Revisiting Jurassic Park

Ari Schulman extols an enduring story:

Although [Michael] Crichton viewed his tale as a general warning that “science is too important to leave to scientists,” as he put it in a 1993 interview, he was particularly worried about the explosive and largely unchecked growth in the biotechnology industry that was already evident by the 1980s. Crichton, like so many since, saw the primary danger of man’s attempted power over nature as one of unintended consequences: the power is always to some extent an illusion. This is the real fear about “playing God” that several of Crichton’s characters articulate, and that the movie powerfully depicts from several angles: there is nature’s intrinsic power; man’s original vulnerability before it; his ability to overcome and harness it; and his ultimate vulnerability again before it.

In one scene, when the visitors are first introduced to the dinosaurs, [paleontologist character Alan] Grant collapses to the ground in shock, and then slowly gazes back up, with an expression, all but perfectly portrayed by Sam Neill, that manages to evoke each of these ideas at once. He is filled with awe and terror at the power he is witnessing — just whose power neither he nor we are quite sure.

But what is all but absent from a movie and a novel that purport to warn us about the excesses of the biotech industry is any sense of the true ultimate aim of that enterprise. The real biotech future will not be defined by genetic engineering of hardier crops and exotic pets, or even animal cloning and de-extinction. It will be, and in many ways already is, defined by bringing these powers to bear not on external nature but our own natures: by genetic enhancement of ourselves, selection of our children to fit our preferences, babies made not just in petri dishes but artificial wombs, children drugged out of normal behaviors in order to be easier to manage in schools, the medicalization and subsequent “treatment” of anything about ourselves and others we see as disadvantageous or simply dislikable.

Previous Dish on Jurassic Park here.