I saw Jurassic Park when it first stomped into theaters in the summer of 1993, and it rocked my world. I was only five years old at the time, but I can say with confidence that the experience changed my life, cementing my lifelong obsessions with dinosaurs, film, and the art of storytelling. While the various sequels have, for the most part, descended into mindless, empty spectacle, the original Jurassic Park remains a profound and thought-provoking film whose themes and message seem to become more relevant to our culture with each passing year.
The story of Jurassic Park (both of the film and its source material—the terrifying novel by Michael Crichton) is in many ways a modern-day retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Both stories primarily concern the hubris of mankind, drunk with power thanks to the unrestrained progress of modern science and an all-consuming desire to play God. In both stories, reckless scientists create life from nonlife and suffer devastating consequences as their creations break free from their tenuous control and run amok.
In the film and the novel, the character John Hammond, CEO of the InGen corporation and the visionary mind that conceived of a zoo populated by cloned dinosaurs, invites three scientists—paleontologist Alan Grant, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, and mathematician Ian Malcolm—to tour Jurassic Park and give their assessments. Malcolm (brought to life onscreen with an iconic performance by Jeff Goldblum) is essentially the Cassandra of the story, whose warnings about the instability and danger inherent in Jurassic Park go unheeded.
Two key scenes from the film stand out, not because of dramatic action or amazing special effects, but because they masterfully communicate through brilliantly written character dialogue the vital themes of the story.
Malcolm explicitly states that the dangers of the Jurassic Park project are caused by a staggering lack of humility on the part of InGen’s scientists and an outrageous recklessness in defying the laws of nature and objective moral reality. “Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.” Malcolm’s hyperbolic rhetoric, although not mentioning God by name, nevertheless implies a simple, devastating truth. “Dad’s gun” in this case is a power that rightfully belongs only to God: the ability to create life, to reverse death and extinction. It is a power that human beings (as God’s creatures) have no right to usurp or to meddle with.
Hammond objects that Malcolm isn’t giving Jurassic Park’s scientists due credit for their amazing accomplishments. But Malcolm counters that Hammond and his scientists “were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” The decision of whether or not to clone dinosaurs, reviving them from extinction, is ultimately not about financial profit, or legality; it is in the final analysis a moral question.
Hammond tries to justify his actions by likening what he has done to using cloning to save endangered species from extinction. But the analogy falls flat. As Malcolm rightly points out, “This isn’t some species that was obliterated by deforestation. . . . Dinosaurs had their shot and nature selected them for extinction.”
As Christians we might say that ultimately it was God, the Lord of nature, who selected dinosaurs for extinction, but the validity of the point remains. Hammond has no answer for it.
Dr. Sattler then makes a key point. Since we know so little about the extinct ecosystem of the dinosaurs, “how could you ever assume that you could control it?” We’ll come back to this issue of control later.
Seeing that the mood of the room has turned against him, Hammond appeals to the paleontologist Grant to come to the defense of the validity and value of Jurassic Park. Grant disappoints him by siding with Malcolm and Sattler, echoing Malcolm’s concerns about the unpredictability inherent in introducing dinosaurs to the modern world.
Ultimately, these fears prove all too valid. As a tropical storm rages around the island, disgruntled InGen employee Dennis Nedry sabotages the park’s computer systems, shutting down the power to the electric fences and releasing the dinosaurs from captivity. For all of Hammond’s beliefs about his absolute control over his creation, all Jurassic Park’s science and technology were unable to control or to account for fallen human nature. Nedry’s selfishness and greed undoes all of Hammond’s hopes and dreams for Jurassic Park.
In the second key scene I wish to spotlight, Sattler finds Hammond alone in the dining hall of the visitor’s center forlornly eating ice cream and ruminating over the collapse of his manufactured world.
Hammond tells Sattler about the first public attraction he ever built—a “flea circus,” a little world wonderfully created using optical illusions and mechanical slight of hand. With Jurassic Park, Hammond desired to create a world for people to enjoy that wasn’t illusory—a world that was marvelously, dangerously real.
Despite everything that’s happened, Hammond remains in a state of denial. He believes his only mistakes were an overreliance on computers and automation and the hiring of an obviously seedy fellow like Nedry. He is completely blind to the reality that his primary mistake was in trying to recreate dinosaurs in the first place. The following exchange between Hammond and Sattler, which returns to the themes of pride and control, is in my opinion the most important piece of dialogue in the entire film:
Hammond: “Creation is an act of sheer will. Next time it will be flawless.”
Sattler: “It’s still the flea circus; it’s all an illusion.”
Hammond: “When we have control again—”
Sattler: “You never had control! That’s the illusion!”
Hammond still hasn’t learned from his sins. His hubris and obsessive desire to control this world are still there. Ultimately, God is in control of nature and of objective moral reality. Man’s attempts to control these things and warp them to his own fallen, imperfect will are ultimately illusions that produce suffering and disaster. Both Victor Frankenstein and John Hammond learn the hard way that science divorced from any sort of objective moral reality produces monsters.
In exploring these matters, Jurassic Park is not only a retelling of Frankenstein but is also a modern-day parable containing echoes of some of the key stories of the Book of Genesis. In chapter 11 of Genesis we are presented with the story of the Tower of Babel. The sin of the people in that story is not that they were constructing a tall building. It is the sin of presumption. In building a tower that they hoped would reach to heaven, they were symbolically expressing their desire to supplant God and decide for themselves the limits of morality. Upon observing their work, God says: “This is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Gen. 11:6). It is not that God fears man as a rival, but that he knows that by aspiring to be their own gods, men do incredible spiritual damage to themselves. This spiritual damage will end up spilling over and infecting every aspect of their lives and societies.
Going back even further to Genesis chapter 3 and the account of the fall of man, Scripture makes explicit that the primal sin of our first parents was pride and a desire to decide for themselves the nature of right and wrong. The serpent lies to Eve about the fruit of the tree of knowledge saying, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).
Malcolm calls attention to man’s disordered and harmful desire to supplant God with the memorable line: “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs.”
Of course, man cannot literally destroy God, but once God is removed completely from society and from any moral calculus, man can justify any evil or moral depravity. One only needs to look to the atheist regimes of the twentieth century, both communist and fascist, to see this ugly truth in action. Indeed, you don’t have to look any further than our own twenty-first-century secular culture. Whether it’s gene editing, designer babies, birth control, embryonic stem cell research, or gender reassignment surgery, man’s attempts to control his own biology speak to a society where science and technological progress have become completely divorced from any consideration of objective moral reality. Despite being over twenty-five years since its release in theaters, Jurassic Park is perhaps a more relevant film today than it has ever been.