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Jurassic World premiered on Friday to mixed reviews, with many of the demerits launched at Bryce Dallas Howard's character Claire and her choice of footwear. We turned to Susana Polo, the entertainment editor of Racked sister site Polygon, to break down why she thinks running in heels is a more graceful costuming decision than critics give Jurassic World credit for. (Full movie review here!)
So. We are here to talk about shoes. Specifically Bryce Dallas Howard's character's shoes. What did you notice about them in Jurassic World?
Well, early in the movie, the director tends to really like shots of characters stepping out of airplanes, characters walking up steps, shots that that really focus on the characters' feet. So you see a lot of Bryce Howard's nude pumps. And you've seen the publicity for the film, where she's done up. She wears that outfit for the entire film. And in the movie, what's on her docket for the day is meeting with three investors who are vital to funding the exhibit of the giant, horrifying dinosaur that is at the core of the movie. And so in that context, yes, her outfit is entirely appropriate.
But when things start to go to shit, there's a moment where Chris Pratt's character is like, "Listen, you go back to the control room, you go back to all the nice air conditioned parts of the park. And I'll stay here and look for your nephews." And she's like, "No, I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying with you." He makes a crack about her shoes, and her response is to undo the button-down that she has over this tank top (because she's dressed in business wear for the tropics), tie it around her waist, and be like, "okay, I'm ready to go." And the movie never questions her ability to function in that outfit. She does all this running in dirt and mud in the heels. She does all the running later in the film in heels.
And you think this as a positive feminist kind of thing rather than like an impractical kind of thing?
Well, I wouldn't say that it's overtly "you go girl." I don't think it's particularly practical for a woman to be doing that in 3.5 inch heels from a meta-textual standpoint. But from a narrative standpoint within the movie... Well, first, Jurassic World is not as feminist as Jurassic Park was, even though Jurassic Park was very feminist in a tacit, quiet way. Jurassic Park gives Ellie a couple moments to humorously object to or call out the casual misogyny of her male counterparts. It downplays Grant and Ellie's relationship, plus all the monsters are female, and there's a young female computer expert. Jurassic World doesn't have as much of that. To be fair, none of the philosophy of Jurassic Park is as central to Jurassic World as it was in Jurassic Park.
What do you mean by philosophy?
Like the concepts in Jurassic Park of chaos and man's inability to control nature and the hubris of pretending that we can. [Jurassic World] is still asking questions about commercialization, and what we lose when we focus on marketing something that's already inherently wonderful or classically awesome. But it really knows what it is. It's trying to be a summer action movie. Whereas Jurassic Park was much more like, "we're going to be a think-y thriller with lots of action and lots of special effects."
Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire is by no means an Ellie or a Lex from Jurassic Park. None of the characters are particularly fleshed out, but what I really appreciated about it was if they're going to introduce her as the buttoned-up workaholic unmarried childless woman from the beginning of a romcom, at least the movie doesn't require her to shed her femininity to survive. What she's wearing is entirely appropriate for what she expected to do that day. It's not like, oh, look at this female character who dressed totally inappropriately for this jungle adventure. It's like, no, she's a businesswoman and she was going to meet some very high-powered people that she wanted to impress. Of course she's going to wear a skirt suit and some nude pumps.
Buttoned-up, cold business lady is this trope that's been used to indicate anti-femininity. You're saying she's not shedding these heels, but if the heels contribute to this idea that she's cold and calculating and businesslike as opposed to a warm and feminine and motherly type, then how does the movie reconcile those two things?
That's an interesting question. The movie never brings her to a place where it's like, "Your focus on your job is wrong." I think the movie gives equal value to Chris Pratt's insistence that we need to think of these dinosaurs as animals, not assets that the park owns, and her point that the park needs to make money. It costs money to keep these animals and to make them in the first place and the only way to do that is to commercialize them. If the park wasn't making money... hundreds of people wouldn't have jobs. And the dinosaurs wouldn't have anywhere to go. And in the end [LIGHT SPOILER] she's the one who has the big epiphany that allows the big monster to be defeated. She puts that plan into action.
The story wants to get her a boyfriend and it wants to get her more family-oriented, but at the same time, I don't feel like the movie tries to distance her from her job or tries to say that she's working too hard. What it's trying to change about her is to get her to think about the dinosaurs in a less business-y way. Which is sort of the opening question of the movie. What are these dinosaurs for and how does that effect how we treat them and how we create them?
I do remember when she's running from the tyrannosaur thinking this is super impractical. But at the same time, the movie never has her roll an ankle and have to get rescued. It never has her break a heel. It never shows her stumbling in mud. It never does the whole "let's laugh at this dumb woman in her dumb woman clothes" thing. She's dressed appropriately for what she has to do that day. I just thought, you know what, why wouldn't she be wearing heels the whole time? She doesn't have quick, easy access to any other shoes and she wants to save her nephews. She just toughs through it.