image: hypable.com

Strong Female Characters: Claire Dearing

For those of you that don’t know, Claire Dearing is the leading lady of Jurassic World, the most recent instalment of everyone’s favourite series about enormous killer reptiles eating their way through humanity. Set in what’s basically the world’s greatest petting zoo, the film deals with what happens when an enormous killer dinosaur genetically modified to be the ultimate predator gets out of its cage and starts being the ultimate predator. It’s up to Claire, her nephews, an assortment of employees and an Indiana Jones lookalike to stop the GM dinosaur from eating everybody. Even though it’s only been out for a month, the film has already smashed box office records and revitalised the Jurassic Park franchise. Claire herself has been met with mixed reviews, with some saying she’s a feminist icon and some saying that she’s the equivalent of a shrieking 1950s housewife.

Let’s see which one she is – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

For most of the film, Claire is fundamentally reacting to the situation she’s in. She gets sent on errands by her boss, gets forced into childcare by her sister, and also gets bossed around by Chris Pratt when he’s playing the resident dino-expert. She spends most of the film trying to keep up with the clone-a-saurus, whether it’s working out where it went or trying to stop it from eating people, so for much of the film she’s on the back foot.

High-heeled foot, to be precise. Apparently it's the ultimate running shoe. (image: comicbookmovie.com)
High-heeled foot, to be precise. Apparently it’s the ultimate running shoe. (image: comicbookmovie.com)

However, this says much more about the premise of the film than it does about her character. In films like Jurassic World – and many of the other famous monster movies – the characters are often placed into very similar situations. When your story revolves around an enormous monster chomping its way through the cast, it stands to reason that most of the characters are going to be reacting to the inevitable rampage. That said, the script does make allowances for this. Despite the natural disadvantages, the script does allow Claire to actually control her situation from time to time – most notably, when she instigates the giant awesome dinosaur fight and gets everyone out of trouble at the very end of the movie. She certainly has her moments – but in my opinion, there aren’t nearly enough of them.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

We don’t see much in the way of Claire’s hobbies or beliefs – her hobbies aren’t mentioned at all, and the most we hear about her beliefs is that she doesn’t want children. Her goals aren’t very well established either. It’s made very clear that Claire is a career-driven woman who enjoys managing a busy theme park and overseeing the development and sponsorship of her attractions, but that’s all the development that her goals really get. We don’t really know if she wants to keep climbing the corporate ladder or if she’s simply making the best of the situation she’s in.

Her goals get a lot clearer when the dinosaur gets loose: from that point onwards, she’s really fighting to keep her nephews safe, take down the massive killer GM dinosaur and evacuate the park. She’s not exactly alone in this – those goals are all pretty reasonable when you’re faced with an enormous lizard who wants to snack on your intestines – but it does nevertheless give her character some concrete motivation, which she didn’t really have before. I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

For the most part, Claire’s personality is largely consistent. She’s established as a capable woman who can cope with a lot of different situations, isn’t really interested in having children, and someone who organises her life because she likes to be in control. This doesn’t really change over the course of the movie: although she falters when she finds out her nephews are in danger and comes to depend on Chris Pratt, this isn’t necessarily out of character. It’s pretty reasonable to freak out if you discover your nephews are lost in the path of a massive killer lizard, and as it’s very well established that Chris Pratt’s character has way more practical experience with dinosaurs than she does, I don’t think that her asking for his help is that unreasonable.

Who wouldn't be terrified of these killer beasties? (image: giphy.com)
Who wouldn’t be terrified of these killer beasties? (image: giphy.com)

Her skills are a little patchier. She’s established as a bit of a priss – someone who likes to be neat, clean and organised, doesn’t venture outside her office much and doesn’t seem to care for more laid-back, outdoorsy kind of activities. So when she grabs a gun and uses it to shoot a pterodactyl of Chris Pratt’s face – which would require some serious precision shooting on a moving target and in an environment filled with distractions – I didn’t really buy it. It was much more believable when she used her knowledge of the park to pit the two dinosaurs against each other; using guns just isn’t quite as easy as movies seem to think it is. I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1.5

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A successful, career-driven businesswoman must stop dinosaurs rampaging through a theme park and keep her family together in the process.

