When the chief engineer John Arnold fails to return to the safety of the bunker in the 1993 film Jurassic Park, the character Ellie Sattler volunteers to retrieve him. The power is out and the dinosaurs are running freely through the park, causing destruction and chaos in their wake. John Hammond, the venture capitalist who conceived and birthed the idea of the theme park, worriedly tells Ellie that it ought to be him going, not her. She saucily snaps, “We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.”

Ellie is often underestimated in both the film and book. It is paleontologist Alan Grant that John Hammond wants to approve his park and at the beginning of the film, he invites Ellie clearly as a way to entice Grant. It is that underestimation that foreshadows a great deal of the trouble unleashed. In the book itself (and in a shortened version in the film, right before Ellie and Grant see their first dinosaur), Ellie remarks upon this lack of appreciation for her field:

People were so naive about plants, Ellie thought. They just chose plants for appearance, as they would choose a picture for the wall. It never occurred to them that plants were actually living things, busily performing all the living functions of respiration, ingestion, excretion, reproduction and defense…Plants grew, moved, twisted, and turned, fighting for the sun; and they interacted continuously with mammals—discouraging some with bark and thorns; poisoning others, and feeding still others to advance their own reproduction, to spread their pollen and seeds. It was a complex, dynamic process which she never ceased to find fascinating. And which she knew most people simply didn’t understand…But if planting deadly ferns at poolside was any indication, then it was clear that the designers of Jurassic Park had not been as careful as they should have been. (Crichton 44)

Ellie is a dynamic and interesting character. She does not serve as a simple love interest for Grant nor is she a shrieking damsel to be rescued when dinosaurs attack. She is clever, resourceful, and brave—most of all, she feels real, in her hiking boots and practical shorts. She screams a loud expletive when she first encounters the velociraptor and briefly hyperventilates after her narrow escape. What’s more, the relationship between her and Alan Grant is ambiguous. Aside from a casual conversation about whether or not she wants to have kids and Grant quietly confirming some kind of romantic relationship to Malcolm, there is nothing to indicate they are romantically involved. No passionate kisses, no declarations of love in the face of the dinosaurs run amuck. They don’t even hold hands.

Most importantly, it is Ellie’s words that break through John Hammond’s arrogance, not Ian Malcolm’s dramatic warnings. Hammond pleads with her, “When he have control again—” and she cuts in immediately, “You never had control, that’s the illusion! I was overwhelmed by the power of this place! But I made a mistake too, I didn’t have enough respect for that power and it’s out now. The only thing that matters now are the people we love.” It is this speech that finally makes Hammond realize how little control he has.

In a lot of ways, the themes of Jurassic Park represent a male power fantasy. Hammond is arrogant enough to believe he can quite literally “play God”; create a wonderland of extinct creatures millions of years old with no repercussions. His proud mantra, “Spared no expense!” emphasizes this; he believes his money and authority as a white billionaire overrides everything else. It does not matter that even before the park has opened, it suffers a casualty. It does not matter that his engineers and scientists repeatedly warn him that the park is not ready for guests. None of these warnings matter to Hammond, to the point where he even endangers his own grandchildren, so certain he is in his arrogance.

I would argue that it is this breaking of the male power fantasy, the dissolution of Jurassic Park and Hammond’s confrontation of his own weakness in front of nature, that makes Jurassic Park at the very least a film with intentional feminist themes. I would not claim this film is feminist by any means, but I do believe the progressive views of gender are intentional.

Jurassic Park has been a part of multiple conversations in regards to how it depicts gender. Scholars Laura Briggs and Jodi Kelber-Kaye particularly argue that both the film and the book warn that genetic engineering threatens the white, heteronormative nuclear family structure. They explore the idea that the genetically designed all-female population of dinosaurs losing control and chaotically destroying the park is based in a conservative and anti-feminist worldview: “In Jurassic Park, women learn to be mothers, and men learn to be manly and responsible, and all the female-headed households are monstrous.” (Briggs, Kelber-Kaye 97)

They are less critical towards the film, but their criticisms remain. They grant that, “Indeed, in director Steven Spielberg’s version, the ideal nuclear family bends traditional sex roles a bit; women are supposed to be as strong when necessary and men, gentle. That being said, however, the movie is as intent as the book in making nuclear families…”

While I find these criticisms an interesting thought problem, I feel that they miss a large part of the structure of the film and the underlying feminist themes. I will narrow my focus to the film only, as I am more familiar with it and actually believe it is superior to the text.

