Jurassic World: The Loss of Wonder

This took a while to write because I wasn’t sure what I thought of this film the first time I saw it. When leaving the theater after a second viewing, I had a vague feeling that the tone of Jurassic World was somehow wrong, dissimilar from the soaring feeling I have after a Jurassic Park viewing. Here are my thoughts: Jurassic World is missing the awe and wonder of Jurassic Park, and Jurassic World assumes that we can control nature, whereas Jurassic Park reminds us we cannot.

In Jurassic Park, all of the characters, not just the children, are in complete awe of the dinosaurs when coming into contact with them. Remember? The first time we see the dinosaurs, Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler remove their sunglasses, needing to see with their own eyes, jumping out of a Jeep to get a better look, not bothering to use the doors. Dr. Sattler’s mouth hangs ajar. Dr. Grant is overcome with such strong emotions he looks as if he’s sick, doubling over and eventually sitting down heavily. Cynical Dr. Malcolm looks on the verge of tears, a joyous laugh escaping past his unease.

In Jurassic World, there is no awe. Everyone has grown used to dinosaurs. The adults are kept busy with cell phones and sales pitches. Claire states that bigger dinosaurs are needed every year to keep guests coming back. Owen respects the animals, but with a “mutual respect.” He has no sense of wonder. Everything has become mundane to these characters. Gray is the only one we feel the same level of wonder from as the original characters. Running around, cheering, and taking pictures. He can still be overwhelmed with awe and wonder, not needing danger to see the dinosaurs for what they really are.

And isn’t the despondency we see in the main characters how we have become? Cynical, skeptical, unable to be awed. We no longer find wonder in anything. Claire’s words, then, that guests need bigger and badder dinosaurs to be entertained is a commentary on those who are watching the film. This explains why the body count is about 10 times that of Jurassic Park. In Jurassic Park, only five characters die. In Jurassic World, it has to be around forty. I couldn’t keep count. But we, as an audience, needed bigger and badder to hold our attention and interest. And it’s what we were given.

The second thing I noticed is the view of how well we can control nature. In the “flea circus” scene of Jurassic Park, John Hammond states he wants to give people something that’s free of illusion, that they can touch, to which Dr. Sattler responds, “you never had control, that’s the illusion!” In Jurassic Park, nature is too powerful to control; as Dr. Malcolm puts it “the kind of control you’re attempting simply is . . . it’s not possible.” And we’d be wise to remember this.

In Jurassic World, we finally have found a way to control the natural order. We have been in charge for many years at the opening of the movie. Even something as magnificent as a T-Rex submits to our will, eating goats when beckoned and attacking another dinosaur for us. Sure, the raptors have a mind of their own like any other animal, but Owen can still maintain “Alpha” status over the pack.

It is only when we crossbreed a new species, combining cuttlefish, snakes, tree frogs, lizards, raptors, and T-Rex together that we finally lose control. Yes, in Jurassic Park it is this filling in of “dino DNA” with tree frogs that allows for breeding within the park, but it is not this filling in which causes us to lose control. But, in Jurassic World, it is this crossbred animal which wreaks so much havoc on unsuspecting guests. It seems as though this is how we now see ourselves: fully able to control and manipulate the natural order. And, as long as we don’t push the envelope too far, we’ll maintain this control.

In the end, Jurassic World reflects, I think, how our society has come to view the world. We no longer can be awed: a T-Rex is just a big animal. No worries, as long as we keep ourselves from being too creative, we can control nature. But, some things should cause us to stumble backwards, overwhelmed, reminding us that we are but dust (Psalms 103:14); finite creatures who cannot control what we think we control.

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One comment

  1. Great post! I am reading through Chesterton’s Orthodoxy for the umpteenth time and the point about wonder really links to what he wrote (I cannot find the chapter, sorry)

    “If our life is ever really as beautiful as a fairy-tale, we shall have to remember that all the beauty of a fairy-tale lies in this: that the prince has a wonder which just stops short of being fear. If he is afraid of the giant, there is an end of him; but also if he is not astonished at the giant, there is an end of the fairy-tale. The whole point depends upon his being at once humble enough to wonder, and haughty enough to defy. So our attitude to the giant of the world must not merely be increasing delicacy or increasing contempt: it must be one particular proportion of the two–which is exactly right. We must have in us enough reverence for all things outside us to make us tread fearfully on the grass. We must also have enough disdain for all things outside us, to make us, on due occasion, spit at the stars. Yet these two things (if we are to be good or happy) must be combined, not in any combination, but in one particular combination. The perfect happiness of men on the earth (if it ever comes) will not be a flat and solid thing, like the satisfaction of animals. It will be an exact and perilous balance; like that of a desperate romance. Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them.”

    So what Jurassic World got right about human nature and wonder is exactly the defect Chesterton writes about – there is no balance.

    -Ben

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