I know, I know—dinosaur fights, Unix systems, rapid breeding, clones that work better, not worse, than designed—it seems far-fetched to call this movie realistic.
But the last time I had watched Jurassic Park was before I graduated high school. When I saw previews for the new sequel, I decided it was time to revisit this masterpiece, and realized it was a very different movie than I remembered.
Now, with college behind me and the cold, hard reality of the working world ahead, I realized that what I thought was a childhood dream realized on film was actually a sad, yet realistic preview of life after college.
The Plot Hinges on Begging for Money…
The main hero of the original movie was a researcher (specifically, a renowned paleontologist) who was compelled to abandon his dig site, research, and colleagues to go tour and endorse the new dinosaur theme park. What could possibly convince a staunch academic to walk away from his work to go on a Cost Rican vacation?
The promise that his research will be funded.
Not indefinitely, not until he makes a breakthrough, publishes his new book, or retires, but just for a few years. And even then, only if he lends his expertise to a ludicrously misguided, yet wealthy, eccentric. He is so broken down by the untold years of chasing grant money, never knowing when he might suddenly have to start waiting tables to pay for a new pickaxe, he doesn’t even haggle over the offer; he just grabs a glass of champagne and toasts to four more years like he’s at a presidential re-election kick-off.
…Just Like Real Research
When you are engaged in doing research, you quickly learn that the main obstacle to your breakthroughs and progress is money; more specifically, constantly having to write grants asking for continued financing.
It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to cure cancer or build a better mousetrap; there is a severely limited amount of public funding available for research, and to stand a chance of catching some, you have to stretch your knees and get ready to beg—repeatedly.
Jurassic Park captures this uncomfortable state of constant turmoil perfectly.
When someone offers you a job, you probably don’t ask how many years it will last. If anything, you might ask about benefits offered, advancement potential, that sort of thing. But when you are hanging by a thread of research funding, and the world is full of bureaucrats waving scissors in your direction, every day of continued support is a blessing.
This is what academics can look forward to: years of study and schooling, slowly developing the skills and knowledge necessary to work in the field, only to wind up constantly fighting for continued existence, funding, and legitimate engagement with the academic community as well as the public—and as a rule, failing at both more than succeeding.
It’s no coincidence that the paleontologist in the movie is actually named Grant. It is, quite literally, what defines his life.
High-Demand Skills Make You Irreplaceable…
So you’ve decided that, rather than pitching your tent right on campus and making academics your profession, you want to ditch research and go pro in your field. Seems like a better avenue for avoiding poverty, right?
That seemed to be the philosophy of the park’s resident computer expert, Dennis Nedry. Besides being an obvious anagram for “nerdy,” (which shows exactly where he stands among his peers) Nedry is the weak link that causes the whole tenuous security situation to collapse, setting off the dino-antics we all lined up for in the first place. So why did the guy with all the digital keys to the electronic locks decide to cry havoc and release the dinosaurs of war?
He felt underpaid.
When his character first appears, he is in Cost Rica proper, making contact with a competitor to Ingen (the company financing the park and all its genetics work) to discuss just how soon he can change jobs. While Hammond, the eccentric visionary behind the park, insists he “spared no expense” over and over, he clearly felt that a competitive wage for his programmer was distinctively worth sparing. Nedry and his cohorts don’t even feature in the tour, despite being as critical to keeping the park running as the geneticists who do get a spot in the show.
In fact, before Nedry sets the timer to deactivate the park’s system, he tries one last time to discuss compensation with his employer, who is nothing but hostile and dismissive.
…But Will Never Make You Rich
While most modern graduates don’t have the confidence, indignation, or bargaining skills that drove Nedry to extremes, we can certainly relate to his frustration. All the time, money, and effort we put into earning degrees, trying to build the skills we were told would guarantee us cozy jobs and opportunities, turned out to be one-way tickets to the same positions we used to earn gas money over the summer in high school.
For those lucky enough to break out of fast food and land a position at something closer to white-collar, the financial situation doesn’t change much. Wages have been stagnant for years, which means the cost of the degree (or rather, the staggering debt you accumulated through loans for the degree) that qualifies you for your work does not come any closer to being paid-off, even in your field.
And who hasn’t fantasized about committing a dramatic blow-off to that unrewarding, dead-end job? There is something so satisfying about showing up the managers who never appreciated you, and the owner took your services for granted.
Nedry’s cautionary tale hits too close to home: if we tried to get back at our crumby employers, ask for better pay, or finagle our way into something more lucrative, we quietly suspect we’d end up dead and broke. Or, maybe that’s just me. Either way, the rat-race continues, and college degrees are just expensive placemats.
I for one can’t wait to see what life lessons the sequel has in store, now that the park is open, showing once again that with enough money, you can replace all the normal consequences of criminal failure with second chances.