The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
We cannot be what we want to be, because we are not infinite creators but finite and dependent creatures.
“God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs”, says the scientist portrayed by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park. “God creates Man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs”.
J. A. Bayona shows what happens when “God doesn’t enter into the equation”, as the actor’s character, now older, says in Fallen Kingdom when answering the Senator’s question “if God has taken things into his own hands…”
This saga, created by Steven Spielberg a quarter of a century ago, focuses on the reconstruction of these creatures. All that you can imagine exists. This would be the ontological argument for the existence of God, applied to the dinosaur world, says Luis Martínez in his enthusiastic review of Metropoli. The Spanish director reveals to us the ontological proof that dinosaurs never really disappeared. We are them. The question is if we share their luck…
A LOST WORLD
The fascination for dinosaurs came from the exhibition of skeletons in museums at the beginning of the twentieth century. At the start of the century they filled the halls of Natural History, surrounded by dioramas, like those which can still be seen in New York and that Bayona reconstructed in the mansion of the multimillionaire philanthropic John Hammond, where many of the scenes of Lost Kingdom took place.
The first examples of dinosaurs were identified from fossils in 1924. Today they are identified more with the Cretaceous period than the Jurassic period. Hammond’s character was Scottish, like the author of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle (1859-1930) whose book The Lost World (1912) served as inspiration for Michael Crichton to write Jurassic Park.
Both Doyle and Crichton studied Medicine, but were so fascinated by these creatures that the original novel imagined that they were surviving in a plateau in South America, where the professor Challenger goes on a scientific expedition. This professor was the main character in some of Doyle’s stories, as inspired by the physiologist William Rutherford.
The publishing house Valdemar has published in Madrid an excellent edition of The Lost World and the rest of the stories on Challenger in The Maracot Deep and other stories. This collection adequately replaces one of the three stories in which Challenger is the main character, The Land of Mist, which was no more than an excuse for propaganda of spiritualism, the religion that Doyle practised, hence the title of the book in which the main character is one of his colleagues called Maracot.
Michael Crichton’s book (1942-2008) is a lot more than just a homage to Conan Doyle; his second novel is called The Lost World just like the sequel to Spielberg’s film. This work falls within what is now called “techno-thriller”, a type of science-fiction distinctly dystopian, if not pessimistic, about the future that can be achieved through technology.
His books and films, given that he was also a director and film screenwriter, are normally read as a warning about faith in the progress that science can achieve. Though, actually, Jurassic Park (1990) is about the incapacity of man to contain nature.
In 2004 Crichton became famous due to a controversy over his novel A State of Fear which attributes global warming not to human activity but to the speculation of a group of scientists who produced natural disasters.
It is due to this that US President George W. B Bush praised this book and at the same time Crichton was criticised for receiving an award from American oil geologists. Crichton is also the author of The Andromeda Strain, Coma and Westworld, even directing the film version of these last two books. The idea of the theme park appears already in the last story, which is a popular series of HBO.
Jurassic Park reveals the illusion of the belief that we can control nature. The environmental point of view that is sometimes given to this story does not match Crichton’s ideas, who saw the green movement more as a religion than as the result of scientific observation. Just like Frankenstein, Hammond tried to recreate life, in this case through DNA, while Doctor Malcolm warned that nature is unpredictable.
As with all utopias, this one takes place on an island and then becomes dystopian, just as in The Lord of the Flies, when the paradisiacal setting, rather than showing the innate goodness of the human being, reveals the darkness of his heart.
Crichton wrote the original script for Spielberg. As it seemed too pessimistic to him, he asked someone else to rewrite the script, but it continued to show the untameable character of nature. It was a third person, Koepp, who signed the credits with Crichton, although at the end of the day it was Spielberg’s work, who created it in the garden of the dying Steve Ross’ house. This Jewish business man and philanthropist from the Warner Bros. was like a father to Spielberg. He had so much influence over him that he induced him to support Clinton’s campaign, to the point of launching the film in Washington, in support of Hilary’s favourite charitable cause. Ross died that same year, in 1992, due to complications related to prostate cancer. Spielberg dedicated the film Schindler’s List to him in memory.
According to the famous theory that Spielberg’s films can be understood as being based on absent parents and lost children (as pointed out by Gordon and published in Spanish in the book by Federico Alba, but also confirmed by the recent HBO documentary that Spielberg himself authorised), this is represented by Grant’s wish to be a father as well as the irresponsible parenting of Hammond and Malcolm, but most of all in the vulnerability of the lost girl. This last theme is also the signature of both Bayona and Spielberg, transmitting the sense of orphans that gives their filmmaking that emotional strength that goes beyond the speculation tricks of fantasy film genre. Their films include feelings, not just special effects.
Crichton’s novel portrays Hammond as an ambitious capitalist, consumed by his creation, but in Spielberg’s film he is an entertainment business man who seeks to please the public, starting with a flea circus. Since it couldn’t be anymore the deceased Richard Attenborough, it is his son (James Cromwell) who lives with his granddaughter (Isabelle Sermon) under the supervision of the governess embodied by Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlot who married the Spanish director Carlos Saura. It is the young girl who becomes the centre of the film, arriving to her final outcome in a scene more appropriate to gothic terror than to technological fantasy.
Humanity has been playing god since the lost kingdom of Eden (Genesis 3). Forgetting that we are creatures, we try to be the Creator, imagining that we hold destiny in our hands. Rather than accepting our finitude and dependence on the Author and Lord of life, we cross the limits (Genesis 2:17) in the desperate search to assure ourselves that we have power over life. And this is an illusion.
This hunger for power is born out of an insecurity because of which we feel like orphans and lost in this world. Human beings have little control over their lives. All that we are and have is given to us from God. We can’t even decide the moment and place in which we are born, who our parents are and who is our family.
If even our DNA is given to us, how can we believe that we are in control of our circumstances? We make up the illusion that we can be who we want to be. When we are younger we think that we will not be like our parents. We are ourselves. And half way through our life we realise just how much our family has influenced us.
Many believe that they are who they are due to their effort, intelligence, dedication, but it is a lot more complicated, really… Who would we be if we were born into another family in a place with less opportunities?
Just like the child Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis, when we want to be more than what we are, we are not more than human beings, but lesser. We become predatory dragons. As we aim for power over our lives, we become what we adore. Our pride turns us into monsters.
We cannot be what we want to be, because we are not infinite creators but finite and dependent creatures. It is our fear and helplessness that distances us from God. And He shows us His grace, His undeserved favour, again and again. It is when we humble ourselves like Jesus (Philippians 2:4-10), who left His power to come to this world to save us on a cross, that we find the hope of the resurrection.
Until then, creation groans “in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19) when He returns. Then there will be no more orphans because we will be adopted (v.23) by our eternal Father in Christ Jesus. We will not be gods, but neither will we be monsters, but rather truly human.