SCORE SO FAR: 2.5

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Very few of Claire’s decisions are influenced by her love life. It’s well established that when she isn’t being chased around by mutant cuttlefish-dinosaur hybrids, she’s a very career-driven person. Even when she is being chased around by mutant cuttlefish-dinosaur hybrids, her love life isn’t what motivates her. Her motivations are love for her nephews and altruism towards everyone else in the park – she’s not going to let overgrown lizards feast on anyone’s giblets.

SCORE SO FAR: 3.5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Claire’s development over the course of the story is where her character starts to get a little bit tricky. It can be broken up into two parts: building a relationship with her nephews, and building a relationship with Starlord Chris Pratt. I’ll go into the way she relates to her nephews in more detail in question nine, but to summarise, she forms a proper bond with them and eventually becomes someone they love and respect.

Where it gets tricky is how she relates to Chris Pratt’s character, Owen Grady. Owen is a typical rugged outdoorsman according to Hollywood: he fixes things, owns guns, rides a motorbike, rolls his sleeves up and is perpetually covered in a thin layer of grime and socially-acceptable amounts of body hair. Claire doesn’t have a lot in common with him, but is attracted to him nevertheless. They’re thrown together when the mutant-a-saurus escapes, and from the second it claws its way out of its pen it’s very clear that Owen is the one in control in their relationship. Over the course of the film, Claire takes orders from him, comes under a barrage of criticism for not having the time to go around the park and not knowing how old her nephews are, and is made to stay behind while he goes off on his super-important mission with his motorcycle-raptor-bros.

The realism in this film is astounding. (image: funnyhub.com)
The realism in this film is astounding. (image: funnyhub.com)

At the beginning of the film, she’s portrayed as a woman who has things under control. She may have her flaws but she’s presented as smart, assertive, and hard-working. By the time the film ends, she’s not doing much more than breathlessly gazing into Chris Pratt’s eyes as they walk off into the sunset. All her former drive and responsibilities seem to be forgotten, as she’s doing nothing to try and help the other guests, or secure the area against the rest of the dinosaurs wandering around, or even work out if she’s still got a job left. Everything that she cared about at the beginning of the film has been lost, and she doesn’t really seem to care because now she’s got a boyfriend. There are some mitigating circumstances to all this, but when you look at her journey as a whole, in my opinion she doesn’t retain her independence or her assertiveness. She does develop, but quite frankly, it’s a development I’d rather not see.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Claire doesn’t really have much of a weakness. Most of the decisions she makes are well-intentioned, she doesn’t really give in to any of her more negative impulses, and her actions don’t really hold back her progression through the plot. She’s supposed to be pretty fussy and we’re led to believe she might be one of those people who just hates getting dirty, but when push comes to shove she doesn’t care what she looks like when her nephews are at risk. The one thing the script paints as a weakness is the distant relationship she has with her nephews. She doesn’t know how old they are and she doesn’t personally chaperone them around the park, getting an assistant to do it instead. However, this is actually pretty reasonable, seeing as it’s made very clear that she’s incredibly busy managing a theme park with twenty thousand daily visitors and an island full of killer dinosaurs. This is also kind of undercut by the fact that Claire clearly loves her nephews, or else she wouldn’t have worked so hard to find them. Her weaknesses just don’t feel genuine, so I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Claire never gets captured or killed in Jurassic World, so this question might not really apply to her. Regardless, she is an influence on the plot: it’s her decision to try and build a GM dinosaur in the first place, it’s her decision to get Chris Pratt and his motorcycle-raptor-bros involved, and it’s her decision to instigate the awesome dinosaur smackdown at the end of the film.

As seen here. (image: giphy.com)
As seen here. (image: giphy.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Oooooookay.

How Claire relates to gender stereotypes has already been the subject of countless articles. On the one hand, some people see her as everything that’s wrong with the movie – on the other, some people see the way the other characters treat her as everything that’s wrong with the movie. Claire has already proven to be an incredibly divisive character, and now I’m going to wade into the fray.

