(This post has spoilers–but I tend to agree with A.O. Scott on the subject.)
Well, Jurassic World was an awesome spectacle! And apparently that’s not an unpopular opinion as the summer blockbuster has enjoyed earning over $400 million at the box office. When it opened a few weeks ago, it beat the record for highest-grossing weekend of all time.
When a movie is that successful, I have to stop and ponder how it is influencing the legion of fans that are watching it. There’s something to be said about how impressive the flick is visually, but what else is it?
I went into to Jurassic World with high hopes. When I watched the trailer with the mosasaurs gobbling up that great white shark, I knew I had to see it. The original movie was captivating to me as a lad—the first PG-13 movie I ever watched—and I remember the moral of the story: leave creation up to the Creator. When humans start trying to be God, trouble finds them. In this case, when people starting trying to genetic engineer extinct species of dinosaurs and make a profit, things got a little out of control. Great lesson—so what’s the point of a sequel? What else could it tell us?
Honestly, it was superficially brilliant, but I was disappointed in the lack of substance of the film. Not just because the characters, aside from Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), are one-dimensional, but because the plot itself seem to unravel as quickly as the amusement park did.
The basic premise: The park is experiencing increasingly high operating costs. As a result of this, investors are pressuring the park to come up with an even greater attration. Enter Indominus rex the genetically engineered dinosaur that is based off of T-rex, but with a bunch of undisclosed animals mixed in. This ferocious, intelligent dinosaur is bigger and greater than the park can handle. When this super dinosaur escapes, the heroes have to figure out a way to regain control of their park.
Philosophically, the filmmakers were trying to create a conflict between Owen, a velociraptor trainer who is committed to “mutual respect” between him and the animals, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Masrani (Irrfan Khan) who represent the financial hunger of the park, and Vic (Vincent D’Onofrio), who sees nothing but militaristic opportunity in the dinosaurs. So the moral of the story seems to be that an interdependent relationship is better than a capitalist interest and militaristic opportunity. I suppose that is nice enough, except when it’s not.
That whole premise unravels at the end, as audience is treated to a display of outrageous, albiet totally cool, dinosaur fighting. The movie didn’t have an explicit moral that I could discern, but even without one, what else is it teaching us? Here are three myths that I think the film is perpetuating, that I think Jesus undoes.
- Making money is what counts. Even though the dinosaur-making amusement park predictably falls apart. The entire trouble of the park occurs because of an obsession for more and more. That point is well deconstructed in the movie, but in a meta-sense, the production of the film itself doesn’t do anything to undo that myth. Here we are, 22 years after the original, watching the same movie and spending at least twice what we originally did to watch it. (See above for its box office total.) Jesus us a different narrative: the last shall be first, and the first last. In the Kingdom of God, making disciples is what counts. Those humble servants of God care more about his glory than their pocketbooks.
- With enough individual effort, we’ll get it right. The movie is a direct sequel to the original, and even pays homage to it (one person is wearing a retro Jurassic Park T-shirt), and some of the characters stumble into a storage area of the old park. They still have the evidence of the deadly park that preceded this one, but they still haven’t learned. This time it will be different they seem to think. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The reason you’re failing is because you aren’t putting in enough effort. But that isn’t true, is it? We often fall into the same traps of sin and patterns of behavior no matter how earnest we are. We need community, we need a body, we need accountability. We can’t just go it alone, like Owen seems to. We need family (eventually Zach and Gray Mitchell, the distant brothers in the film, figure that out). More than just others, though, we need to disrupt our old system in order to change. The church can be the biggest disrupter of that “homeostasis.” We offer an alternative; our old habits are hard to shake on our own, but through the accountability and relationship with other believers who are saturated with the Spirit, I think we can move in the right direction.
- Our problems may just solve themselves. None of the plans of the people—Masrani, Lowery, or Chris’—work in the end. They all fail. Most of the characters die in the film and even the best ideas don’t seem to work. In the end, it is dumb luck that seems to save the day and little that the characters intentionally did. “Life finds a way,” is Ian Malcom’s famous saying in the original movie, warning the park’s original creators of the folly of trying to control creation. Similarly, that same “life” solves the problems at the end of the day. The spectacle of four dinosaurs doing battle at the film’s conclusion appears satisfying, but still unrewarding. Some nameless force, in this case the power of “nature,” solves the wickedness that human perpetuate through it. But the reality is, things don’t get better on their own, and we don’t better either. Our problems aren’t solved. We need a savior. Even Owen wasn’t that savior for Jurassic World. But Jesus is that savior for us.
I’m not sure the creators of Jurassic World were as malicious as I may make them seem. I think they just wanted to make a sweet movie during the summer, and dinosaurs are a great subject! But I think when we have such a large platform from which to speak, it is our obligation to consider what messages, conscious or unconscious, we are delivering.
Let’s discern and think together for the rest of the summer as we consume the seemingly innocent action blockbusters. There may be more there than we can immediately see.