I’m Still Not Over Laura Dern’s Triumphant Smirk in the OG Jurassic Park
I just realized the real theme of this movie — and it’s not dinosaurs.
Have you ever rewatched a movie as an adult, only to realize it’s not at all how you remembered it? Last summer, I had that experience with the original Jurassic Park. Sure, I still knew the gist of it: lots of dinosaurs, adults, and kids running for their lives, a creepy Jeff Goldblum, and a truly terrible theme park experience. But as I saw the helicopter rise above the trees in the final scene, and watched as Laura Dern’s character, Ellie, gives a knowing smile to Alan (Sam Neill), I came to a realization.
This movie is about commitment issues, and the dinosaurs simply play a supporting role.
Considering Jurassic Park came out in 1993, you might need a little refresher on what clued me into this theory. Early on, we learn that Dr. Ellie Sattler and Dr. Alan Grant are both paleontologists, and they’re obviously very passionate and knowledgable about all types of dinosaurs. Alan is even weird enough to keep a large raptor claw in his pocket at all times, and he uses it to scare a child who’s visiting their dig site. Afterward, Ellie’s reaction is kind of like, “Um, WTF, Alan?” Because, why did he have to scare a kid like that? The two end up talking about whether or not they want their own children in the future, so we get the hint that they’re a romantic couple, too.
If you're thinking that having this conversation at work is bad timing, I agree. As an adult, it makes me panic — why didn’t they already discuss this?! They’re on completely different pages about the future and they’re coworkers?! Seems like it will end very badly. However, it leads to the main takeaway — that Alan isn’t really a kid guy — right before Dr. John Hammond interrupts and whisks them away to Jurassic Park. Alan even tells Ellie that “babies smell," which is a really weak argument for someone who probably sweats profusely day after day in the desert.
Once they all reach park, however — surprise! — John’s grandchildren, Tim and Lex, are there. They weirdly flock to Alan, and Ellie finds it funny in that ironic sort of way; she even tells Lex to ride in the truck with Alan because “it’ll be good” for him. Flirty Jeff Goldblum, aka mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm, is also in attendance, ready to explain Chaos Theory to Ellie by seductively sprinkling water on her hand. It's the perfect opportunity to make Alan a little jealous, and to prove that if he doesn’t want kids, hey — there are plenty of fish in the sea.
Specifics from the rest of the film don’t actually matter, but big things to note are that Ellie separates from the group to take care of a sick dinosaur, characters are picked off one by one, and now Alan is left to take care of Tim and Lex all by himself. It’s literally the most intense form of babysitting ever — he’s stuck making sure two humans aren’t eaten by a velociraptor or crushed by a truck while climbing down a tree. As someone who doesn't have any children, keeping two kids happy and uninjured on a normal day feels stressful. So, if Alan had decided that, after seeing Tim get electrocuted, he still had no desire to be a dad, I would have said, “Ok, yes. I see what you're saying.”
But, that's the thing — at the end of the movie, his mind has been changed. While leaving that nightmare of a park, he snuggles Tim and Lex, and Ellie — who, mind you, didn’t go through half of that terrifying ordeal — is kind of smug about it. She's smiling at Alan, as if to say “See? I told you. Kids are great.”
It's a strange Law-of-Attraction-type power that's somehow worked in her favor. Ellie wanted her partner to want kids. He was attacked by dinosaurs while watching some kids. Now he (probably) wants kids. Sure, it's an unconventional way to win an argument, but she did win it. Is it a tad rude for her to be giving off that I-got-my-way vibe after such a traumatic experience? Yeah, I'd say it is. However, it’s still a sweet moment, and everyone (well, almost everyone) survived. In my mind, Ellie’s smile has multiple meanings. I just never realized half of them — or this whole underlying storyline — until I was much older.
By the third Jurassic Park installment, we realize that Ellie gets her wish and is finally mom … but she's married to a totally different guy who isn't Alan, and her kids belong to him. So, maybe she didn't win the argument after all, and the two realized they actually weren't on the same page, dinosaur attack or not. But, that’s a story for a different day.