In some ways, Claire is a really progressive character in terms of gender stereotypes. She’s an assertive, shrewd businesswoman who’s determined to make sure herself and her company come out on top. She’s in a high-level management position in an enormously successful company – not something we see many women doing in fiction or in the real world. When she’s taken out of her comfort zone, she doesn’t flounder: she’s resourceful, uses her knowledge of the park well and isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty. What’s more, she does it all without sacrificing her femininity: much has been made of Claire spending the entire film in stiletto heels, but personally I don’t mind it. For once, it’s nice to see a character whose visual representation of femininity doesn’t hold her back.

Chris Pratt wanted to do his scenes in heels too, but they wouldn't let him. (image: eonline.com)
Chris Pratt wanted to do his scenes in heels too, but they wouldn’t let him. (image: eonline.com)

What’s stopping me from letting her completely ace this test is the way that the other characters – and, to a certain extent, the script as a larger whole – treat her. As I’ve already mentioned, Claire’s journey through the story isn’t exactly empowering: she goes from a strong, confident woman to someone who just ends up mooning after Chris Pratt. He isn’t even all that nice to her: his character actually spends a significant amount of their scenes together being incredibly judgemental about her lifestyle, her appearance and her choices, and makes no effort to understand them. Much is made of the fact that she isn’t close with her nephews, largely due to the demands of her job, but the other characters – particularly her sister and Chris Pratt – seem to see this as unreasonable behaviour on her part, rather than a regrettable consequence of doing what she loves. Of course, she eventually does build a relationship with her nephews, but in doing so she seems to forget about everything she was working towards before. When you boil this particular aspect of her journey through the story down to its most basic principles, this is what you get: a career-driven woman comes to terms with her maternal side and ‘settles down’. This is one of the oldest clichés in the book, particularly where women are concerned – it reinforces the idea that all women really want is children, and any dreams or goals they may have had before that simply don’t matter.

The other characters brush off Claire’s efforts to get ahead in her career constantly, with none of them seeming to realise what it means to her. The upshot of all this is that it starts meaning very little to the audience, too, and Claire’s decisions – which are very reasonable – come to be seen in an increasingly negative light. She comes under constant criticism and never really stands up to it – despite how assertive she’s supposed to be – and it’s pretty clear that as an audience, we’re supposed to approve of this criticism. I certainly don’t – I think it drags her character down and the film really suffers for it. I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

We only really see Claire relate to one other female character: her sister, Karen, and they don’t have many scenes together. It’s established that they have very different views – particularly about childcare – but that they still fundamentally love each other. Their relationship isn’t given a lot more depth than that, although it’s implied they don’t see each other very often. The rest of Claire’s relationships with female characters – and no, I’m not counting the dinosaurs – are very much boss/employee relationships, with not much more to them than that, so I’ll give her half a point.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

 

Claire is a direct influence on the plot, isn’t completely controlled by her love life, and has some well-established personality traits, but ultimately, she hasn’t passed my test. While she may have some weaknesses and relationships with female characters, and while there are mitigating circumstances surrounding her ability to impact the plot, these aspects to her character aren’t fleshed out enough for her to pass my test. My general impression of Claire as a character is of someone who has been sketched out rather than fleshed out – which is part of the reason why her character can so easily be categorised as a stereotype.

But all of this has got me thinking. Many people have been commenting on how Jurassic World shapes up in comparison to the original film, Jurassic Park. Next week, I’m going to be doing exactly that. Ellie Sattler, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

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5 thoughts on “Strong Female Characters: Claire Dearing”

    1. Thanks for the link. I’m not sure if I agree with all your points – the work/life balance is certainly important, but I don’t think romantic relationships always have to be a part of that. Different people find fulfilment in different ways, and Claire always struck me as a character who found fulfilment in her capabilities rather than her relationships.

  1. [“By the time the film ends, she’s not doing much more than breathlessly gazing into Chris Pratt’s eyes as they walk off into the sunset.”]

    Really? We must have been looking at different movies. I recall Chris Pratt’s character kissing her. But I don’t recall Bryce Dallas Howard staring at him with gooey eyes.

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