**WARNING** If you have not yet seen Jurassic World and do not want the ending spoiled, stop reading! This will still be here when you get back from the theater.**
When I went to the movies with my husband this past Wednesday to see Jurassic World, I expected to enjoy a few hours of cinematic junk food. As a long-time fan of this film franchise, I thought I knew what was in store more than anyone: cheesy one-liners, suspenseful jump scenes, and some bloody dino-chomping action. I was pumped, and I wasn’t disappointed.
What I wasn’t expecting was that on our drive home, the movie would prompt an hours-long conversation about philosophy and Christian/alchemical symbolism with my husband. But life rarely follows our expectations, so I shouldn’t be surprised.
You might be thinking, “Really? Are we talking about the same movie?”
I know, I know. I doubt many people left the theaters from this summer blockbuster in the midst of deep philosophical musings. But I love to analyze. I’m the kind of person who will strap a poem to a chair and beat it with a rubber hose (metaphorically speaking, of course). If it can be overthought, I have overthought it. Trust me.
Lately, thanks to John Granger’s fantastic How Harry Cast His Spell, I’ve become obsessed with symbolism and its use in the art of storytelling. Humans have been telling stories since we first harnessed the use of language. Every culture from every age has participated in this rite, so it must be important to the human experience. Movies are only the latest incarnation of this universal human trait, and I think just as worthy of analysis as works of literature.
Before I share the thoughts I had on the movie, I want to be clear: I don’t think any of the symbolism I discuss here were intentionally included in the film. In fact if I had the screenwriters on speed-dial and I called them up to discuss these things, I’m pretty sure they’d call me a lunatic before the restraining order was fully processed. But whether or not the messages I picked up on were placed in the movie with a loving, gracious hand or were shoved there hastily by accident, this remains the same: it got me thinking. And I think that’s all that really matters.
So, let’s get down to it. What exactly about this movie was so thought-provoking?
1. Man vs. Nature
The first film in this frachise, Jurassic Park, largely looks at nature as a massive coil of chaos, completely untameable by the human hand. This point is reiterated over and over by the cynical yet loveable Dr. Ian Malcolm, a mathematician obsessed with Chaos Theory.
By contrast, Jurassic World has Owen Grady, whose job seems impossible based on what we know from the other films: he trains velocripators. That’s right, velociraptors. The same breed of dinosaur that terrorized every human being around in the previous three films. What Owen does certainly isn’t easy, and as shown in the film not always effective. But with hard work, discipline, and mutual respect, he is able to exert a certain amount of control over the untameable beast, which is more than anyone else can say. The fact that he names them and refers to himself as the “Alpha Male” outright leads me to think of him as Adam (Genesis 2:20).
This point may seem small and insignificant, but it stuck with me. For the first time in the franchise, humans are shown to be on a different plain than the beasts hunting them. Not that the other films showed complete and utter disregard for human life, but you do find yourselves walking away from them shaking your head and saying, “Those silly people had it coming.”
With this installment, not so much. The entire film shows Grady, Claire’s nephews Zach and Gray, and eventually Claire herself using human intelligence and wit to save themselves and others from the wages of their sins. Whoops, sorry. I meant the Indominous Rex.
2. Living Things Deserve Respect
I was sure that like its predecessors, Jurassic World would have a strong anti-business agenda. I was relieved and very much surprised when I realized it did not carry a blanket censure against business. Instead, it warned against bad business. Business carried out in unethical, unresponsible ways.
As the corporate-minded director of the park, Claire sees everything as a percentage, a slot on a spreadsheet. She refers to the dinosaurs as ‘assets,’ not ‘animals.’ People are not simply people to her, either – they are sponsors, visitors, or employees. Along with the park’s owner and the lead scientist responsible for the park’s existence, she seeks to generate revenue by any means possible. They want to steadily create attractions that are bigger, louder, scarier. They want more teeth. Their problem is that they did not pause to consider the bite.
When Dr. Woo created the Indominous Rex using DNA strands from cuttlefish and tree frogs, he did not consider that this would allow the dinosaur to self-camoflauge and regulate body temperature. When he included genes from the T-Rex and the velociraptor, he did not consider or warn the others to prepare for the aggressive bloodthirsty beast he had given over to their care. When Claire and other executives raised the Indominous Rex in isolation, they did not consider that predators view unfamiliar animals as a threat. They did not consider that, should the Indominous Rex ever escape captivity, every living thing would have a target painted on its chest. They did not consider this, because they did not consider anything that would happen should their plan go awry. They had no failsafe, no backup plan, no way out.
All of this boils down to one thing: hubris and lack of respect for others. When someone reduces people and other living creatures to mere numbers on the periphery of existence, they are never prepared when things go wrong. The system built on such an attitude is so fragile, the slightest deviation can wreak havoc.
3. The Wages of Sin
The Indominous Rex has no redeeming qualities. It is a genetically engineered killing machine from beginning to end. Unlike its fellows, it has never had a proper place in the food chain. It kills for sport and destroys the environment around it. As I watched the movie, I grew to view the Indominous Rex as the incarnation of Death. It is, after all, the result of multiple mistakes – or, if you will, sins.
Misrani atones for his sins by dying while trying to take out the monster he helped create. It is worth noting that he dies not at the hands of the Indominous Rex itself, like the complacent guard at the beginning, nor by the pterodactyl attack like the gunner beside him, but in a fiery explosion. Fire has long been used as a symbol of purification or sanctification. Even the Bible discusses fire as “refining” (Malachi 3:3, Zechariah 13:9, 1 Peter 1:7). As far as I can tell, Misrani’s death is his redemption.
Similarly, Claire puts her life on the line in the film’s climactic scene. Putting aside all regard for herself, she releases the T-Rex and risks life and limb by leading it to the Indominous Rex with a flare (note: also fire).
Dr. Woo, on the other hand, does not take responsibility for his actions. Instead, he blames Misrani for everything and leaves with InGen with the unhatched embryos. He is clearly not happy with his lot when last we see him, but since there is plenty of room left for a sequel I think he may get another chance at redemption.
4. Natural Order
I don’t think it’s coincidence that the genetic base for this monster is the T-Rex. While the T-Rex doesn’t exactly win a soft spot in our hearts in any of the films, I think it’s safe to say we all consider it the king of dinosaurs. Isn’t that why we named it tyrannical king?
As mentioned before, the Indominous Rex does not have a place in the food chain. She was created to generate revenue, to usher more bodies into the park, to shock and awe. But in doing so, she supplants the natural pecking order. She supplants the creature on whose genetic code she is based.
I didn’t think about this at all until the final scene, when the T-Rex surveys the abandoned park. When he gives a triumphant roar, there was the sense of rightness, of justice that rose inside me. I hadn’t felt that since I revisited The Return of the King and read of the rightful king being restored to the throne. It felt…right. I know I can’t have been alone there.
To me, this hearkens to the modern Church, and to our culture in general. We are obsessed with creating spectacles, rather than substance. We rely on clickbait headlines and soundbites rather than studied articles and deep discussions. We may triumph in this way for a time, but it is not sustainable. Substance always outlasts spectacle.
I have many more thoughts on this film, but I’ll stop babbling and ask you: What did you think?