Is Jurassic Park a Feminist Film?

Cedric Chambers
June 28, 2015
Is Jurassic Park a Feminist Film?

First off: Jurassic Park is a wonderfully entertaining series, I've watched it many times. Film is a reflection of culture, and culture is largely patriarchal. Bad is another thought altogether. I had a professor argue that Picasso and Pollock were not good painters because they were womanizers, I'm not sure if the two are related. Lars Von Trier makes fantastic films, he's even been awarded "misogynist of the year" for his hyper-conservative religious-themed movies. In this blog, what I'm doing is posing an argument, and of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I think it's interesting to note that the melting pot we live in today includes all sorts of subjects which people don't want to talk about, or even think about. The following entry is based on the first movie in the "Jurassic Park" series, it lightly makes references to the book, but the book is not the focus of this piece. Hopefully, you enjoy. Thank you.

Jurassic Park is the ultimate Hollywood franchise. It took a theme which was formerly marketed through educational institutions as a form of entertainment for children and turned it into a creature feature, a literal monster. It presents the Zeitgeist of genetic technology as a corporate form of entertainment. It allegorically makes fun of the Hollywood industry through clever lines hidden throughout the series. The lawyer in the first Jurassic Park makes references to coupon day, merchandising, and theme park rides. Which is exactly what the Hollywood franchise has done by creating theme park rides in Orlando Florida, and selling official Jurassic Park(™) merchandise at your local toy store. Claire, the female lead in Jurassic World, makes references how the theme parks audience wants to see bigger and scarier Dinosaurs, so the fictional scientists invent one; which becomes the basis for Jurassic World’s plot. Allegorically, the Hollywood franchise Jurassic Park discovered that it’s real-life audience wanted to see bigger and scarier dinosaurs. As the film series progresses Hollywood participates in inventing or even exaggerating Dinosaurs. For example, Velociraptors are half the size they are in the Jurassic Park series. The Diloposaurus in Jurassic Park 3 was exaggerated from being a fish-eating dinosaur to a larger and more intimidating version of the T-Rex. Jurassic Park is a fun analogy of corporate Hollywood itself. If they ever need more money they can figuratively invent a new dinosaur just like the scientists in their movies. Hollywood movies, in general, are notorious for their focus on conservative values and objectified female roles. The first movie of the Jurassic Park series accidentally contradicts the traditional patriarchal film structure.

Most movies are written by men, shot by men, and created by men. In this way, the film serves as a sort of a male fantasy being re-enacted in front of our eyes. When we are discussing filmmakers and their intent, we must note that the intent of the artist is not important, one can create something and have it interpreted an entirely different way. Georgia O'Keefe painted her flowers with the intent to portray something which was "small and overlooked", but the critics interpreted her flowers as sexual orophices. This is also the beauty of psychoanalysis, the fantasy is subconscious, it's reflected by the authors' world views. A movie has a plot, and characters, and dialogue, that all based on the Authors environment. They are symbolic representations of the psyche portrayed in a visible form. Movies are a lot like dreams. Where things that couldn't happen do happen. Often the characters overcome impossible obstacles and heroically save the damsel in an explosion, or they kill 100 thugs to save their lover. We all have dreams, male and female. What do movies tell us about ourselves? It's interesting to note how society has developed this form of entertainment as a subconscious reflection of themselves, a reflection of a societies belief system(s), of its pleasures and desires, its wishes, the things that are troubling a society at a given historical time period. Film offers a glimpse into what we think about ourselves. A successful film reverberates within the society that produced it. Movies, even the ones based in reality such as biographical films, are psychological role-play. One is pretending to be someone else, fantasizing about being someone else. Movies are anything but reality, they're dreams. Proof of the fantasy lies in the scopophilic gaze. In Laura Mulvey's influential essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"[1] she expands on the concept arguing that women in cinema are typically depicted in a passive role that provides visual pleasure through scopophilia; the act of deriving pleasure from looking.[2] Almost every Hollywood movie includes a slow-motion scene of the female lead throwing back her hair, or a camera zoom over her body parts. It is almost as if the audience is like a peeping tom through a window. It’s a figurative window into a unreal universe, like that of a dream or a fantasy.

