In a high pressure, intense situation… what would you do?
Airlines tell you, in the event of a disaster, to put on your own oxygen mask before attending to the mask of the person next to you. The implication is that in disastrous situations, many would be selfless. And, human beings have proven this time and again … rushing into burning buildings, flooding rivers, or flaming overturned vehicles to save people they have never even met before. Why do we do it? Maybe because it’s inborn in us, to want to help where we can; that those stronger must help those in need. Evolution can’t explain it. Survival of the fittest doesn’t come into play… when we’re protecting the weak.
The granddaddy of all “protect the weak” stories is the Jurassic Park franchise. It exploded onto the big screen around the same time I was fully fascinated with dinosaurs … and in some sense, cured me of my desire to be a “dinosaur doctor” … ie, to have Alan Grant’s job. It’s still one of my favorite franchises, despite being gruesome; and though I have seen it dozens of times, it still scares the hell out of me every time I watch it. Spielberg knows how to create suspense. When Carissa invited me to participate in Jeff Goldblum Fest, I realized it was the chance to talk about one of my favorite film franchises … but I had no particular angle with which to approach it. And then, re-watching the second film with her over the weekend, everything fell into place, the common theme woven throughout these stories of people being eaten because of one man’s desire to play God – family.
There is much to love, and to learn, from Jurassic Park, not the least of which being that when we attempt to play God, Mother Nature often has her revenge in truly heinous ways… but ultimately, this is a story about “the best of human nature” – our desire to protect and defend not only the people we love, but one another in general. Family is a big deal. It drives the narrative in all three films. In the first film, John Hammond sends his grandchildren out into the park, and it all goes wrong – he is desperate to have them back, and Dr. Alan Grant must become their surrogate “father” figure (protector) in order to ensure all of them survive. And he does … he distracts T-Rexes and other dinosaurs, rescues them from trees, saves them from electric fences, and fights off Raptors for two kids he couldn’t even stand when they first met. Ian Malcolm is also nearly eaten distracting the Rex, so Grant can get them out of the overturned car. Even Ellie is hinting early on that she wants to get married and have kids with Alan Grant.
The theme comes back hard in The Lost World, where Ian must protect his daughter from the horrors of the second “dinosaur island.” No matter what is going on, she is foremost on his mind – his hand is never far from her arm. He steps between her and danger at every occasion. He takes on T-Rexes, Raptors, and other horrors without a second thought for his own safety (though, there is a good deal of freaking out). His girlfriend learns early on not to mess with dinosaur babies, when her inadvertent upsetting of one causes mother and daddy to come charging in to teach her a lesson. And … it’s truly a case of fathers protecting daughters from enemies, because Ian is not alone in the overbearing daddy department; his nemesis is a daddy T-Rex! Not only do these dinosaur parents track their child to Ian’s trailer, where their baby is undergoing empathy-driven “corrective surgery,” once recovering the child, they destroy the encampment, push the trailer off a cliff … and chase down Ian and his girlfriend in California much later, because they have the howling infant in the backseat of the convertible. It’s bait, and it works, because Daddy is determined to protect his kid.
The fatherhood theme is repeated in Jurassic Park III, where Alan Grant once again winds up on one of the islands because two parents are determined to find their son, who they believed crash-landed amidst the dinosaurs. Not only is he the mentor of an aspiring young paleontologist, but Grant must mentor everyone else too … and try to keep them alive long enough to find their lost child. The family, on the brink of marital failure, is healed through the extreme circumstances, forced to work together and think of themselves as a family unit once again … and just when we think everyone is in the clear, another set of parents intrude in their lives: one of the group has stolen Raptor eggs and … the Raptors want them back. Once again, a universal protectiveness toward their young kicks in. Miraculously, all they want are the eggs … they decide not to eat our foolish family after all.
I’m all for equality among the sexes. I love strong women. But I love a protective man even more on screen. In each film, these men step up. The cowards run and hide; the heroes rush headlong into danger to protect their kids … and other people’s kids … and people they might not even like. It is their heroic behavior that makes us admire them, more than their intelligence or quick wits (though that is also enjoyable), because deep inside of all of us, we know that there are moral and ethical traits to admire. It fascinates me that throughout history no group of people has actively admired or promoted cowardice. Traitors have always been reviled; those who preyed on those weaker than themselves are always hated; though we might ascribe to the philosophy of “survival of the fittest,” our very nature rebels against it, because all of us protect our young… and other people’s young. You could say it is the desire to see our species survive, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think it is an instinct not purely primal, so much as fundamentally powerful in that it connects us to a deeper understanding of right and wrong.
Our culture is desperately lacking strong father figures. Many in this generation are the result of broken homes – divorces and absentee dads. Feminism has attacked and belittled men, trying to shame them out of traditionally masculine behavior … such as protectiveness toward those weaker than themselves. It tries to emasculate them by shoving them aside and in some sense, has succeeded. We are left with frustrated men who aren’t quite sure what modern society wants from them, or what role we expect them to play. It isn’t fair to them, but at least they have on-screen heroes to emulate. These guys are not your typical lame Hollywood dad, the butt of jokes, undermined by their more intelligent wife, and mocked by their kids, but strong, intelligent and sensible men who just happen to put their lives on the line for kids. Ian and Alan are men who are willing to step up, to lead, to inspire others to take action, who aren’t afraid to protect those they care about. And, considering women have been crazy about them ever since, no one could ever accuse them of being less than masculine.