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Looking For Heroes In Our Midst

"Boring," declared my wife as we crowded into a Bozeman, Montana, movie theater some years ago to see Jurassic Park. We were with our friend Jack Horner during a gathering of MacArthur Fellows. Jack — a paleontologist at Montana State University who, among other triumphs, has demonstrated that T. Rex cared for their young — was an adviser on the film and a real-life model for the character of Dr. Alan Grant.

Then came the moment in the film when the electric car stalls in the park as storm clouds gather. My wife's hand clutched my arm, "uh-oh," she murmured. We were both hooked.

Actor Sam Neill played Grant, a superb character with endearing qualities. He was knowledgeable, steady, caring, strong and quietly warm.

As I write this I realize why I liked him so much. Think of Gary Cooper in High Noon: against violence, a Quaker wife even more opposed to violence, the bad guys come to town to terrorize it, reluctantly he takes up his Colt, guns down the bad guys and then puts his gun away, forever.

Cooper represented the self image of the post World War II American man, the "Greatest Generation," winners of a war that had to be won. We have largely lost that image of ourselves.

Have we not lost the self image of man as a dependable, everyday contributor to society who can, when required, take on the mantle of hero, before returning to a prosaic way of life?

What of the unintentional hero paleontologist of Jurassic Park? He always seems to sense or know what to do, sturdy, but always at a human, not overwrought scale, always open to the wit and wry wisdom of Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the "chaotician," with his comment, "Life will find a way." So very true.

There is Grant, the paleontologist, knowledgeably telling us at the beginning of Jurassic about Velociraptor behavior. Later we will be transfixed as the children, trapped in the kitchen, are hunted by two of the creatures, exhibiting behavior foreshadowed by the earlier description.

Grant is the central thread of the story, the human psyche and body that carries us through the film. It is his moral character that is the straight line of intelligence beyond reason that holds us and the film together.

He shows us how it is to do it right.

When you get to know Jack Horner you can see the link between the real man and the amazing fictional character at the heart of Jurassic Park. We are friends and I admire Jack Horner's humanity. Normal men fully able to be heros if need be are still part of our lives.