[Some spoilers for Jurassic World herein]
Claire Dearing exists in a world that hates her. A driven career woman, she has a high-powered job at one of the biggest travel resorts in the world. She’s climbed the ropes and learned how to make her clients – the businesspeople sponsoring events at the resort – happy. And she is undercut and ignored by her male bosses, undermined by her male underlings, and treated as a useless woman by her male colleagues. She is every woman who has faced criticism for devoting herself to her career instead of settling down and doing things “the right way.” In Jurassic World, she is the hero.
Numerous critics have taken Claire as what should be hated about this movie. Linda Holmes of NPR commented that it was her character was the only thing negative in a movie that was otherwise fine. Noah Bertlasky wrote at Quartz that Dearing reinforces age-old gender roles. Molly Fitzpatrick at Fusion compared Dearing to her foremother, Ellie Sattler, arguing that Sattler was more feminist, basically because she had that one line about matriarchy.
To be clear, I think these critiques make some legitimate points. The death of the assistant, Zara, who barely has five lines, is disproportionate to the rest of the movie and is unnecessarily brutal. I think that movie's punishment is out to proportion to the rest of the cast. But to argue, as these critiques do, that the movie hates Claire Dearing is to misunderstand Claire Dearing.
What all of these critiques ignore is the legacy of the inventor of the Jurassic series – Michael Crichton – and how well Jurassic World and Claire fit into that ongoing legacy of Crichton’s critique of the military industrial complex and corporate shills.
Claire Dearing is classic Crichton. For all his sexism toward women in other ways (never read Disclosure), he did a lot to undermine the idea that career women are somehow deficient or bereft because they have chosen not to have children. Women are frequently the conduit, saving the day and figuring out the puzzles no one else could. In Airframe, Crichton pits woman against woman, affording each character a complex legacy that has nothing to do with their relationship to men and much more to do with their relationship to male-dominated and male-driven industries. Within that legacy, Claire fits.
Claire exists and moves within the world of men. She performs femininity largely to impress and maintain her image as both a funding director and the public face of the Jurassic World theme park. When her nephews show up in a weekend that has been pushed upon her, she not only gets guilt-tripped for having a career, but condescended to as a failure from her own sister, who is trusting her kids with her. Claire distinctly doesn’t want to have a conversation about her personal life, but like women in high-powered careers everywhere, the men around her insist on making the conversation about her instead of about the topic at hand.
Despite all these assumptions about her, she refuses to be told to wait; she refuses to be told to hang back. She is proud of her work and she knows herself, but she does so without hubris. The growth of her character is not a growth toward motherhood, but rather a growth toward understanding that sometimes you have to destroy the entire system in order to survive it.
Crichton’s original story is about the hubris of man, the hubris of corporate thought. This is a common theme throughout all of Crichton’s work – that institutions will fail because of structural inequity and because man believes himself to be larger than he actually is. Claire begins her journey as part of that institution, undertaking the rites of passage that any ambitious woman will recognize. And she watches the hubris of first her boss and then her acting boss bring both of the men down. She, of all the corporate shills in the movie, is the only one to finally understand the relationship of man to nature, red in tooth and claw.
One could argue that had Claire just listened to the wise man, Owen (Chris Pratt), she could have avoided all that. But even Owen falls prey to his own hubris, buying into the idea that he can control the velociraptors, that they will listen to him when released into the park. Instead, his attempts to go along with the corporate entities - albeit in his own way - fail just as the movie predicts.
Claire succeeds where every man has failed, and she does so only by sacrificing the institutional protection she has been under for so long. She is the one who, at the end, sees the way through and the way out. In a reversal of expected gender roles, Claire is the one who leaves Owen to protect the children, braving the threat of the Tyrannosaurus and understanding that the only way to survive is to destroy the system entirely.
Jurassic World is about the hubris and failure of corporate institutions and the privilege of individual men within those institutions. The franchise has always been about the marketing and corporatizing of that which cannot be marketed or sold. The pure dream of the scientist to explore, to see what can be done, is corrupted and ruined by the desire of the corporation to build bigger and better and make more money. "Verizon Wireless Presents Indominus Rex" is at once a laugh line and a scathing indictment of the nature of corporate branding. It is Titanic with dinosaurs.
Jurassic World is not about the individual failure of one woman to be a proper mother. It is instead about the ability of a hardened and ambitious woman to overcome a sexist institution by destroying it from the inside out.