[Image description: Stack of picture books with a white ceramic pencil holder sitting on top. The label on the holder says READ.]
I have had a running joke with my daughter for some time now where, when she asks what movie we should watch, I tell her that we should watch Jurassic Park because it’s a great movie about dinosaurs. By now I’ve leveled with her that it’s a potentially scary, definitely suspenseful movie. She now often beats me to the punch with the joke. But this took an interesting turn the other day when I learned one of my good friends has let her four year old watch the movie (actually it might have been her husband who put it on, I’m not sure).
To be clear, I’m not throwing shade at her. Her daughter seems to be into in and not at all bothered by it (this would absolutely not be the case for my kid). I told Cam, though, that her friend had seen it and I could see her processing the fact that this girl is younger than her and weighing whether or not she wanted to muscle up and ask to watch it.
Then she started reasoning through it out loud and I was both impressed and proud of her self reflection. She asked me what I thought would make the movie scary to her. I explained that the dinosaurs were very realistic and the storyline itself was written to be suspenseful. She asked if the dinosaurs were green screened (apparently she knows what this is) and I explained that, no the technology wasn’t as good back then and the movie makers had chosen to use robotic dinosaurs instead. She asked how big they were and I explained many were person-sized, but many, particularly the t-rex were quite large. She asked which kinds were in it (no, idea, I am not into dinosaurs like that). Eventually she decided that it would frighten her too much and give her nightmares. I agreed that it was possible and told her the movie freaked me out when I saw it at 10 years old. I was impressed that she was self aware enough to know it wasn’t going to work for her on that level.
But our real conversation came when I began explaining the story. I think we really came to an understanding about why movies, and stories more generally, get lines drawn around them by me. I summarized it for her so she would know what it was actually about beyond just dinosaurs. I told her that it was based on a book that both her father and I had really enjoyed and that the movie, while different, did a very good job adapting the story and telling it visually. And it’s true. It’s one reason why we love the movie.
But, I explained, the story isn’t just a complicated narrative that a six year old would have some difficulty following. That would be the case and she may not enjoy it for that simple reason. It might also lead her to focus on the suspense and fear factor in it instead of how the story arcs. Even more than that, though, the story grapples with some really deep existential questions: should humans create life in a lab? should humans play god? what about the ethics of bringing life into being and then leaving it on the island? what about the profitability of the park as a driving factor in this creation?
Yes, I enumerated all these questions out loud for her. I know she doesn’t know how to even begin to think around them (the power of a story like Jurassic Park is that it gives you thought exercises to wrap your mind around). I also know she would not be able to tease out these deep issues in the story and I told her that. I pointed out that a big part of this particular film and movie and others written and produced for adults is that they bring up these kinds of questions and push us to probe our feelings and ideas around them and sometimes change our beliefs. It is another layer to these types of stories and, unless she can appreciate it for that, I think she would not get nearly as much enjoyment out of it. That isn’t to say if in two years, at eight years old, when she is still not ready to grapple with such existential ideas, she can’t watch and enjoy the movie on some level. But to me I would love for her to come to these stories at the right time when she can really start to appreciate them and then return to them again and again to continue to evolve her thinking around them. It brings to mind several books that I have read over the years that are frequently assigned in high school English classes that, for whatever reason, we never got to or weren’t assigned. I read many of them a few years or even a decade later and know I would have hated them as a teenager, but absolutely loved them as an adult with more perspective. The Joy Luck Club. Things Fall Apart. The Giver. All excellent literature that would have been so far over my head at 15, 16 and 17. I am so grateful I came to them later because they were all incredibly impactful stories for me.
Again this isn’t to shame my friend that showed the movie to her younger daughter. It’s fine. I just know as something I love, I would really like my own daughter to come to it when she is really ready to see Jurassic Park and other stories like it as the reflections of our world that they are and help her form a deeper understanding of the complexity of being human.
There is a flip side to holding back on stories that is directly related to our white privilege and I plan on addressing that in my next blog post. Because there are hard stories with deep existential, identity-laden issues that she needs to begin to address now. I will post a link to that once it’s up.