Jurassic Park: A Lesson in Fatherhood

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

22 Replies to “Jurassic Park: A Lesson in Fatherhood”

  1. Perhaps part of the draw of a protective father is that he paints a picture of our heavenly Father, the ultimate protective parent. He will keep us safe from harm that comes out way, and when He allows us to go through trials, it’s the same as a father who perhaps lets his daughter fall over when she’s learning to ride her bike. He’s still there, but sometimes those bumps and bruises are more powerful teachers than wrapping the kid in bubble wrap.

    1. And, the award for BEST COMMENT goes to…

      Look at you! Being all profound and tying fatherhood into an even bigger concept that didn’t even occur to me at the time I wrote this! Bravo!

      You are absolutely right. Profound conclusion. Thank you.

      1. 🙂

        I was actually surprised you didn’t draw that conclusion yourself. You must be rubbing off on me. In face, I know you are, because so often, I look at things much deeper than I used to.

        1. I should have. I guess I was being superficial that day, to miss something that (in retrospect) obvious, parallels-wise.

          It delights my soul to see others deepen spiritually. My quest for depth stems primarily at my desire to keep up with my parents, so I guess… they rub off on me, too. 😉

    1. Looks good. I’ll be there opening day. Though I am a tiny bit sad that neither Ian nor Grant will have a cameo in this one. I get the reason why, but still…

  2. (Bwahaha–I am back! Uh….after a delay, long story 😛 )

    Terrific post–especially after just this morning my Mom and I decided to buy Jurassic Park for a little boy we know. He loves dinosaurs and probably wouldn’t mind a jaunt back to the Jurassic period.

    I never thought about the theme of protecting the young–but you’re right, it’s definitely something that comes up in the movies again and again.

    I think part of the problem is that some people feel that equality has to mean sameness. Men and women are of equal worth before God, and should be before the law etc; this does not mean that men and women are or should strive to be exactly the same. You could even argue that again, dinosaurs and other animals get this right (females are strong and independent, but not identical to their male counterparts, males can be protective and nurturing, but don’t replace the female).

    Or at least, I’m assuming that dinosaurs got this right, because I’ve yet to visit a prehistoric park 😉

    1. I think it’s reasonable to assume dinosaurs defended their young like most other creatures in the animal kingdom do; there’s only a few creatures that abandon their young to fend for themselves.

      You make an excellent point — equality does not mean we are the same, because it’s obvious that men and women have different bodies and tendencies. We can do many of the same things and accomplish the same tasks, but why would we want to? I’d rather not be the primary wage earner, if you don’t mind. 😉

      1. It’s deeper than that, even. Women have different strengths than men and vice versa. I have skills that Jon doesn’t really have, and he has some that I lack. Together we really are stronger than either one of us singly. God put men and women on earth so that they could each contribute something the other lacked.

        1. Amen.

          I hesitate to proclaim this too loudly, because it might draw ire from other feminists but … there are some things that men are simply better at, and there are some areas that women are superior at. It’s not a problem of inequality, rather it’s a combination of strengths… and it’s an honor to have certain abilities that men do not possess.

          Or at least, when I’m all moody and hormonal, I shall remind myself of that. 😉

  3. I see bits and pieces of our weekend conversations in this post and I love it! The whole survival of the fittest thing really falls by the wayside in Jurassic Park, at least where the people are concerned, whether the author meant it to happen that way or not.

    Your post really reminds me of every cowardly character I’ve ever seen. One of my least favorite is Brett Maverick in the Maverick tv series. He freely admits that he has a yellow streak down his spine a mile wide. He is a disappointment to me, on so many levels, because he is always forced into being a hero. If there wasn’t some sort of external pressure placed on him, he would turn tail and run every time.

    In Jurassic Park my least favorite character is the cowardly, pathetic lawyer. I’m assuming that’s what he is. He abandons those children in the car, with absolutely no thought for anyone other than himself. It is up to Alan and Ian to take a stand against the T-Rex, and that is precisely what they do, not caring that they could both end up dead. They could not leave the children in that type of danger. I love that emotional aspect about these films! Defending others is what makes us strong. People say that the ISFJ is the most prone to leaping into dangers to save others, but I think Jurassic Park really proves that any personality type can and will exhibit selflessness in times of emergency.

    Awesome post, Charity, very thought-provoking! Thanks!

    1. I think the writer had fun with the lawyer … lawyers are often the butt of things in movies, played out to be bloodsucking morons and/or cowardly souls because so many people have had negative experiences dealing with lawyers suing them or engaging them in custody fights. Here, the poor man embodies everything we hate most about human beings — in a single person: cowardice, selfishness, ambition, and a lack of concern for moral ethics. And, he’s soon eaten. Coincidence? I think not. The source of his ambition and greed consumes him … I’m sure there’s a metaphor for capitalism in there somewhere…

      Had the ISFJ not gotten out earlier to help diagnose a dinosaur’s illness, those children would not have been alone with the lawyer in the first place. Ellie would have stuck with them and helped them avoid making certain stupid mistakes. I hope. 😉

      1. Oh, I have no doubt that Ellie would have stuck by those kids like glue! And if she could have reached the lawyer, she probably would have slapped him silly!

