Turning 30 With ‘Jurassic Park’

Jurassic Park

This December is different. It doesn’t mark the end of just any old year. Well, at least for me it doesn’t, because this December is the tail-end of my thirtieth year of life. This, most likely, does not mean a lot to you, but it makes me think about other thirty-year-old things and things that have tails, and my favorite movie ever made happens to be or have both.

This summer, in June, Jurassic Park turned thirty, a decade that, for the girlies, at least, is often celebrated as one where a woman really comes into the power of their femininity. Anxieties fade, careers click, and we shed the shy layers and the shitty friends. For me, the connection here felt undeniable, because I would argue Jurassic Park is one of the first feminist films I ever watched. Ever since my dad introduced me to the film, at what was assuredly a much too young age, lines from characters like Ellie and Lex—and even a few very specific calls from velociraptors—have maintained permanent fixtures as a soundtrack of feminist battle cries inside my head. 

At face value, a movie about dinosaurs and rich men playing god doesn’t scream feminist agenda. But as Ian Malcolm so charmingly says about checking for the dinosaurs’ genders, there are some skirts to be lifted. Which brings us to my first point.

The Female Dinosaurs Of Jurassic Park

BD Wong’s Henry Wu is the geneticist behind bringing the dinosaurs to life on Isla Nublar. His first mistake, in a series of long, life-altering, franchise-foddering mistakes, is engineering all of the assets on the island to be female as a means of population control. Of course, birth control, even in the dinosaur world, is a feminine burden. And of course, the girls figure it out. They realize they can reproduce in their pastures because Wu has negligently built them with genetic material from bullfrogs known to spontaneously change sex. “Life finds a way,” or really how I see it, “women find a way.” We always do, which is the only way the men make it off the island by the time the credits roll.

When it comes time to save the day, women do it, and girls do it, which is unlike any other films that were crushing it in theatres at this time. Jurassic Park was the highest-grossing film in 1993, but it was followed closely by movies like The Firm and The Fugitive. In the younger arena, boyhood was being glorified in The Sandlot.

 But Jurassic Park has Lex.

Lex And The Power Of Fear

Lex is a force for so many reasons. First and foremost, she is afraid. Unlike her brother, Tim, who is a total stan for Sam Neill’s Alan Grant, she doesn’t want to be on the island at all. She wants to be home on her computer. When things go south and a tyrannosaur headbutts the glass roof of her getaway car, she’s fucking terrified. But what’s most important is how she gets it together. She follows Alan through the wilderness of the unelectrified park, and she proves that bravery isn’t quantified by how little fear a person has, but instead by their ability to confront the things that scare them. Sure, she’s a few years older than Tim, but despite her copious anxieties, he winds up as the liability of the two. 

Jurassic Park

Spielberg deserves a lot of credit for his choices, and one of his best is deciding not to make Lex the punchline of every joke. It’s funny when the dinosaur sneezes on her, but she’s not a caricature of a moody big sister. Her journey is transformative, and it celebrates her strength. In the end, Lex is the one that reboots the computer system and saves everyone’s ass while keeping her composure. Plus, she kept her little brother safe in the iconic kitchen scene. She modeled for me that I could be scared and anxious and even when people made fun of me for that, I could still save the day. 

Ellie Sattler: Calm, Cool, Collected

Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler is just as powerful. Her tenacity, as Dr. Malcolm calls it, is what presents her with an opportunity to set the stage for Lex in the end. However, throughout the movie, Ellie is interesting to watch because there are so many scenes with her that almost invalidate everything I’ve said up until this point. 

At first pass, it’s easy to bristle at the fact that she’s the one in her partnership with Dr. Grant who brings up having kids and that Dr. Malcolm’s unprofessional sexual advances towards her are presented as funny jokes. But because child-bearing is a tertiary concern and she doesn’t suffer fools (see her killer line “Dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the earth”) we are presented with a fuller range of the feminine experience. These moments aren’t smarter than her or ahead of her. No, instead, Ellie Sattler is in control of them all. 

Jurassic Park

While Lex’s character is one that resonated with me from an early age, Ellie Satler’s badassery in the face of reality is something I’ve come to appreciate as I reach this milestone age. Advancing my career weighs on my mind just as does the question of whether or not to start a family. Laura Dern gives us a performance packed with complexity and composure, a career woman who isn’t as cold as so many are portrayed on screen (i.e. Claire Dearing in later installments of the franchise). It’s so refreshing for a woman’s arc not to be a ballad of feminine rage while simultaneously not neglecting the feminine experience entirely. And this movie is from 1993.

Hell, even the raptors and the infamous “Clever Girl” scene were a mini introduction to one of my favorite genres—movies with unlikeable, villainous female leads. 

Jurassic Park: An Unsung Feminist Masterpiece

On so many fronts, Jurassic Park is lauded for how well it aged, from revolutionary sound design to its practical effects (if you didn’t know, they made the cup of water ripple in sync with the T.rex by rigging the underside of the dashboard with a guitar string). However, the way this movie portrays women is something that’s so rarely praised. Perhaps I’m biased based on my birth year, but I would argue it’s up there when it comes to depicting women in movies that are not about women, or really about any one gender exclusively. In short, gender-specific obstacles aren’t the only way to convey female strength, especially in a genre like this one. Women are tenacious, and this movie knew, even thirty years ago, that’s not anomalous enough to be a plot point. It just is—all the way back to the late Cretaceous.

Jurassic Park, I’m glad we’re the same age. 

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