On Liturgy and Dinosaurs: what ‘Jurassic World’ teaches us about control

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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Editor’s Note: This post may contain mild spoilers.

Jurassic World hit theaters June 12 and quickly broke box office records, becoming the eighth-highest-grossing film of all time and the highest-grossing film in the series. Starring Chris Pratt (alongside, it would seem, half of the USA Network), Jurassic World is set twenty-two years after the failure of the original ‘Jurassic Park.’ In the film, “Jurassic World” has become what “Jurassic Park” had been intended to be: a fully functional, dinosaur-themed amusement park, featuring dinosaurs that are very real and very much alive. As IMDB explains:

 A new theme park is built on the original site of Jurassic Park. Everything is going well until the park’s newest attraction–a genetically modified giant stealth killing machine–escapes containment and goes on a killing spree.

While the larger questions treated in Jurassic World and the film’s overarching storyline were by-and-large rather predictable, I was struck by one of the film’s central themes: the question of control.
jurassic_world_hd_wallpaper-800x600Especially in the first half of the movie, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is shown repeatedly trying to warn the park’s creators, administrators and those who would seek to appropriate its scientific achievements for military advantage that the notion of control over these animals, at least as it is understood by those attempting to exert said control, is an illusion; a naive construct. This is especially poignant in a conversation between the park’s Operating Manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Pratt’s character, whom Dearing approaches in order to consult his expertise on security measures for the new species invented by the company’s scientists. The scene reads as follows:

Claire: “Mr. Masrani thinks since you’re able to control the raptors…”

Owen: “See?! It’s all about control with you. I don’t control the raptors; it’s a relationship. It’s based on mutual respect.”

[. . .]

Claire: “Okay, okay… can we just focus on the asset, please?”

Owen: “The asset? Look, I get it. You’re in charge out here, you gotta make a lot of tough decisions… it’s probably easier to pretend these animals are just numbers on a spreadsheet. But they’re not; they’re alive.

Claire’s attitude toward the park’s species is ascribable to many of the movie’s characters, who are often seen trying to control Jurassic World’s dinosaurs in a way that one might operate a robot, computer or drone. They tinker with the animals’ genetic makeup as though they were nothing but machines, created by man and therefore controllable by man. Jurassic-world-1They are blind to the fact that the animals inhabiting Jurassic World are not innovations of human beings, but rather ancient, living creatures that modern man has, in a way, received, so to speak. Perhaps these animals can be tamed, trained and even taught by man; but they can never be simply controlled.

Had the makers of Jurassic World had liturgy in mind when creating the film, they would have been spot on in their liturgical and cultural commentary. How often do we see these attitudes prevailing when it comes to the Church’s act of public worship? Have you ever noticed, for example, how the Church’s liturgical and even doctrinal life, whether in your local parish or on the pages of the New York Times, are often treated and commented on as if λειτουργια was something mechanic, something that we created, rather than something we received? Liturgy, much like the raptors or the indominus rex of Jurassic World (okay, it’s an imperfect analogy), is something living and breathing.

What is more, it is not ours to “control” at will. It was not made by us; only entrusted to us.  We can “tame” and “tinker” with the liturgy only to the extent that this fundamental reality – this stewardship, so to speak – allows. jurassic-world-800We can “control” the liturgy, for that matter, much like we can control a hurricane: or perhaps more appropriately, like Owen Grady “controls” his raptors.

And, to take the analogy a step further, perhaps it can be appropriate to at times make adjustments and minor ‘changes’ in order to preserve the liturgy’s integrity. As the park’s chief geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong) explains, sometimes it is necessary to “fill in some gaps” when it comes to preserving a species – this is something that scientists have done “from the very beginning” in order to get as close as possible to the species’ true genetic makeup. Thus perhaps not all forms of innovation are prohibited as we go about “doing” liturgy. But what happens when “filling in gaps” or “minor adjustments” becomes an obsession with “control,” progress and re-creating liturgy in man’s own image? What we are left with is something entirely different, Jurassic World shows. The result, as Owen observes, is not a dinosaur but a monster.

51FUprUv86L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Perhaps, then, Owen Grady gives us something of a picture of what the true liturgist looks like. He is not the scientist or military general, who seek only to create and to control. In fact, the liturgist is not even the ‘dinosaur nerd’ Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins), who knows just about everything there is to know about dinosaurs (from their weight to how many teeth they have). His knowledge of everything jurassic(though both impressive and important), is not enough in itself when he finds himself standing before a living, breathing dinosaur.

Aidan Kavanagh writes that “standing before the living God is a risky business, […] the deity remaining all the while alarmingly unpredictable“(On Liturgical Theology, 125). Perhaps the proper stance of the liturgist is one that recognizes and takes into account this one important truth. As Kavanagh points out, and Owen Grady demonstrates for us in Jurassic World:

It is risky to sit at the Lord’s table, and there is absolutely no certainty that one will not end up on it with one’s own body broken, one’s own blood poured out. But it is plausible in faith that one might risk the whole thing and even be the better for it (ibid., 126).

Neither dinosaurs nor liturgy “are for us to be done with as we wish,” and “in our misuse of these,” to borrow Kavanagh’s words, we “distort the world” (113; 122). Liturgy, Jurassic World can remind us, is not about control but about “the existential reality of a relationship” – in our case, “communion with God in Christ and, therein, with all God’s holy people and holy things” (123). We must approach the liturgy as it is, then: as though we are receiving it, and not as we would make it.


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