tropes back. [g]

Meanwhile “Meta Mercenaries: Jurassic World Fucking Hates You” feels that film’s characters map onto the roles of the filmmakers with Claire as director, Owen as scriptwriter, Masrani (park owner) as the studio head, all trying to “succeed in winning over an increasingly jaded audience (a very clear reference to audiences expecting more from modern blockbusters than they did when Jurassic Park was released)”, and that I’ve heard people defend this movie by saying you have to “turn off your brain” or calling it “dumb fun.” Jurassic World is neither dumb nor fun. It is the work of a very smart filmmaker that is so conflicted over the film he’s been given that he gave up and proceeded to trash the nature of the modern blockbuster.[h]

For some, the “modern blockbuster” being ruined is down to the fact that women have been given more roles – “Mad Max: Fury Road”, for example. But in contrast to the eighties and nineties when we had “Terminator 2” and the “Alien” franchise featuring female protagonists, we’re now seeing less focus on female heroes. We’re seeing criticism of the poor treatment of Black Widow in Age of Ultron [j] and the character is almost ignored in the film’s merchandise[i] . The modern blockbuster is aiming to bring the thrills while pushing gender roles backwards.

For many article writers and reviewers it is the mishandling of the female characters in Jurassic World that most stands out:

Vivian [supporting character] is the kind of character who ought to be steering the helm of Jurassic World: a woman who is comfortable enough with herself to know what she wants and is able to say no and mean it.
Instead, we get Claire, a controlling ice queen with a sharp red bob and an even sharper white suit. Claire wholly embodies the brittle career woman stereotype. She’s obsessed with profit, thinks of the dinosaurs as “assets” rather than living creatures, and gets a nanny for her visiting nephews instead of spending the weekend with them. She spends most of the movie running around shrieking and making bad decisions, and only succeeds when she begins listening to everyman dinosaur trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).
She does have a handful of excellent moments, but only after she’s realized that everything about how she’s been living her life is terrible.
[d]

The discussion at “Smart Bitches Trashy Books” tackle the death of a minor female character – obvious spoiler here:
Elyse: Maybe it was just trying to point out that people who dick around on their phones rather than paying attention to the children they are watching deserve to get eaten?
CarrieS: Wut. Dude, I have kids. You couldn’t have kept track of those little shits if you’d had them duct taped to your torso. She was fine; her boss [Claire] was a jerk and the kids were brats.
RHG: That was Katie fucking McGrath.
I think that leads into the treatment of women in this movie- which is crap. There was no reason for both of those damn kids to be boys, other than the studio/director/screenwriter all thinking “oh, boys are relatable to everyone amiright” and there were only two (no, four) named women in this movie, and all of their conversations are about those fucking bullshit kids…Spielberg made the older, more competent kid in the original the girl — which was NOT in the book. He changed that. It’s so small and yet an important change. This movie? Is BULLSHIT.
[d]

These are women talking about how they perceive the treatment of the main female character, at least one of whom is a mother herself and who still thinks the whole emphasis on motherhood is ridiculous.

They’re concerned that Claire is supposed to be a tough career woman whose business competence means she’s emotionally a mess; yet Claire is useless at her job. They continue:

CarrieS: [Claire’s] whole arc involves abandoning all her responsibilities to run off and personally save her nephews, and thus we know she’s a better person because she cares about the kids? FUCKING DELEGATE. If my own beloved daughter was lost, I would of course vomit and then I’d delegate a badass person in sensible shoes to find her while I did what I do best (or what I would do best if I was Claire) which is manage the shit out of things. Get people off the island, lock stuff down — that’s what she’s supposed to be good at, so let’s let her be good at it instead of abandoning her post and letting thousands of people get mauled while she works out her emotional issues….
And whoever made Chris Pratt DEVOID OF CHARM should be fed to the raptors. I’m not saying he can’t stretch as an actor but if ever a movie was calling out for GoG style snark, it’s this one.
Elyse: Also, quick note, SHE IS HIS BOSS.
If you are the boss of a dude, who during a crisis situation refuses to listen to you, does what he wants or bosses you around YOU FIRE HIM ON THE SPOT AND HAVE SECURITY ESCORT HIM OUT.
RHG: Security was a TINY bit busy during that situation. I’m just saying. Those kids deserved to be eaten. They were stupid.

Claire’s lack of competence – or her not being allowed to demonstrate it – is echoed in this article:
Despite Claire’s ostensible professional success, the movie sees her ordered around by man after man after man, from Owen to the park’s owner (Irrfan Khan) to its security chief (Vincent D’Onofrio). Ironically, when she finally gets the chance to tell someone (Lowery, Jake Johnson’s control-room wonk) what to do, she does so in undeniably sexist terms: “Be a man for once in your life,” she scolds him.
In the rare moments when the script actually allows Claire to do something empowering, it’s quick to undercut her triumph. Shortly after Claire and Owen reunite with her nephews, she saves Grady’s life by shooting a Pteranodon off his back. Yet, minutes later, the kids announce, “We want to stay with him,” (meaning Owen, whom they have just met) in what was apparently intended as a hilarious laugh line.
[f]

And in “Jurassic World: A Summary”:

