When I was much younger my mother taught me that “hate” is a strong word and should be used as sparingly as possible. It’s for that reason that, while it’s pretty apparent that Bryce Dallas Howard’s character was portrayed in a decidedly sexist fashion, I cannot agree that Jurassic World hates her. It doesn’t think particularly highly of her as a woman or of mothers in general, but it does not hate her.
No, if there is any one woman that Jurassic World holds in the lowest regard it is the character of Zara Young, played by Katie McGrath. While the video below is only the last twenty seconds of a trailer do be warned, the full video spoils huge chunks of the film. That said, read everything below the clip at your own risk if you have not seen it or any others in the series.
First of all, how hilarious is it that the video is titled “Jurassic World Trailer #2 Starring Katie McGrath”? I mean, she literally only appears in the short snippet you all just watched. Second of all, it’s even more hilarious what little Wikipedia has to say about Ms. Young:
“Claire’s assistant Zara is their guide, as Claire is too busy recruiting more corporate sponsors with bigger dinosaur attractions to maintain the park’s attendance.”
“Gray and Zach arrive at the main park as the pterosaurs begin attacking the visitors, killing Zara in the mayhem.”
Which seems pretty cut and dry, honestly. That is until you read the actual death scene described in an article over at Yahoo Movies, which says that she-
“-gets scooped up by a Pteranodon, dropped into the grasp of another, and ultimately devoured by the massive Mosasaurus, which surges out of the lagoon to munch both Zara and the flying beast.”
That same piece has Bryce Dallas Howard pointing out that this is the first ever woman killed by a dinosaur in the franchise. She also notes that “…boy, is it gory. She gets tortured!” Director Colin Trevorrow believes that it’s “one of the all-time dinosaur deaths in a movie.”
Howard gets the closest to describing how long it takes for this poor woman to die by describing it as being “tortured”. In the io9 comments section of a synopsis of the film one of the editors asks “Why does Merlin’s Morgana need to spend five minutes dying?” [Katie McGrath played that character in the BBC series]
To intersperse some of my own reactions when watching Jurassic World this past Tuesday, it’s by no means a short scene. Zara is tossed from pteranodon to pteranodon like a Starbucks-holding ragdoll before plunging into the mosasaurus tank. When her life is finally ended it’s just as she’s about to be yanked back out of the water, presumably to be flung back and forth for the entire rest of the film. If I wanted to sum it up in one word it would be “brutal”. The second word would be “unnecessary”.
What really stuck with me, however, is how undeserved it felt. When David Gennaro, who masterfully owns the “blood-sucking lawyer” role in the OG Jurassic Park dies you don’t feel terribly sympathetic. He hated the kids and later proves to be kind of a coward. Survival of the fittest and all that-
Now over at TV Tropes they’ve dubbed one particular trope “The Scourge of God”, which is a killer of some sort that targets not terrible people, but instead “those ‘guilty’ of comparatively minor foibles.” Even when putting it that way it’s hard to say that Zara deserved what was coming to her.
As mentioned she’s Claire’s assistant and put in charge of the two kids, and certainly doesn’t seem too thrilled at the responsibility. That being said, she isn’t mean to them at all, and isn’t even really all that neglectful. She’s talking on her cell phone when they decide to run away from her. That’s right, she doesn’t lose them, they lose her. When Claire calls Zara to find out where they’ve gone she’s crying, clearly remorseful for not having taken better care of them.
Over in the Jurassic World discussion on /r/comicbooks there’s an entire comments thread dedicated to this. I’ve pulled a few of choices ones for you below:
“Yeah, it was pretty horrifying. The character didn’t even deserve it, so there was zero satisfaction and it just left me feeling violated. Which I suppose it was meant to..”
“That scene genuinely made me uncomfortable. It just felt almost…too much. I mean, it was completely realistic, because dinosaurs obviously wouldn’t concern themselves with the comfort of spectators, but damn. I’ll be honest, I did not expect them to go that far with this movie.”
“Yeah, I guess logically it works, but cinematically it was just cruel and unnecessary.”
“I thought maybe I was overreacting to that scene, it made me so uncomfortable. It was just so…extended. Most deaths in the Jurassic Park series are quick and adding to the thrill of the scene. This just felt cruel. Glad to see I’m not alone in in this opinion. (That being said…still loved the movie.)”
“I asked my buddy what the fuck did she do to deserve that death.”
I’m not going to pretend I didn’t pull comments that all followed a certain perspective, but the vast majority of redditors shared the same sentiment. It wasn’t just the question of why this had to happen but the added fact that watching it made them feel awful. That’s particularly interesting considering the fact that Trevorrow was doing it to “misdirect the audience”; his goal was “to subvert people’s expectations based on assuming their intelligence.” In other words we didn’t think she was going to die, at least in that fashion, but then she did. Well done, Trevorrow.
I didn’t stumble across it until I was almost finished writing this, but Devin Faraci over at Birth.Movies.Death. says pretty much all that I have and just a bit more. He provides an exceptional breakdown at character deaths in film and how they must be proportional to who the character is, and the reason we’re so put off by Zara’s demise is that it doesn’t jive with the cinematic language we’re all so familiar with. Zara was a tertiary character at best but was given a death scene worthy of a Disney villain.
Which is to say that for all of its many, many problems with the way it presents women the issue that most people, feminists or otherwise, will walk away with is how Zara Young became one of the park’s exhibits. While it may be heavily debated whether or not Jurassic World hates women it will go without saying that at the very least it hated one of them.
Rest in mostly one piece, Zara, we hardly knew you.