Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Feminist Review/Critique of “Jurassic World” (SPOILER ALERT (obviously))


I went to see Jurassic World with my boyfriend yesterday for my birthday, and I enjoyed the movie immensely, or at least all the action sequences with the dinosaurs (which is really the main focus of the movie if you’re watching it right). However, while it did make a valiant effort, Jurassic World was nowhere near perfect when it came to how they used the female characters throughout the film. 

I want to start off by listing what I did like. I was happy to see four main female characters in the movie (Claire, the mom of the two boys (Claire's sister), the woman in the control room, and Claire’s assistant). In a movie franchise that has historically had only one token female character, that was pretty cool. I was also happy to see a woman FINALLY be a fucking bad-ass heroine in a Jurassic Park movie instead of just a screaming damsel in distress. Seriously, when Claire released the T-Rex to go fight the Indominus Rex? I could barely stay in my seat. The last thing I liked, and this is going to sound weird, is that they finally had the ovaries to kill off a female character (Claire’s assistant). This was the first movie where they included a woman in the dinosaur kill count, and I thought that was pretty awesome.

That’s pretty much where my pom-pom pumping ends.

The female characters just barely pass the Bechdel test—there are only two scenes where two women talk to each other, one of which is Claire and her assistant talking about the two boys she’s supposed to be watching, and the other is Claire and her sister also talking about the two boys, so technically they’re still talking about men. The woman in the control room never speaks to another woman, and you never see two female characters talking to each other about anything particularly relevant or important, which really disappointed me because 1) there could have been some great scenes between the woman in the control room and Claire, and 2) women do actually talk about things other than men and kids and, somehow, Jurassic World, which proposes a scenario where dinosaurs are literally attacking and eating people, managed to keep the women in the movie talking to each other about just those two things.
The next thing that really bugged me was how they portrayed Claire’s character. Anyone who’s watched any TV shows or movies (or even read any mainstream books) that depict career-oriented women know that these “career-driven” women are portrayed as selfish and cold-hearted (and I’m putting this mildly), and it’s either heavily implied or outright stated that they are the way they are because they don’t have and/or want a (specifically male) partner and/or kids. In other words, their lack of desire for a man in their life and/or lack of maternal instinct and desire for kids is what makes them bad people. This movie was no different. For example, Claire is portrayed as being so entrenched in her work that she doesn’t know how old her nephews are (which is brought up at least twice as a “seriously, you’re a woman and you don’t know how old your nephews are?” moment). When she meets up with the hero, it’s almost instantaneously brought up that they dated at one point and that she was the reason they stopped dating (of course) because of her “overly controlling nature,” even though Owen (the hero) is equally controlling, if not more so, when it comes to the dinosaurs and how to interact with them, yet nobody bats an eyelash at that, nor does anyone bring up the hypocrisy of Owen criticizing Claire for being so controlling when he's absolutely no better. At another point in the movie, when Claire is talking to her sister on the phone and it’s revealed that she’s decided to work instead of hang out with her nephews, having hoisted them onto her assistant, her sister says that she’ll understand when she has kids. Claire responds with an emphatic “if,” to which the sister replies with an even more emphatic “when.” By the end of the movie, after the chaos has finally been quelled, we find her staring longingly at a mother reuniting with her daughter before she walks off into the sunset with the hunky hero, further perpetuating the stereotype that women who don’t want a (male) partner or kids will always change their minds eventually.

OK, so there’s nothing wrong with portraying a woman with a career as selfish and cold-hearted, per se. There are plenty of women out there who are exactly that way. However, when it’s the ONLY DEPICTION of career-driven women we get in the mass media, that’s a huge problem. It’s also a problem when it’s only women who get this treatment. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, Owen the Hero's controlling nature when it comes to the velociraptors is accepted without question, and Vincent D’Onofrio’s character, Hoskins, was equally obsessed with his work, but the movie doesn’t ever question him, either (apart from wondering how good an idea it is to create an army of trained velociraptors). Nobody asks either male character if he knows how old his nephews are, nobody tells them “You’ll understand when you have kids,” and the film never asks them to reconcile their work lives with their personal lives (or give up the former for the latter). It really wouldn’t have been that hard to portray Claire as having changed her mind about her relationship with her nephews without implying that she suddenly wanted to be with the hero and have kids of her own. It also wouldn’t have been that hard to portray Claire as having realized that she can be a workaholic but still want to be around her family, even if that family didn’t pop out from her own body.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. The action sequences were intense and there were amazing twists, and there were some pretty bad-ass feminist moments, but I think that the movie could have done more to upend the common stereotypes that are tacked onto women in the media—if they can create a world where dinosaurs exist, they can also create a world where women can have a career and no partner or kids and not be total assholes.