Let’s talk about Claire being criticised in the narrative for being trepidatious around a pair of kids she’s too busy to mind and hasn’t seen in seven years, as though she’s not doing her sister a bigass favour by taking them in the first place. Let’s talk about how Claire is apparently so clueless despite her high-powered job that not only can’t she remember how old her nephews are or how long it’s been since she’s seen them – as though this information never came up when the trip was organised – but when she’s out hunting them down, she unironically asks if Owen can track their scent, as though this is a skill that actual humans possess.
Let’s talk about how, after that one meeting with the executives we never see again, Claire is criticised by literally every man she encounters regardless of age and rank
[g]

The competency/lack of authority and “cardboard” romance isn’t the worst of it for Claire though. She is that terrible of women, the childless career woman (again, an 1980’s trope) who just needs the Love of a Good Man to make her turn off her ambition and start using her womb. The reviewers pull no punches when it comes to the heavy handed pro-motherhood message of the movie:

Claire not having children, and declaring she doesn’t want children, also isn’t some sort of fatal personality flaw. But Jurassic World clearly sees it this way, believing the natural progression of women has them evolving into mothers, and those who don’t have that desire are somehow deficient of humanity. Despite claims to the contrary, motherhood does not equal inherent goodness, and not wanting to be a mother does not equal an inherent lack thereof for women. What about the many women who are unable to have children?[a]

Jurassic World is not about corporate greed, anti-militarization, crass commerciality, disrupting the food chain, or dinos eating the shit out of people. No. It’s about a woman’s “evolution” from an icy-cold, selfish corporate shill into a considerate wife and mother.[b]
Claire getting a dressing down by her male co-stars was a part of the film’s marketing, so that I was expecting. What I wasn’t expecting was Claire getting a dressing down for being ambivalent as to whether or not she should be a mother from her own goddamn sister…After whining at Claire that she should pay less attention to her job and more to her (extended) family (whose idea was it to foist these kids on Claire during the middle of the goddamn work week anyway?), Karen impresses upon Claire the importance of bonding with her nephews. “When you have kids of your own–” she tells Claire. Claire cuts her off: “‘If,’ not ‘when’,” she stammers, continuing to demonstrate the staggering amount of patience she has shown every time some fuckstick in this movie has disregarded her life decisions.
“Not ‘if’,” says Judy Greer, trying to focus on the big fat paycheck she’ll get after she squirts out this fetid little turd of a line. “‘When!’”
Hear that, career girls? Babymaking has been upgraded from “if” to “when”! So get crackin’, Claire…Claire’s life is one of being criticized, patronized and shat upon by her male co-workers for alternately being too feminine and not feminine enough. She is dedicated to her work, and no one is cool about this. Her sister dumps her sons on her during a heavy work weekend, and then shits on her for not being mom-ish enough. Claire just can’t fucking win.
[c]

…the final scene, where Claire apparently feels her biological clock ticking for the first time as she gazes soulfully at her nephews hugging their parents; she then shoots Owen a smoldering I-want-to-have-your-babies look before the two of them ride off into the sunset together. Apparently embracing femininity means rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty, while finally realizing that motherhood is your natural destiny.[d]

Let’s conclude with one last quote from the “Jurassic World: A Big Dumb Sexist Mess” article:

Trevorrow [the director] then went on to say that the film “starts with characters that are almost archetypes, stereotypes that are deconstructed as the story progresses,” adding, “The real protagonist of the movie is Claire, and we embrace her femininity in the story’s progression.”
Femininity is, by and large, a social construct. And in 2015, to “embrace” one’s “femininity” doesn’t have to mean choosing motherhood and a man over a successful career. We’ve moved past that. We’ve evolved.
[b]

But film-making apparently has not.

Sources
a http://www.themarysue.com/jurassic-worlds-mother-of-a-problem/
b http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/06/10/jurassic-world-a-big-dumb-sexist-mess.html
c http://www.ifc.com/fix/2015/06/jurassic-world-doesnt-deserve-cla
d http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/jurassic-world-sexism-controversy-women/
e http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/reviews/movie-review-jurassic-world/
f http://fusion.net/story/150874/jurassic-park-is-100-times-more-feminist-than-jurassic-world/
g https://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2015/07/08/jurassic-world-a-summary/
h http://loser-city.com/features/meta-mercenaries-jurassic-world
i http://uproxx.com/gammasquad/2015/06/marvel-black-widow-merchandise-coming/
j http://www.blastr.com/2015-5-4/how-avengers-age-ultron-dropped-ball-black-widow

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Monsters and Motherhood: An overview of articles comparing Jurassic Park with Jurassic World and the latter’s treatment of its female lead

  1. Wow I had only seen 1 or 2 reviews of this film, not having seen any of these films (or read the books) and not really being invested in what was going on but I still knew the anti-childfree sentiment was awful — it’s nice to see HOW MANY reviewers were upset at how Claire was treated. This compilation is fascinating and I wish filmmakers would PAY ATTENTION to how important this is to us, god. I’m not even childfree myself (I mean, I don’t have kids, YET, but I personally do want them eventually) and if I saw a movie explicitly pathologizing not wanting kids I’d be so frustrated and probably write one of these reviews too. Lol. Thank you for all the quoting of the relevant bits.

    Like

  2. I suppose on the plus side there was plenty of people willing to call the film out on its bullshit but it’s a tiny positive.
    I stil haven’t seen this film because I can’t believe we’re still suffering from the idolisation of motherhood in mainstream cinema. From these reviews the entire message seems to be “LOL, silly woman, see how incompetent you are at your job, you just need a Real Man to marry and then you will have BABIES because that’s the only way to be a Real Woman/Good Female Person.” Which hits so many of my Do Not Wants it’s not even funny.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s