Though I can’t quite pinpoint exactly when it started, Jeff Goldblum has been having a renaissance of late, not at all hindered by his turn in the recently released Thor: Ragnarok. But while his famous portrayal of Dr. Ian Malcolm in the Jurassic Park film series set so many hearts aflutter with his water droplets of chaos, I have to admit– my heart will always belong to the steadfast and serene Dr. Alan Grant.
Embodied by Kiwi actor Sam Neill, Dr. Grant wasn’t the sexy, open-shirted bad-boy of the Jurassic world. He wasn’t even the roguish gamekeeper in shorty shorts, Robert Muldoon. No. Dr. Grant was, on the outside, boring. He was a no-nonsense academic who shunned technology and dreamed of digging the same site for as many years as funding could afford. He was happy to stay in Montana with his partner (both academic and romantic), Dr. Ellie Sattler. He’d built a home amongst the bones and dust, in as many Winnebagos as he could afford.
Dr. Grant was a quiet nerd. And I– paleontology pun intended– dug it.
Even at seven years old, my personality meshed with the focused and controlled Dr. Grant’s. I was a child who didn’t like to be teased or to break rules, who enjoyed long hours of quiet, either sitting in my room drawing and painting or reading books about animals. I had switched schools around the time the movie was released, and while I’d transitioned well enough to my new surroundings, I was notoriously considered the shy, quiet child who kept to herself and did her schoolwork. I had exactly one friend, and it was a situation that suited me.
The fact of the matter is, I was then, and am still, fairly bristly. Of course, I could understand Dr. Grant’s reaction when confronted by obnoxious people– especially a rude and sneering child. The soft-spoken, serious researcher let his distaste for the brat come out– with behavior that is now questionable, to me, as an adult, but as a kid I recognized a kindred spirit who had no patience for, you know, idiots.
Of course, Dr. Grant at some point had to put his distaste for children aside (as we all must do, especially when one was in the third grade the year the movie came out) to take care of Lex and Tim. This is the burden of the no-nonsense personality; the person who didn’t come equipped with the brain cells others have to devote to flights of fancy, panic, or endless theorizing (even if it is mathematical) must inevitably become a keeper for others, as I often did when classmates needed someone to provide advice or, more frequently, a conscience to talk them out of something that could get them in trouble. In his gradual warm-up to the Murphy children, I saw in Dr. Grant a person who would go about life the way I did– with begrudging acceptance that it would involve other people.
And then, of course, a shared dark comedy evidenced by pretending to be electrocuted on the paddock fence.
I do still love a man with a sense of humor.
Of course, re-watching the film as an adult had me noticing new details perhaps my childhood crush missed, or just internalized. Chief among them being Dr. Grant’s relationship to Dr. Sattler, played by Laura Dern. They are, of course, in a relationship, but he never gets territorial– even when that flirtatious Malcolm puts the geek-moves on Ellie in the Jeep. Dr. Grant knows that his partner is an intriguing, intelligent, and beautiful woman, and is not jealous when another man takes notice. He’s thrilled when she shows off her knowledge and intelligence by examining triceratops excrement, and loves how much her unladylike behavior bothers Dr. Malcolm. It was Dr. Grant’s love for a tenacious woman that set my heart aflutter.
Of course, the highlight of Dr. Grant’s appreciation for his brilliant and bold partner comes after one of the film’s most memorable (and feminist) lines.
Dr. Malcolm: God created dinosaurs. God destroyed dinosaurs. God created Man. Man destroyed God. Man created dinosaurs.
Dr. Sattler: Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.
As Dr. Malcolm reacts to Dr. Sattler with incredulousness, watch Dr. Grant’s face in the background– a giant, thrilled grin stretches across his face. Though Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler don’t end up together, romantically, in the film series, they maintain a caring, close relationship.
In the end, it was always important for me to watch a character who was so similar to myself– aloof, serious, and unlikable to some– realize two things: he was a hero, using bookish smarts gleaned from research and a no-nonsense attitude. But he also respected strong and intelligent women– something we still rarely see in a big-budget adventure movie.