For instance, the conception, execution, and consequences of Jurassic Park all stem from John Hammond’s masculine arrogance. He relates his past as showman who built flea circuses to Ellie, commenting longingly how he wished to show people something that is “real”. The financial cost does not matter clearly, but it becomes evident by the first scene of the film that the cost of human life doesn’t matter either. After we see a monstrous “something” devour one of the workers, the film cuts to a whiny lawyer, spouting bureaucratic red tape to Juanito, one of Hammond’s diggers. “Hammond hates inspections, they slow everything down,” Juanito complains. And Hammond will not be slowed down.

It is difficult to entirely describe what toxic masculinity is, but easier to elaborate on what it involves. I would posit that toxic masculinity involves conquest and a desire to control, despite the consequences. The film certainly has undercurrents of this, as Ian Malcolm pointed out to Hammond, “What’s so great about discovery? It’s a violent, penetrative act that scars what it explores. What you call discovery…I call the rape of the natural world.”

I don’t believe Malcolm is necessarily equating discovery and progress with violence, but he certainly is using very sexually violent and very male terms to make his point that Hammond is out of his depth. His graphic jibe fits in with what I would deem toxic masculinity. Hammond wants to conquer and control an ecosystem that humanity has no connection to, which went extinct millions of years ago. He does it out of simple base want and an assertion of power, with no thought to cost or sacrifice—“Spared no expense!” In that sense, Malcolm is rather apt to make the comparison to rape.

The film spends a great deal of time introducing us to the majesty of Jurassic Park. A jaunty, triumphant score swells to a crescendo as the helicopter swoops over the expansive park. Ellie and Grant are astonished and captivated when they see their first dinosaur. The latest technology, the most cutting edge science, everything is presented to the viewer and to the park guests as an assurance that Hammond has it all completely under control.

While Briggs and Kelber-Kaye argue that Jurassic Park contributes to an anti-conservative theme that genetic engineering and advances in progressivism is a threat to the white nuclear family structure, I would argue the opposite. I would make the argument that Jurassic Park argues that when a white male asserts control and dominance, the end result is usually mass insurrection and chaos. I agree that it is no accident that all of the dinosaurs are genetically engineered female; it only furthers my point that Hammond’s attempt to control gender and reproduction is doomed to fail.

Masculine bravado is punished in the film while feminine resourcefulness is rewarded. When the big game hunter Muldoon enters the jungle with Ellie, he immediately realizes the velociraptors are hunting them. Instead of acknowledging his lack of control, he chooses to try and subdue and “conquer” the (reminder—she is canonically female) raptor—and loses his life because of it.

However, when Ellie later encounters the raptor, she assesses the situation quickly, determines correctly that she has no hope of “conquering” the beast, and makes a run for it. She escapes.

Meanwhile, Grant’s journey revolves around forging relationships with Hammond’s grandchildren, Lexie and Tim. Their mother, (only mentioned) is newly divorced and Grant’s role towards them evolves from bewildered disdain to a deeply parental bond. He does not have any of the toxic masculinity exhibited by Hammond and Muldoon; therefore has no desire to conquer or control what he already knows to be uncontrollable. He spends the majority of his time keeping Lexie and Tim safe, running and hiding from the dinosaurs. Only once does he shoot a rifle—two shots in self-defense, and then he is helping the children into the ceiling to escape the velociraptors.

In fact, his relationship with Lexie and Tim is more maternal than paternal and it is this relationship that is core to the entire film. It’s difficult to claim that the film ends with Ellie, Grant, Lexie, and Tim in a heteronormative family unit. Ellie spent very little time with the children and they are nestled in Grant’s arms, not Ellie’s.

Malcolm says to Hammond near the beginning of the film, “Life finds a way.” Grant echoes the statement when he discovers that despite the dinosaurs being engineered all female, they have managed to breed anyway—another disruption to the reproductive control Hammond tries to exert. Therefore, I’d suggest a modification to Malcolm’s epithet—rather than “life finds a way”, “Women find a way.”




Works Cited

Briggs, Laura, and Jodi Kelber-Kaye. “‘There Is No Unauthorized Breeding in Jurassic

Park’: Gender and the Uses of Genetics.” NWSA Journal, vol. 12, no. 3, 2000, pp. 92–113.

Crichton, Michael. Jurassic Park. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990.

Steven Spielberg, et al. JURASSIC PARK . USA, 1993.