I finally got around to seeing Jurassic World. I was initially reluctant to see the movie, as I was highly skeptical about the quality of a fourth installment in a franchise that probably should have ended with the first movie, and definitely should have ended with the second. Nevertheless, the idea of Christ Pratt as the velociraptor-whisperer was too good to pass up; unfortunately, that was the best part of the movie, and was only tangentially significant to the plot as a whole, useful for a an all-too-obvious plot twist as well as the poorly motivated death of an Evil Military-Industrial-Complex Henchman. All in all, however, Jurassic World wouldn’t have been much different from any other profit-oriented summer blockbuster if it wasn’t for the fact that it is a fucking piece of fucking misogynistic. To be sure, the preceding sentence is a strong claim, and strong claims require strong evidence; fortunately for my argument, the movie provides such evidence in spades large enough to swallow Indominus Rex herself. (Obviously, spoilers abound, so read on at your own peril; or better yet, do read on, so you know not to waste your money on this piece of cinematic shit).
As a general point of narrative theory, the moment at which a major character is introduced holds a special point of privilege over the future development of that character, for much the same reason that someone should (almost) always wear a suit to a job interview: first impressions are important, and how one initially perceives the other (whether as a physically embodied presence across a table or as linguistically absent simulacrum on the silver screen) will inevitably color one’s overall impression of the other. So let’s consider the introductions of the movie’s major characters, namely Owen Grady as portrayed by Chris Pratt and Claire Dearing as portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard.
Dearing is the first of the two characters to be introduced to the audience. The camera reveals her in a moment of privacy, expressing anxiety over a looming meeting she is about to have with a handful of high-profile potential investors for the park. Her makeup is immaculate, her hairstyle is flawless, and nevertheless her insecurity is paramount. Even though she puts on a ‘game-face’ and projects authority and confidence when actually meeting with the investors, we the audience have seen her ‘true’ personality, as someone who is by and large ‘faking it,’ calm, cool, collected on the outside, but fucking terrified on the inside. As character portrayals go, Claire Dearing’s portrayal is certainly plausible: all of us have experienced the need to put on a ‘game-face,’ or less euphemistically to ‘bullshit,’ at some point or another, and her anxiety is entirely understandable.
The problematic nature of Dearing’s initial portrayal comes into clear focus, however, when contrasted when the portrayal of Grady when he is first introduced to the audience. Crucially, we see Dearing’s face up close from the very first moment, in which anxious micro-expressions abound; the complete opposite occurs in the case of Grady when we don’t see his face until the very end of the opening shot, shrouded as it is the overpowering glare of the sun. Grady’s body language undeniably communicates strength and confidence, and the luminescence which seems to naturally radiate from Grady himself recalls conventionally hagiographic portrayals of the Christian saints. Although Dearing projects this same atmosphere of authority upon meeting the potential investors, we the audience know the truth: Dearing is bullshitting it, but Grady is the nonetheless the real deal. In psychoanalytic terms: the man wields the phallus (i.e. stands at the center of the production of abjective meaning) by virtue of his innate masculinity; the woman only wields the phallus whenever she performatively assumes it for herself. The man can never not wield the phallus; the woman can only ever wield the phallus for a short period of time, and only then in the absence of the ‘true’ masculine phallus.
Nowhere is this gendered dynamic of strength vs. weakness, of ontology vs. ephemerality, of presence vs. absence made more clear, ironically, than in the one scene where Dearing takes on agency for herself. While Grady fearlessly fights back against a horde of actually-pretty-cute-looking flying bat-dinosaurs, Dearing cowers behind his back; it is only when Grady is momentarily overwhelmed by the bat-dinosaurs that that Dearing picks up his gun and fights off for herself the bird-dinosaurs which are attacking Grady. Nonetheless, she immediately returns the gun to Grady once he has sufficiently recovered, and returns to her position of dependence upon Grady’s masculine strength. The message is clear: the woman can wield the phallus (and the shape of the gun in question is itself literally and excessively phallic) when and only when the man fails in his possession of the phallus, but under the condition that she use the phallus strictly to return to return to the man the possession thereof. If I were Dearing in that situation, I would’ve told Grady to find his own goddamn gun, of which it should be pointed out there were plenty around him at that moment.
Other examples of this dynamic between Grady and Dearing abound throughout the movie: take Grady’s aggressively primal sexuality vs. Dearing’s purported disgust-which-turns-out-actually-to-be-deep-rooted-attraction; take Grady’s unquestioned leadership despite being a newbie to the park vs. Dearing’s unquestioning submission to Grady’s leadership even though she runs the entire fucking park; take Grady’s situation-appropriate clothing and compare it to the fact that Dearing is running around in fucking high-heels which for some miraculous reason never break once through all the running she does through mud and over rocks. (NB: I’d be a lot less angry about the high-heels if they featured directly into the plot; had Dearing used a stiletto point to say, puncture the skull of an attacking velociraptor, that would’ve been pretty cool. But the high-heels only serve to make her ‘look pretty’ and further the misogynistic, anti-woman binary that fuels the entire film).
There are even more examples which could be analyzed in considerable depth, but additional discussion of them would only be an exercise in close-reading skills and wouldn’t further my argument to any considerable degree. However, the remains one point still to be discussed, namely the horrific death sequence inflicted upon Dearing’s personal assistant Zara (whose last name is significantly absent, apparently because a woman with character depth constitutes a threat to the fragile masculine ego) as portrayed by Katie McGrath. Nor am I the only one in the blogosphere to notice just how problematic (to put it nicely) this death sequence really is. Devin Faraci of birthmoviesdeath.com notes the inappropriateness of the sequence, but merely attributes it to an inexperience with the ‘language of film’ on the part of director Colin Trevorrow without correctly identifying the underlying misogynistic impulses. Nonetheless, Faraci’s observation that the sequence shifts the genre from action-adventure to horror is on the mark, and unbeknownst to Faraci, recalls the extremely large body of literature on the innately misogynistic structures of the horror genre as a whole.
Since she is an undeveloped character, there is no motivation for the grotesqueness of Zara’s death sequence, which is more appropriate to the death of an unquestionably evil bad guy. Consequently, Zara functions not as an object lesson for the importance of moral goodness, but simply as a piece of entertainment which invites the audience to revel in the systematic torture of the female body. I simply could not put the point better than Molly Fitzpatrick of fusion.net, who points out that “Zara’s death is depicted with relish, like it’s a deserved retribution,” even though Zara’s death is clearly far, far from being deserved, as her only sin (apparently) is that of being born with a vagina.
I’ll cut this post short of being a rant, even though it is admittedly already somewhat ranty in nature. If I sound angry about Jurassic World, it’s because I’m fucking angry. The movie as pure narrative is disappointing; however, the gender politics of the movie are simply disgusting. Shame on Trevorrow for directing, and shame on Universal Pictures for disseminating, such a morally reprehensible film.