Monday, June 29, 2015

A Feminist Look at Jurassic World

I gave my review of Jurassic World. It wasn't terrible, but it was hugely disappointing. And the most disappointing thing was the script. And, yet, I want to talk in a little more depth about a curious aspect of that script. See, it passes the two major current tests for feminism. And it had a couple other pro-femme moments. But was it a feminist movie?

(Note, I tried to keep it as spoiler-free as I could, but there were some specific scenes that needed to be referenced.)

As anyone on the internet is aware, the Bechdel Test is a measure of whether or not a given movie has any positive depiction of women. Note that passing the Bechdel Test does not make a movie feminist. It is a ridiculously low bar. For instance, Jurassic World passes it in two instances. Claire speaks to her sister Karen about the kids. Claire speaks to her assistant about her schedule, and about the kids. (Note that a commenter on the site above also pointed out that Blue and Indominus Rex have a conversation, but I think that's really stretching a point.)

Because there are a few movies that have strong female roles fail the Bechdel Test (often due to a very small cast, such as Gravity or Ex Machina), a second test has been proposed. This is called the Mako Mori Test after the character in Pacific Rim. Jurassic World also passes this test, as Claire is actually the only character who gets a narrative arc. (And before you claim that her arc is about Owen, that is as ridiculous as saying that Indiana Jones' arc is about Marian. Her arc is about realizing how blind she's been to the reality behind her corporate obsessions.)

There are a couple other interesting scenes relevant to a feminism discussion. Claire is the one who comes up with the solution during the climax. But mostly, I want to focus on the moment when Claire saves Owen's life. She pretty much goes full badass for about 10 seconds. Then Owen gets up and they kiss. It really stuck out to me specifically because it was a classic, stereotypical, cliched scene. Absolutely by the book. Except that the genders were switched. Does that make it feminist? Not by itself. But it's an interesting subversion.

So is Claire a "strong female character", in the way we all desperately want to see more of? The basic answer is, unfortunately, no. But I don't think it has anything to do with her being a woman. She's just not a strong character. During the scene when she is whimpering in the helicopter, I was thinking, "Wow, they really are pushing some stereotypes here." But then I realized that you could trivially change the character to be played by Eric MacCormack or Sean Maher, and no one would even bring up gender. (Though I did pick gay actors because I'd still want the subverted trope of keeping Chris Pratt as the love interest!) Making a female character bad isn't misogynistic when none of the male characters are good, either.

Of course, if we want to examine the film from a feminist point of view, we need to look at the other female characters. There is Karen, sister to Claire and mother to the boys. She pretty much just fills the mother role, entirely one-dimensionally. And breaks down crying before her business meeting, which is shameful. (It makes more sense when you piece together that the boys are at Jurassic World while the parents are finalizing their divorce, but it's still strongly anti-feminist.) Then we have Zara, the utter cipher of an assistant. There's not even one dimension there. She's barely more than scenery. And finally we have Vivian, the tech. Not much of a character, and her one real scene is a ludicrously awkward "Um, I have a boyfriend" talk. Not anti-feminist, but not really strong, either.

So, no, Jurassic World doesn't get to claim any status as a feminist film in the way Fury Road did. But it does have a few quirky elements to it that indicate that maybe, just maybe, there are screenwriters out there willing to write women in ways that break the tropes and slide some feminism in under the radar.

No comments:

Post a Comment