The female lead's role in most movies is that of a damsel, or to be punished for her sexual liberation, often as both. The male hero is more often than not attempting to “win” over the damseled female. The redeeming qualities of a female lead tend to be that she ends up with the hero whom chivalrously sacrificed his well being to save her. Through some arduous journey the hero ends up proving his worthiness to said female, and she redemptively ends up with the male hero, which is the case of the Jurassic World. The female lead may exist as a sexually promiscuous character, who, throughout her journey is continually punished for her promiscuity. It’s almost as if the male fantasy does not allow for female sexual liberation. Mulvey asserts: "In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness”,[3] and as a result contends that a woman in film is the "bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning."[4]

Unlike most movies, the first Jurassic Park film which was based on the book written by Michael Crichton, may be one of the few movies that lacks the traditional misogynist qualities. On first glance, Jurassic Park appears to be a feminist movie. Dr. Sattler has a lead role, she’s the maker of meaning, not the bearer of meaning. Jurassic Park lacks the fundamentals of female objectification in movies. There’s only one scene where Dr. Sattler is “connoting to be looked at ness”; the dino poop scene where Dr. Malcolm and Dr. Grant are discussing the idea of marriage. But the last I checked very few people are aroused by fecal matter. The female lead is equal to Dr. Alan Grant, now while she's outnumbered in the male to female ratio, Dr. Sattler is not there to take off her clothes, and Dr. Grant is not attempting to prove his worthiness as a mate by saving her from damsel situations, Dr. Sattler is not being punished for her sexual liberation, or being punished any more than her male counterparts are. This movie is a male fantasy in a different light.

 Dr. Ian Malcolm, “God creates dinosaurs, god destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys god, man creates dinosaur”... after a pause Dr. Ellie Sattler states “dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the earth.”[5] 

We have to keep in mind that Michael Crichton is a notorious conservative, he's famous for discrediting the Green Movement by challenging the scientific data in its infancy. His famous science fiction Novel “State of Fear”, poses that the global warming debate is fueled by self-interest, eco-activists, and eco-terrorists abusing scientific data in order to fuel a state of fear. Like many of Crichton's books, “State of Fear” is a fictional work that uses a mix of speculation and real-world data as fundamental storyline devices. It only makes sense that Jurassic Park would follow a similar outline. The plot is heavily influenced by genetic modification, something which is a recent scientific discovery. Crichton aims to question the legitimacy of genetic technology and its application in real life. The movie goes through the process of cloning, how the scientists brought Dinosaurs back to life using mosquito DNA and mixing it with other species. Here is where the theme of Jurassic Park unfolds.

The characters say things like “life will find a way”, they question the act of creation, and whether or not it’s man’s role to play god. The author is playing with the epitome of technology. Jurassic Park is unique in this sense. Jurassic Park represents the American public’s subconscious fear of genetic technology, a fantasy being re-enacted in front of our very eyes. It serves to exemplify our fears where the human interaction and the distortion of the ‘natural’ order of things only results in utter destruction, that we have no idea of what we are getting ourselves into. Jurassic Park also plays with the common idea of corporations as a form of evil, where their intent to monetize everything results in chaos.

The definition of patriarchy is the control over women's reproductive rights. The dinosaurs are all female, they’re locked up in cages. Their sexual rights are “controlled” by a group of rich males. The movie plays on the anecdotal feminist paradise. The all-female dino island is a literal aberration to God, and as a punishment, man is punished for attempting to control the awe-inspiring power of nature. The unisex form of birth control, which is supposed to prevent the dinosaurs from ever forming their own societies, has been inexplicably replaced by what appears to be the will of God. The audiences castration anxiety literally takes over the traditional conventions of the ‘theme park’.[7] Everyone is eaten alive because they attempted to mess with the 'natural' order of things. As Dr. Malcolm puts it, ‘life finds a way’,[6]  and the dinosaurs magically change sexes. Finally, when the ‘phallic’ makes an appearance, the castration anxiety is put to rest.

Towards the end of the movie, Dr. Grant explains how the Dinosaurs have changed sexes. The audience is comforted, no longer in a state of panic by the unnatural island, everything is in the right place, and now the human involvement only intrudes on the ‘natural’ order of things - it's time for the characters to leave. The dino-society is self-sustaining, the human interaction as impregnator playing God is now unnecessary. The Dinosaurs have moved on from in vitro fertilization to the ‘real’ thing.

Disagree? Name ONE movie that does not include a scopophilic gaze. Leave your reply in the comments.

[1]  Laura Mulvey. "Peeping Tom". Retrieved August 27, 2010.

[2] Erens, Patricia. "Introduction", Issues in Feminist Film Criticism. Patricia Erens, ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. pp. xvii.

[3] Erens, P. (1990). Issues in Feminist Film Criticism. Indiana University Press. p. 28. ISBN 9780253319647. Retrieved October 27,2014.

[4] Erens, P. (1990). Issues in Feminist Film Criticism. Indiana University Press. p. 28. ISBN 9780253319647. Retrieved October 27,2014.

[5] Jurassic Park. CIC Video, 1994. Film.

[6] Jurassic Park. CIC Video, 1994. Film.

[7] Schwartz, Bernard J. (1955) The measurement of castration anxiety and anxiety over loss of love. Journal of Personality, 24 204-219.

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