A few weeks ago Kalie and I went to see Jurassic World: Dominion. Heralded as, “The epic conclusion of the Jurassic Era” (*cough* for now *cough*), it’s the latest in the long line of legacy sequels. Like every film from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens to Halloween (2018) to Terminator: Dark Fate to Ghostbusters: Afterlife to The Matrix Resurrections to Scream (2022), this film saw the new Jurassic World cast – Chris Pratt (Owen Grady), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), and Isabella Sermon (Maisie Lockwood) – come together with the legacy Jurassic Park cast – Sam Neil (Dr. Alan Grant), Laura Dern (Dr. Ellie Sattler), Jeff Goldblum (Dr. Ian Malcolm), and BD Wong (Dr. Henry Wu) – and several new allies – DeWanda Wise (Kayla Watts) and Mamoudou Athie (Ramsay Cole) – to face the latest dino-adjacent threat from scientists so preoccupied with whether or not they could they didn’t stop to think if they should. I really enjoyed the film and, somewhat surprisingly, it got me thinking about my birthday and how excited I am to be turning forty.
This piece will have the mildest spoilers for Jurassic World: Dominion, only discussing a general overview of the plot points which put the narrative in motion at the beginning of the film.
Jurassic World: Dominion felt like two different films, tonally. The second half was classic Jurassic Park with ethical discussions around the application of scientific knowledge and meditations on our place in the world and our inherent responsibility to be loving stewards of the environment…all, you know, while dinosaurs are chasing people. The first half however felt like a traditional action movie, as Claire and Owen set off on an international rescue mission, with the aid of their CIA contact, to find their kidnapped daughter, Maisie. As Owen raced his motorcycle through narrow Italian streets with trained attack raptors nipping at his heels and Claire leapt from building to building with another raptor chasing her, my mind kept turning over one question. The question had nothing to do with the Claire/Owen/Maisie part of the film and everything to do with my birthday.
As the kidnapping plot was unfolding, we saw the legacy cast begin their own adventure. Ellie Sattler was investigating swarms of enormous locusts devouring crops in the Midwest. They destroyed everything in their path except fields planted with Biosyn Industry crops. Ellie arrives unannounced at Alan Grant’s archeological dig, the first time they’ve seen each other (presumably) since their brief contact in 2001’s Jurassic Park 3 where it was revealed they’d broken up sometime after the events of 1993’s Jurassic Park. Ellie asks Alan for his help in going to Biosyn and proving they are manufacturing the locusts. She knows a scientist with Alan’s reputation corroborating her findings will go a long way to validating them. She also wants someone she can trust to watch her back as she infiltrates the Biosyn corporation. With that, Ellie and Alan are off to meet with Ian Malcolm, who’d taken a job as Biosyn’s ethicist as a way to spy on them from inside.
My mind kept drifting to this (classic legacy sequel setup) scene as Owen dodged raptors on his motorcycle. I kept thinking, “I’m almost forty. That means I’m at best ten to fifteen years away from the legacy sequel period of my life. In ten to fifteen years minimum someone from my past can mysteriously reappear to instigate one more adventure.” I mean, it can happen in my sixties or even my seventies. Just look at Laurie Strode, Sarah Connor, Indiana Jones, or Han Solo! But it seems I have to be fifty (or almost fifty, in the case of Sydney Prescott) before I can likely expect my own legacy sequel adventures to unfold.
So, as anyone would, I began thinking of who from my past was most likely to appear out of the blue to pull me into one more adventure where, depending on the writers’ vision for future sequels, I may or may not die.
This was my mind’s focus through the entire raptor fight/chase sequence and my mind kept returning to it during the rest of the film. After the movie, Kalie and I stood in the parking lot discussing it with Sabrina, one of Kalie’s best friends who was in town. Sabrina suggested we see Jurassic World: Dominion (for which I owe Sabrina because if she wasn’t in town and hadn’t picked Jurassic World: Dominion I’d’ve most likely seen The Black Phone that night instead (now, to be fair, The Black Phone was a brilliant film (one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen (but it would’ve unquestionably been more disturbing than Jurassic World: Dominion (and I was really excited to see Jurassic World: Dominion (so it worked out pretty well)))))). While Kalie and Sabrina began to discuss their thoughts on the film, the first thing I mentioned was this – the idea that, as I approach forty, I’m a decade or so away from legacy sequel adventures becoming a viable thing in my life. After framing the now familiar setup – a person you’ve not seen for years mysteriously and unexpectedly returns to instigate one more crazy adventure – we all began discussing who in our lives would most likely play the role of legacy sequel adventure instigator.
For me, as soon as I began pondering my life in this light there was only one person who perfectly fit the role. In the parking lot that night, before I said anything, Kalie guessed the name in one. So did the family when I brought the question up around the table at Friday night dinner. So did Jeff when I talked about it with him. And so did Mike, my high school youth minister and one of the only people I’m still friends with who I knew when I was in high school. Everyone took one guess with no pause for contemplation. Again and again and again and again the same name came to everyone that came to my mind as I half watched Claire and Owen avoid raptors – Missy.
