Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World seems to have issues with its female characters. First off, there’s a weird insistence that Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the highly career-motivated operations manager of the film’s titular dinosaur theme park, could solve all of the problems in her personal life by giving in to the urges of her biological clock and mounting Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the park’s dashing Velociraptor trainer. There’s a conspicuous absence of women of color in both leading and supporting roles. And the film takes an almost pornographic glee in giving Howard’s female assistant such an over-the-top death that it would shock an 80s slasher villain. But the internet, in all of its infinite wisdom, has bravely focused on the true feminist issue in the film: Howard’s choice of high–heeled footwear.
Yes, Bryce Dallas Howard spends all of Jurassic World wearing high-heeled shoes. Yes, it seems absurd that anyone would willingly choose to keep their heels on while being pursued by building-sized prehistoric hell-beasts. But I do hope that the internet realizes that they are literally reducing the most complex and interesting character in the entire film to her choice of fashion accessory.
Here’s the thing: despite all of the film’s problems with women, Claire Dearing is a feminist character. Oh, I could go on a multi-page rant about how high-heeled shoes were invented and originally worn by Persian horsemen in the 15th and 16th centuries and how, if anything, Howard is reclaiming them as the footwear of choice for proactive heroes and heroines. But that won’t do because I doubt Trevorrow or Howard were very interested in 500-year-old Near Eastern fashion trends.
Claire Dearing is a feminist creation because she is a complex, three-dimensional woman with a powerful character arc. To begin with, Claire is wholly defined as a character with her own motivations and desires well before Grady is introduced: she is a workaholic, a perfectionist, and a control freak. She has emotionally distanced herself from the realities of keeping and maintaining a park full of living dinosaurs, but not because she’s a “frigid bitch”; it’s because her job is easier to do if she views the dinosaurs as “numbers on a spreadsheet.” Combine this with the fact that the park is owned by an eccentric billionaire who couldn’t care less about the day-to-day demands of operating a theme park filled with extinct, potentially lethal lizards, and you have the perfect explanation for why Claire is the way she is: she is the de facto ruler of the park, destined to have a fraction of the salary and credit that she deserves. Emotionally distancing herself is a survival mechanism that affords her her sanity.
Her journey to save her two nephews after the Indominus rex breaks loose is one of rediscovering her own humanity. Her and Owen’s discovery of the slaughtered Apatosaurus herd marks the film’s emotional high-point and the apex of her character arc, as she literally comes face-to-face with the realities of life and death on the island. From that point on she becomes equally as proactive Owen. And curiously, most commenters and reviewers seem to have missed the fact that by the end of the film, Owen and Claire switch roles as Damsel-in-Distress and Knight-in-Shining-Armor. When Indominus “becomes the new alpha” and gains control over the Velociraptor pack, Owen is essentially neutered as an action hero. Eventually, he ends up squeezing next to Claire’s nephews as they desperately hide from Indominus and the Velociraptors. It is Claire who figures out that the only chance they have of defeating Indominus is adding a new figure into the equation—one with more teeth. She frees and baits the park’s Tyrannosaurus rex, leading it to the rampaging dinosaurs and tricking it into fighting them.
In this moment, all of her character “flaws” from the first half of the film become her greatest strengths. If she hadn’t been an obsessively focused administrator she wouldn’t have remembered that the Tyrannosaurus rex was close enough nearby to be a possible asset. If she hadn’t been highly, almost neurotically intelligent she wouldn’t have known that the Tyrannosaurus rex would instinctively challenge and fight Indominus upon contact. If she hadn’t been headstrong, she wouldn’t have dared confront one of the park’s most dangerous creatures when all the men could do was cower in fear.
And, hey, she did it all in heels, too.