If you’ve never read Jurassic Park, there’s this moment early on in the book where we beam into the mind of a character named Robert Muldoon and hear his sense of the dinosaurs resurrected to populate Isla Nublar. Muldoon is no scientist. He’s the game warden and his views aren’t tied to laboratory hypotheses; they’re gut-assessments drawn from actual encounters with predation and nature’s bloody refusal to play nice.
So here’s the instant where he meditates anxiously about the velociraptors—their intelligence, their cleverness, their frightening skill for outsmarting any attempt to keep them from hunting where they want:
“Muldoon worried even more about the velociraptors…They were far more intelligent than the other dinosaurs, and they seemed to be natural cage-breakers.
Every zoo expert knew that certain animals were especially likely to get free of their cages. Some, like monkeys and elephants, could undo cage doors. Others, like wild pigs, were unusually intelligent and could lift gate fasteners with their snouts. But who would suspect that the giant armadillo was a notorious cage-breaker? Or the moose? Yet a moose was almost as skillful with its snout as an elephant with its trunk. Moose were always getting free; they had a talent for it.
And so did velociraptors.
Raptors were at least as intelligent as chimpanzees. And, like chimpanzees, they had agile hands that enabled them to open doors and manipulate objects. They could escape with ease.”
Muldoon’s thoughts don’t appear in the film version, per se, but Spielberg does show us this:
When I was growing up, I wanted to be a paleontologist. I read picture books on Darwinian evolution, borrowed back issues of Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic from the library, filled notebooks with color pencil sketches of Tyrannosaur vs. Ceratopsian vs. asteroid battle royales.
No wonder, then, that these scenes feel like a way to explain an enduring preoccupation with exceeding and reshaping tradition, received forms and surprise. Because when listening to Muldoon describe creative instinct, it’s the phrase “cage-breakers” that leaps out; because when we see those raptors testing door handles, what thrills is their relentless adaptability in the face of limits and boundaries.
As a kind of generative obstruction to mess with, a few constraints follow. Claw at the latches. Take them as a dare.
1. Watch this film twice
First time without sound; second time with. Both times full-screen.
2. And now go make something of
28 lines or more
a language beyond English appears
the final word of the poem rhymes with “joy”
anatomy (but not the heart, hands, or lips)
an image, phrase, or name taken from this Wikipedia entry on Lazarus taxa.
R. A. Villanueva’s debut collection of poetry, Reliquaria (U. Nebraska Press, 2014), won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. New writing appears or is forthcoming in Poetry, The American Poetry Review, Prac Crit (UK), The Wolf (UK), and widely elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn and London.