My earliest memory of Missy is sitting behind her in second grade. We went to different middle schools but reconnected and became best friends in high school. Many teenage nights were spent listening to Poison and Bon Jovi as we drove around town or hanging out in the lobby of the movie theatre, talking and playing video games, as we waited hours for whatever movie we wanted to see to start (we often spontaneously went to the movies…who looks at starting times when you’re seventeen and have nothing but time?). After high school she went into the military and I went off to college but we did our best to stay in touch. The thing with Missy was I never really knew when she’d pop up. She blew in like the wind. Often, I’d answer a knock at the door to find Missy smiling back at me, home on leave when I thought she was somewhere on the other side of the country or the world.
Missy’s first son, Jacob, would become an important part of my life, too. After the military, there were longer periods of time when Missy was home as she sorted job offers and the like. The three of us were often together and I have so many happy memories from those years :). I was in my mid-twenties and it was with Jacob that I learned how to change diapers and load/unload a car seat and let him fall asleep between us as we watched Rent (which he loved and fell asleep to often) as all those “kid things” which never intersected with my life before suddenly became very real. I still laugh when I remember going back to a Pizza Hut once when Jacob was a toddler to retroactively leave a tip because the poor kid was having a meltdown and all I could think to do was get him out of there as quickly as I could and, in the rush, I forgot to tip XD. There was an extended period of time, when Jacob was five to seven, where he and Missy were living in town. For part of that time, Missy was also working in another state and, naturally, Jacob was with me a lot when Missy was out of town.
Ultimately they moved for good and, no matter how hard you try to stay in touch, sometimes life happens. Phone calls are missed. Texts aren’t returned. Suddenly years and years have gone by and a “best friend” becomes “somebody you used to know.” Whether we like it or not the only constant in life is change.
But the thing about Missy is she always blew in like the wind, often unexpectedly, and what followed was always exciting, unpredictable, and emotionally full. Nothing was ever minor with Missy. So if there’s anyone in my life who I could see showing up on my doorstep to ask for my help with one more adventure – that, you know, may or may not kill me – it’s Missy.
Or, as Jeff brilliantly suggested when we talked about this, maybe it’s Jacob who shows up on my doorstep. He’s an adult and he tells me his mom’s gone missing or is trapped in some random country or presumed dead and he asks my help in finding her/rescuing her/finishing what she started. That, as Jeff pointed out, would be a way to bridge the legacy cast with the new cast. It’s the difference between the legacy sequels like Jurassic World: Dominion, Scream (2022), Halloween (2018) and The Matrix Resurrections and films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Terminator: Dark Fate, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and The Matrix Resurrections (which, I know, is on both lists but if you’ve seen The Matrix Resurrections you get it).
All this is to say, I’m really excited about turning forty. WHO WOULDN’T BE LOOKING FORWARD TO LEGACY SEQUEL ADVENTURES?? Our culture is weird about turning forty. As a result, many people have naturally asked me how I’m feeling or if it feels weird or if I’m in my head about it. Honestly? I’m super excited (as birthdays are the best), it doesn’t feel any different than any other birthday (and I love my birthday!), and I’m not in my head about it at all. Inexplicably, the only birthday that ever felt weird/I was in my head over was when I turned twenty-seven. All of a sudden I was in my late-twenties and the world seemed like it would never be the same and I was crossing a threshold into the slow decay of old age. I have no idea why twenty-seven got in my head like that but it did.
However, the angst around twenty-seven soon faded and the year ended up being pretty great. I’ve never really been bothered by aging. I enjoyed my teenage years – “holding onto sixteen, as long as we can,” as John Mellencamp put it – when I was a teenager. But then my twenties were so much better and you couldn’t pay me to go back to my teens. Then I turned thirty and my thirties were even better than my twenties. “Hey, would you like to be an adult but with a lot less insecurity around who you are and what that means?” That was my thirties and I dug it. All the freedom of adulthood but with much less existential angst! Now, I’m excited to see what my forties hold. All my friends in their forties already are fantastic. I live my life surrounded by a beautiful collection of natural supports. I am in a healthier, more peaceful, and more spiritual place than I’ve ever been thanks to years in therapy. I am deeply connected with myself and those around me. What’s not to celebrate??
Now, I’m under no illusion everything will be good. My thirties held the darkest, most trying period of my life. There was a stretch of time where I couldn’t image ever seeing the light again. But I never doubted I would as I had my therapist, Katherine, there to guide me and all those beautiful people I love and who love me in return by my side. In those moments where I couldn’t see the path back to the light I always trusted I’d find it again because of those around me. And, in addition to the worst days of my life, my thirties also held the best. So yes, I’m eager to see what my forties have in store for me.
In general, I’ve never really worried or been bothered about aging (minus that one time around twenty-seven). As Jon Bon Jovi sings, “I look in the mirror / I don’t hate what I see / There’s a few more lines starring back at me / Now the night has grown a little bit colder / Hey man, I gotta run but you take care / If you see Coach T. tell him I’ve still got my hair / I’ve kept my faith, I still believe I’m just….I’m still pretty, too.” Amen Jon, AMEN. And while I love the Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Isabella Sermon, DeWanda Wise, and Mamoudou Athie phase of my life, I’m also more than ok with getting closer to the Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and BD Wong era, too. As the New Jersey Prince himself sings – “I’m not old, just older” – and, if I’ve learned anything from legacy sequels, getting older means I eventually become “the sure thing” which guarantees box office returns and the only thing that adds real meaning or emotional weight to the tales of newbies doing their own recycled versions of the stories I made famous in the first place ;D.