        It’s funny. I really have issues with certain types of lawyers, as you know, but I can’t bring myself to hate them. Because that’s lumping them all together as a group and that’s unfair to them because I’m sure there are some truly decent lawyers out there. I feel the same way about cops. I, personally, do not like the cops in my town because they feel corrupt to me. However, I took offense just today at a book that painted all the cops in the heroine’s life as evil: her dad’s girlfriend, the sheriff in her small town, etc. They were all “out to get her.” By the end of the audiobook, I was fuming because the author was doing the badge a disservice through her lack of balance. There are bad cops out there, but not every cop is bad. There should have been at least one cop, somewhere, at some point in the story, willing to listen and give her story the benefit of the doubt. Having every lawyer be bad is just playing the stereotype. It doesn’t mean it’s not a fun stereotype for a movie like Jurassic Park, but still.

        This is what comes of all those years watching Law & Order! I’m a DA girl and know first hand, well via tv, that there are good cops in the world!

        1. I can’t dislike lawyers in general either. I’ve seen 20 seasons of L&O! I even considered law as a profession, as you might know — but in the end, I would be too soft for that kind of job. Too much of a mediator, not enough of a litigator. And, I have a soft spot for cops too… too many cop shows in my history. Though, tragically, there are some bully cops in this world.

          It’s interesting, how much prejudice one notices when they’re looking for it, isn’t it?

          1. One of these days, I’ll get into L&O. I do really like lawyery stuff — absolutely love Perry Mason, my fave ep of classic Star Trek is “Court Martial,” and I once served on a jury and was absolutely fascinated by the whole courtroom experience. So I’m pretty sure I’d did L&O. When I find the time, some day. I really like cop shows too — currently love Castle and Forever and NCIS and Bones (though of course two of those aren’t about cops exactly). Law enforcement as a whole has my utmost respect, though naturally there are bad cops just like there are bad lawyers and bad teachers and bad doctors… sin is no respecter of professions.

          2. The original L&O is awesome. I got so hooked on it, because most of the episodes dealt in moral ambiguities and legal arguments — they often wound up mounting opposing arguments, so the audience could see the merit in both sides of any discussion, from abortion to political debates. I learned a lot about law and law enforcement, but I also learned how to see both sides and value each for its unique approach, even if I could not morally agree with it. L&O CI was less that way and more a procedural, and SVU is just … kind of gross. Like, you want to distrust men in general? Watch a show that entirely revolves around sex crimes. Ugh.

  4. Great post. I too get tired of Hollywood belittling fathers/men and making them the butt of all jokes. I miss many of the old programs such as the Andy Griffith Show, the Dick van Dyke Show and the Walton’s where the fathers were respected and admired. I’m a feminist and I know men often act corny at times, but there is a big divide between acting silly and behaving stupidly, and I hate to see men ridiculed.
    I have to say, though it was obvious that Dr. Grant and Ian were protecting the children in the Jurassic Trilogy, with all of the gore and close calls, I hadn’t considered how well rounded their characters were. I know Stephen Spielberg has a running theme in most of his movies, where the father in the film is distant and there are issues between him in the children. But Jurassic Park sort of breaks away from that.

    1. I LOVE strong father figures. There isn’t enough of them in movies or television these days. I even like morally ambiguous fathers provided their immoral actions are driven to protect their family — like Jack in ALIAS. Distant, bad-ass, and cold … but he’s trying to protect Sydney in whatever way he can, even if it costs him his own life. To me, that’s what a parent is all about, and particularly, what fathers’ roles in their childrens’ lives should be all about — protecting them, even if it costs them everything. I don’t want it to cost them everything, but that willingness needs to be there.

      The second movie kind of resonates with the Speilberg theme of distance with the father and child, since Ian is trying to reconnect with a daughter who complains fairly early on that she never sees him, he never takes enough of an interest in her life, and he doesn’t even know she was cut from the gymnastics team. It takes a stowaway and an island full of man-eating dinosaurs for him to step up as a dad and for them to bond. But in both instances, that’s what happens — it’s how he bonds with Kelly, and how Dr. Grant bonds with the kids in the first film. He has to, to save them, and the act of saving them defines him in their minds as a “safe place” — hence, forming a bond.

      1. Perhaps for men, it’s the need to protect the women in their life that does bring about that bond of intimacy. You feel bad at the beginning of the 2nd film because, as much as Kelly and Malcolm love each other, it’s obvious that they do struggle with the father/daughter thing. He never punishes her, even if she acts out. And he never keeps his word, which she throws at him when he leaves her up in the treetops on the island to check on the rest of the crew. There’s a lack of trust that has to be overcome for there to be true progress in their relationship. Because Malcolm keeps coming back for her, keeps her near him, protects her throughout the film, I’d say that trust is well on its way to being solidified. It’s really great to see!

        1. I hesitate to use the word “possessive” because it has such negative connotations, but I do think that many men have an instinctive desire to be possessive over (or protective of) those they care about. I always roll my eyes in movies when men feel the need to aggressively stake out their territory when it comes to the women in their life (“Leave her alone; she’s mine!”) but I think that’s just stemming from a deeper, inborn acknowledgement that as the physically stronger sex, there’s a responsibility of sorts to be the protector in the relationship.

          Some women might not like that, but … I do. You can say that it’s evolution, or that God designed it that way, or that it goes back to the cave man days, but I think the natural instinct for a woman is to find someone in whom they can see this protective potential … perhaps even to be attracted to it. It implies safety from the world.

          Kelly needed that sense of safety and found it in her dad, on the island. It built a bond between them that probably will never be severed.

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