On paper, Bryce Dallas Howard’s character in Jurassic World, operations manager Claire Dearing, reads like a cross between a distant father from a 90s movie who learns the importance of family and the typical Ice Queen who just needs to find a man, but I’d argue that our preconceived notions of how female characters behave in cinema and the film’s presentation due to the rapid success of co-star Chris Pratt (both within the narrative and outside it) have prevented audiences from seeing Claire as she truly is: a slightly dorky yet ambitious middle-management type obsessed with order whom, through her adventures, learns to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.
Ultimately, piggybacking off the theme of the original Jurassic Park, she comes to fully embrace being in control when life’s out of control.
In Jurassic Park, protagonist (and paleontologist) Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) clearly does not like nor want kids, “They’re noisy, they’re messy, they’re expensive,” but as he shepherds two young kids through the park, protecting them from dinosaurs big and small, he learns to accept the idea of fatherhood in the end. I’ll speak to the end of Claire’s journey later, but she starts off with a very similar attitude and is deemed way more unlikable because of it. In a deleted scene she confesses to anti-social yet babely raptor nerd Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) that she’s only seen her nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), less than a handful of times. Isn’t it reasonable then for her to feel distant? Are we uncomfortable with the idea that a woman wouldn’t want kids?
With the impending opening of the Indominus Rex exhibit (think Moby Dick as a dinosaur on steroids) to combat a lull in visitors, Claire must deal with the swath of naysayers at her heels as the park begins to descend into chaos. In cinema, corporate culture and workaholics are easy scapegoats, but she’s doing her best while dealing with an unprecedented situation (the park has already been open for ten years without trouble). Besides, it’s all the dudes that keep screwing things up leaving her to pick up the mess. John Hammond’s former pupil, Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) is the one who kept the dinosaur DNA of the Indominus Rex a secret preventing her from properly setting up its habitat. It’s InGen CEO Simon Masrani whom goes full cowboy on everyone crashing the helicopter into the aviary letting the Pteranodons and Dimorphodons free. It’s meninist cheeseburger Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’onofrio) whom undermines Claire’s leadership while she’s away rescuing her nephews.
Even Jurassic fanboy Lowery Cruthers (Jake Johnson) drops the ball on where Claire’s nephews are in the park during the initial lockdown procedures. The only reason Owen Grady doesn’t Han Solo out of there is because Claire enlists his aid to help her find her nephews, but even he doubts her constantly until she rescues him from an angry Dimorphodon. He’s so enamored in that moment he can’t help but smooch her right then and there.
In a recent interview Jurassic World director, Colin Trevorrow, and Steven Spielberg, director of the original Jurassic Park, mention casually that Chris Pratt was cast before Guardians Of The Galaxy exploded onto cinema screens ensuring Chris Pratt’s rise to stardom, but this has been a huge problem for Claire’s portrayal in Jurassic World and our perception of her role to boot. Pratt’s Owen Grady reminds me of a character straight out of a Herzog documentary. Anti-social, nihilistic, Owen would rather spend time with his raptors than human beings.
Jurassic World never makes light of Claire’s journey. Case in point, her heels are never the butt of a joke. Not once. By the climax of the film, she flaunts them proudly. In a moment mirroring Alan Grant’s heroic display of near self-sacrifice (with a dash of Aliens’ Ripley-‘tude thrown in for good measure), Claire offers herself by luring the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the original Jurassic Park out of its paddock to fight the hybrid Indominus Rex. As she slides to the ground to avoid the two titans clashing, we’re given a neat reversal of the moment from the original King Kong. Claire is lying on the ground like scream queen Fay Wray, only she’s not helpless, she’s come full circle getting one dinosaur to stop the monster she originally had a hand in creating. She’s found redemption.
Now, the biggest misinterpretation out of Claire’s entire journey is how it ends. As she returns her nephews to her sister she reconciles briefly before leaving them when she spots Owen in the distance. Framed by two wide air hanger doors, Trevorrow is clearly recalling the John Ford western, The Searchers. In it, John Wayne’s character, a grizzled cowboy who fought for the Confederacy, stands outside the door of his brother’s homestead. Although Wayne’s character is the hero, he cannot be part of their world. So too does Claire stand on the outside of this possibility of a family life. She embraces survival (and Owen Grady) instead and the idea of what’s out there on the horizon. “It’s her story that mirrors this changing world, ” Trevorrow recently stated when asked about future Jurassic sequels. Claire has proved her ability to tackle new challenges by her own wit, heels and all.
As writer and critic Clem Bastow wrote in her essential piece on dismantling notions on what a ‘strong female character’ means, “Yes, it’s fun to occasionally see a blockbuster action movie with a female hero who kicks ass and takes names, but it’s also important for movies to be populated by a complex variety of women.”
I love that she stubbornly wears heels. I love that she’s awkward and a little goofy. I love the idea that presentation is important to her. I love that she’s organized and almost always on time. So it’s disappointing to hear when people don’t ‘get’ her. Maybe Trevorrow and company should have spent more time showing what makes Claire tick, but we shouldn’t have to spell out every little character detail in order for us to sympathize with her. Claire Dearing embodies all the messy complexities we allow the Don Drapers and Walter Whites of the world, but she shoulders it with gumption and aplomb by the end. I can’t wait to follow her on her next adventure.