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Science, Leviathan and “Jurassic World”

In the latest installment in the planned Jurassic World trilogy, it’s the human beings who are truly monstrous.

Chris Pratt stars in a scene from the movie "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom." (CNS photo/Universal Pictures)

When Jurassic World came out in 2015, copying just about everything it could from the original Jurassic Park film, we rewarded it with a billion dollars, because we love Jurassic Park! Hail, Spielberg! It’s a fun movie and it has a manly hero in Chris Pratt. But we should have thought ahead—pay for one movie and soon you’ll get more sequels, more reboots. There’s a reason we never talk about the other Jurassic Park movies…

The latest installment, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which opens this weekend, is not so much a Jurassic Park movie as a Planet of The Apes movie, but with dinosaurs. It’s not about a dangerous trip to the past—it’s about a new, perhaps terrifying, future. It’s setting up a sequel where the dinosaurs roam the earth and return it to savagery. What’s worse, the story is pretty enthusiastic about all this. No human death in the story feels bad. Every time, it’s bad guys whose violent slaughter you’re supposed to enjoy—comeuppance! Instead, it’s the deaths of dinosaurs you’re supposed to grieve over, with all the sentimentality educated in us by plush toys, cartoons, and cat videos.

The following contains spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

The story lovingly portrays the suffering of fake animals to wring every tear it can from your eye and every dollar from your wallet. The animals are noble—not like us. They have super-natural loyalty, bestowed on them from the all-powerful hand of the Creator—that is, director Colin Trevorrow. Human beings in this story are either outright monsters, monsters due to circumstances, or well-intentioned fools who bring about monstrous consequences by their actions. The only truly pure of heart seems to be—spoiler alert—a human clone.

I know what you’re thinking—human clones don’t belong in Jurassic Park! But biological scientific experimenting on life forms in this story is meant to culminate in experimenting—or playing—with human nature. This should have been obvious from the beginning, if you know to look for it, but the film makes a certain effort to hide it, both in order to make very unlikable characters somewhat more likable and in order to deliver a shocking surprise at the end, while setting up the future of the franchise. I won’t spoil the plot for you further, in case you really like the movie.

Dinosaurs in Jurassic World are a symbol of inhuman nature, life without our moral and intellectual problems. Unlike us, the dinosaurs do not know they’re mortal. We can obsess over the extinction of the dinosaurs, but it came as a surprise to them—whereas we devise dark fantasies about the end of humanity with startling regularity. Nevertheless, the dinosaurs are our rivals, for they, too, once ruled the world.

The dream of bringing dinosaurs back by the power of science was revealed in the previous movies to be about funding military technology—the amusement park was just a sideshow. It’s worth considering that for a second: the public wants badly to believe dinosaurs are majestic simpletons, peaceful and perhaps even friendly. The secret powers behind the scenes know you can use them for war, because they’re more monster than teddy bear.

In Fallen Kingdom, this distinction between sentimentality and power is raised to a hysterical pitch. Love of dinosaurs is taken to an extreme—we have politicians, NGOs, and activists who seem to be marching under the banner of Dinosaur Lives Matter. If this is insufficiently crazy by itself, join it with the other extreme, which is straight out of James Bond pictures. Remember piranha-infested pools in secret lairs and plans to train beasts for war? Terrible auctions for the baddies of the world to buy evil weaponry? All that sinister stuff is in Fallen Kingdom, too, but utterly humorless—or deadly serious, depending on how mesmerized you are by the story.

This all leads to two big themes in the movie. First, our science does not make us good, but tempts our recklessness instead. In the opening set piece, a volcano eruption threatening to render the dinosaurs extinct, we’re supposed to see our own possible (likely?) extinction. We are afraid of death and use any power we can get our hands on to deal with it, well or ill—the entertainment industry and the war industry, the two faces of scientific power in the movie, are both attempts to deal with mortality, one by distraction, the other by taking control. The story is committed in a way blockbusters haven’t been since Terminator: Judgment Day to persuade us that there’s no way back—that technological advance is inevitable and that the time has come for it to take control of us, too.

This brings to the second theme: atheism. In a quiet way, the movie shows that control over life, creating dinosaurs out of found DNA, has repealed any belief in providence. God will not guarantee that being human is special—this is why human cloning is so crucial to the plot. The world doesn’t revolve around us, and science will not spare us—human beings can be used just like anything else. Instead of providence, we see the violent requirements of life, which are properly the domain of horror stories, not adventure stories.

To understand the movie, read Job 41 on the fabled Leviathan, the humbler of the proud. And the evil men in the story really are proud, insanely so, thinking they can take control of life and that they will be able to control anything they make through scientific processes. Importantly, the supposed protagonists of the story aren’t really necessary to the plot. Just about everything that happens would have happened anyway. They don’t really matter.

The story is ambivalent, however, about what it means to create Leviathan. It might repeal belief in God, but what then? There’s some strange hope that beasts far more powerful than us and far less fearfully mortal might be our friends and protectors. You can see how, in absence of God, such creatures might be needful. Again and again, the story insists on the loyalty of these animals, against the fear and treachery of the human beings. The bad guys want to use dinosaurs against the good guys. Again and again, the good guys win by using dinosaurs against the bad guys. There’s a moral judgment implied there. The dinosaur is the only agent of justice in this story.

But the movie is also eager to portray how horrifying dinosaurs are or can be. They cannot return the world to Eden. The story suggests, however, that the dinosaurs might manage to destroy civilization or at least fight it off. One of the recent Planet of The Apes movies had a similarly implausible sequence with apes fighting off a modern military. Implausibility is no obstacle to the imagination, however, and thus a new realm would open, a pre-historic realm, older than humanity. That would put an end not only to the evil of human cruelty—it would also end human sentimentality. It would refute the unjustified pride of our science at the price of sacrificing mankind.

About Titus Techera 6 Articles
Titus Techera is the host of the American Cinema Foundation podcasts, a contributor to Law & Liberty, The Federalist, and National Review, and a grad student of political philosophy.

2 Comments

  1. I’m not sure of the theme of this article. Is Spielberg challenging the idea of creationism by making movies like Jurassic World that involves scientific study?

  2. I suppose if little Johnny was playing in the back yard and a flying dinosaur grabbed and ate him the parents might think that getting them off the island was a bad idea. Or if hipster Bobbie was torn apart by a raptor walking home from a DLM protest he might reconsider. The last movie did well primarily because the other offerings were so lousy. They just don’t make many good films.

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