Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sexism is the Fire in Which Jurassic World's Undisputable Queen was Forged (and Consumed)

This review contains spoilers and profanity.

First and foremost, let's get something clear right away:

Claire Dearing is a goddess, and anyone who thinks differently can fight me.



I have to say that I enjoyed the heck out of Jurassic World. It wasn't the splendid perfection of Jurassic Park, of course, but I never had any expectation that it would be. It was fast-paced, well-acted, decently-scripted. It hit all the beats a summer popcorn blockbuster is supposed to hit: science gone horribly, desperately wrong; precocious children in peril, evil military/corporate goons who get their just desserts; a Drive-In Saturday romance (1). And it featured a fabulous female protagonist. (Seriously, fight me on this one.) All in all, not bad (2).

I loved the raptors; I loved the T-Rex Hail Mary in the denouement. And, oddly enough, I loved the rampant sexism.

Hear me out on this one.

As other reviews have noted, the character of Claire Dearing is subjected to piles and piles of sexism through the whole film. She's constantly under the microscope of the patriarchal gaze, judged and found wanting. She gets sexist shit from her boss, from her subordinate, from the coworker she went on one date with, from her nephews, and even from her own sister—all of whom fail in varying ways fail to respect her capabilities, her drive, her comfort levels, her intelligence, or her life choices. And I love this. I love it because it is so real. The sexism of Jurassic World is so believable, so exactly how powerful career women often are treated by their family and colleagues, that it becomes a thing of beauty—especially given that Claire consistently refuses to bend to these people's attempts to shape the person she is. In spite of everyone talking over her or telling her what to do and how to be, Claire Dearing knows that she isn't called upon to conform to another person's idea of how she should run either her personal or her professional life.

You think Claire Dearing won't get five feet in those fancy heels of hers, you smug, self-absorbed jerk? She will outrun your punk ass so fast, you won't even know what hit you. You think Claire Dearing isn't capable of empathetic care of children because she a) has a demanding job and b) doesn't want children of her own, you hypocritical, meddling older sister? She will teach your sons the true meaning of the phrase boss-ass-bitch by ensuring that they believe (on an emotional level) that she's going to get them home safe.

Claire Dearing is a motherfucking queen. Blue the Raptor, Indominus Rex? They ain't got nothing on Claire. Claire Dearing for President of Everything Ever.

Given that the film features such a powerfully-written (and powerfully-portrayed) female character, it's a real shame that Jurassic World doesn't stick the landing. And it fails to stick the landing by sending Claire Dearing off into the sunset with sexist jerk extraordinaire, Owen Grady.

I really wanted to like Owen. He's basically Star Lord—if Star Lord had a raptor squad instead of the guardians of the galaxy—but without the personal character growth. And that's why he doesn't work. (And why the relationship between him and Claire doesn't work.) It's not that I have a fundamental problem with characters who possesses unsavory personal traits. I actually appreciate those characters when the narrative appropriately calls out their behavior. But the narrative of Jurassic World doesn't do that.

Owen Grady opens with a pathetic pickup line, and he ends with a pathetic pickup line. And, for my money, nothing that he does or says in the course of the film really indicates that he's learned anything about how to treat women with the respect they deserve. Over the course of the film Claire Dearing passes the test to become one of the guys, and since he wanted to sleep with her right from the start that's very convenient for him, but there's no sense that he truly sees her or understands how his previous treatment of her was inappropriate. He never tells her that he misjudged her, and he never apologizes. Maybe it's meant to be implied, but for me—in 2015—implied just isn't good enough.

By all rights, Owen Grady should have done something to indicate that he was at last truly capable of deserving Claire, of deserving an intelligent, resourceful, and multifaceted woman. Failing that, Claire Dearing should have thanked him for his help and politely declined his offer to stick together for survival.

Of course, the second alternative—at the very least—wouldn't have been appropriate to the kind of film that Jurassic World is. (The Drive-In Saturday romance is a tried-and-true component of this sort of film, one I don't necessarily object to if it's done well.) But dammit, it would have been nice to see the filmmakers use the trope to drive home a material lesson about how sexist jerks don't get the girl in the end unless they reform.

Maybe that would have been too unrealistic.

1) The phrase "a Drive-In Saturday romance" comes from a song by David Bowie, the lyrics of which are "She's uncertain if she likes him, but she knows she really loves him. It's a crash-course for the ravers; it's a drive-in Saturday..." I use it to refer to a particular trope of romance, where the two main characters start off detesting each other but end up in a relationship in spite of that fact. See "Drive In Saturday," Aladdin Sane (Rykodisk, 1973).
2) As is typical for a Hollywood film of this scope, the diversity was so-so. They didn't kill off the black best friend, which is something, but they also didn't have a single woman of color with a speaking role as far as I could tell.

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