WHEN: 7:40am EST, July 13th, 2013
WHERE: In my apartment in Portland, ME
FORMAT: DVD on a 24” Philips CRT television
MENTAL STATE: Thoroughly engaged.
“A parent: What does it mean to be one?” As I’ve touched on before, this is the one of the biggest questions that faces Jurassic Park‘s Dr. Alan Grant. (Well, after “Dinosaurs: will we be eaten by them?”) Luckily for him, this island contains more than Paleozoic murder beasts; it’s also chock-full of parental examples for Grant to consider. So stop playing with those night-vision goggles, or so help me, I will turn this car around. It’s time to look at the the parent-child dynamics littered through Jurassic Park.
It’s apparent, the movie wants him to be a parent.
(It’s also apparent that I make horrible jokes, and should be shot.)
THE FAILED CHILDREN OF JOHN HAMMOND:
John Hammond has more chances to play the role of father in this film than any other character. He serves a parental role to his literal grandchildren, his staff, and to his dinosaurs. He also proves himself to be completely incapable of protecting or controlling any of his children, literal or figurative.
Why does Hammond have so many children? Well, it would seem that he is a man obsessed with his legacy. His first foray into parenthood was a flea circus. With his creative powers, he brought forth a little mechanical family of his own design. But this failed to live up to his expectations (as many children do), so he sought to make more and better creations, culminating in the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. So personal is his connection with them that he feels the need to be present for each birth.
“This one won’t disappoint me…”
Sadly, his dinosaur creations fail to live up to his aspirations, and the moment this becomes apparent he is already planning his follow-up attempt. “The next time, everything’s correctable. Creation is an act of sheer will. Next time it’ll be flawless.” Thus Hammond lays out his philosophy of parenthood. If you try hard enough, and correct your mistakes, you can create the perfect offspring.
“That perfect son is just 50 tries away.”
Obviously, this is horrific. Not only can you never mold yourself the perfect child, there’s also the problem of all your remaining prototypes. Not every child is as easy to dispose of as a Petticoat Lane flea circus. After multiple attempts, the offspring start piling up, and that can only lead to problems.
Hammond is spread thin. The first time Hammond is mentioned in the film, he is sloughing off his park responsibilities to deal with his daughter’s impending divorce. When Tim and Lex arrive on the island (no doubt thanks to that divorce), he almost immediately drops his responsibility for them, and sends them off into the park with a group of near strangers.
Filling out the flock of figurative and literal kids are Hammond’s employees, whose dependent status is made painfully clear through Nedry’s snarky “Thanks, Dad” response to one of the patriarch’s lectures.
So well does Nedry fit this role that, as a kid, I took him for Hammond’s literal bastard son.
With so many unattended children all on one island, something was bound to go wrong. His employee child, Nedry, in a burst of rebellion, unleashes the dinosaur children, who then turn on the literal children. How’s that for a Hammond family reunion?
Attempted dino-kid on grandkid fratricide.
Dino-kid on employee-kid fratricide.
Dino-kid on dino-kid fratricide. (Actually, it should be “sororicide,” but who’s counting?)
So much fratricide!
A QUICK NOTE ON MALCOLM:
Hammond’s horrible parenting job does not go un-commented-upon. Ian Malcolm’s almost sole function in the film is to criticize Hammond’s creations.
As sanctimoniously as he damn well can.
Yet, he who threw the first stone is by no means without sin. Malcolm has three children and multiple exes, and he’s looking for more. He may be a great dad, we don’t know, but the one weekend we see him, he’s off flask-drinking on Dinosaur Island. Hell, if we take The Lost World: Jurassic Park into account (which we shouldn’t), his track record doesn’t get any better. We only see one of his three kids, who through his irresponsibility ends up on Dinosaur Island #2, which he leads an expedition to without (to our knowledge) phoning any of his other kids.
Sure, his shortcomings don’t result in tons of deaths, but a man who loves kids for their inherent unpredictability, but apparently doesn’t stick around to raise them, should probably lay off the criticisms.
GENNARO’S BRIEF RUN:
We only get a small taste of Gennaro’s parenting skills, but it’s enough. After Hammond abandons the kids, they wind up in Gennaro’s custody by default. He starts out with some stern but arbitrary rebukes.
“Stop playing with that thing that was probably left there specifically for you to play with.”
Then, at the first sign of danger, he flees the scene and probably soils himself. Leaving his children alone near an apex predator. Smooth move. For this he dies his famous squatting death. Jurassic Park does not reward the cowardly father.
To be fair, Gennero never wanted to procreate. He prefers animatronics, er, auto-erotica.
GRANT’S TRIAL BY FIRE:
But what happens when the most vocal anti-child advocate gets saddled with a couple of kids? He kicks ass at parenting, that’s what.
Despite looking kind of creepy while doing so.
When the children are trapped, he acts quickly and decisively to get them out of harm’s way. When it’s time to rest for the night, he is gentle and reassuring. He even makes time to pretend to get electrocuted, because electrocution is always funny.
Why does Grant make such a good father surrogate? Maybe it has something to do with his less than optimistic attitude towards children. Grant knows that “they’re messy, they’re expensive… they smell.” Unlike Hammond, he doesn’t have any illusions about how amazing children can be. He knows that they’re only kids, horrible, irritating kids; and he acts accordingly. Does he expect that Tim will climb out of the SUV alone? No, he goes and retrieves him. Does he expect Lex to just curl up and go to sleep in the tree? No, he tries to sooth her worries till she falls asleep. He knows that children are just children, and is thereby able to get them through Jurassic Park alive.
LIFE FINDS A WAY:
Hammond’s quest for the perfect heirs has resulted in a horde of progeny he cannot control. Malcolm loves children, but doesn’t have the time of day for them. Gennaro flips out the moment he is confronted with a parental crisis. Grant handles kids well, but can’t stand being around them. What is this movie telling us about parenting? Well, I think the key to that lies in the one set of parents we haven’t looked at yet: the dinosaurs.
What do we know about the dinosaurs’ children? Not much, only that they happened. Life found a way.
Because life frequently does find a way. Children show up when you least expect them. In the world of Jurassic Park, it’s how you handle that unexpected situation that defines you as a parent. I doubt that it’s an accident that the climax of the film features raptors herding our four characters into an impromptu nuclear family.
Its like Leave it to Beaver with dinosaurs instead of Eddie Haskell.
(Also Wally is a girl for some reason.)
You may find yourself as part of a family, whether that’s what you chose or not. But, if you’re going to be a parent, you’d better be a good one. Or you’ll be eaten alive.
Creating the perfect child isn’t an option. Work with the one’s you have. Don’t try to make increasing numbers of improved copies. You’ll never make another you.
I’m looking at you, Hammond.
Just because Grant’s father never built him a tree-house, it doesn’t mean he can’t step up and save Tim from a tree-car. So, I suppose the message Jurassic Park has for parents is this:
If you find yourself in a parental role, take responsibility and do your best.
(But also, don’t clone dinosaurs, because they will eat you.)