A review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
“We’re in the season when life stops giving and starts taking away…”
Preppy teenagers cruise along in a 50s roadster, urging the square-jawed men with serious faces next to them to loosen up and enjoy the ride. The latest Indiana Jones installment, with a 65-year old Harrison Ford reprising his role as the archeologist/adventurer, opens with a whimsy and nostalgia that beckons us to do the same. The film plays early on with reflections and nods to the previous installments, and tests whether we’re ready to go for another serial-inspired expedition into the world George Lucas and Steven Spielberg birthed more than 25 years ago.
I revisited Raiders of the Lost Ark the weekend before “Skull” opened, to glean some fresh perspective on the classic versus carrying a few decades of accrued childhood warmth into my expectations. It still holds a place in my list of top 10 films. It’s not perfect, or entirely even, but despite its flaws and age it has an undeniable charm and energizing spirit that pervades and lingers as John Williams’ score trumpets at the credit roll.
So, with the worn, trusty Indiana hat dusted off, I saw the fourth flick downtown with friends at Seattle’s famous Cinerama, hopped up on Top Pot Donuts and sweetened coffee. Collectively, feelings were mixed, but although it was a bit of a bumpy ride (much like the kids in the 50s roadster, bounding over country fields) overall I was unsatisfied. Certainly not as good as the original, inspired piece of pop culture offered up in the 80s, the journey to the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a lukewarm reunion of Jones and the generation raised on his machismo.
After scuffling with commies at a mysterious hanger in nuclear testing territory, Jones finds himself under the scrutiny of McCarthy era Feds who question his allegiance, even for the military service we find out he gave during World War 2. When Jones runs into Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf), a greaser with ties to a few of Indy’s old friends, he realizes that the Reds are after a crystal skull that has some connection to El Dorado, the fabled City of Gold. Traveling to the Amazon, reunited with old friends and discovering new family, the aged adventurer must come to terms with loss, mistakes and regret… and in the process he finds new things to fight for, and new things to live for.
The movie is at its best in the human moments, particularly near the beginning at Indiana’s home when the University Dean muses “we’re in the season when life stops giving and starts taking away”. Portraits of familiar, lost loved ones line the Professor’s desk. Running, jumping, and fighting like a piece of old shoe leather, Ford still looks good both giving and receiving the usual Jones punishment, and the addition of his young friend Mutt plays with mixed results. Jones and Mutt skulking through a South American cemetery gives us perhaps the most nostalgic sense of the classic hero and the first film.
Where the film really drops the ball is when (perhaps inspired by sillier co-producer Lucas) Spielberg makes it hard to suspend our disbelief. Although Indiana’s world is not ours, it has its own set of rules and “physics”, if you will; I remember people complained about Temple of Doom, that when they bailed out of the plane using a rubber raft they’d “gone too far”. In Crystal Skull, there are at least three sequences that go far beyond even that plausibility: scenes involving a major appliance, vines, and waterfalls seem unnecessary. The film is fun in its old Saturday matinee-style without these cartoon excesses, especially when Indiana finds something to love again and goes from grim to glee, smirking through his world-weary exterior.
The film smartly avoids hiding Ford’s age, and if you avoid the annoying distractions of elongated skulls and lost cities, communists and ravenous red ants, the plot points of “how we age” and “what we live for” become the film’s enjoyable undercurrents. The themes are reminiscent of the second Star Trek movie; just as an aged starship captain the audience had to face growing old, losing family, and examining a lifetime of questionable choices, the adventurous Jones must realize what is really important in life. Jones has always been questing and seeking, but somehow missed the most valuable things. At a gathering near film’s end, a character muses:
“How much of our life do we lose to waiting?”
It’s frightening to think we might waste our lives seeking the wrong things. Things that don’t satisfy; things that even lead to death. The villains in the film are seeking keys to knowledge, power, and control, and none of these lead to anything other than destruction. The even more terrifying thought is not only that we MISS what satisfies completely, but worse: we suppress it… and we push it away. We keep barreling ahead searching for the wrong things, seeking lesser illumination, instead of what we truly ought to be looking for.
“…’this knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” – 1 Corinthians 8:1
In the film, Jones doesn’t even sleuth out the important truth; the knowledge that is really important comes crashing down around this lifelong adventurer when he least expects it, and revelation lands in his lap. The thing he wasn’t looking for turns out to be the thing he needed to know more than anything he was seeking. Fortunately this time Indiana embraces it, and instead of being just another relic like the artifacts he’s searched for all his life, he becomes a man with a family and reconciled relationships.
What in your life is left unreconciled? What deep truths are you suppressing? What obvious realities are you ignoring? They’re probably right in front of you… and while I won’t suggest you shouldn’t ponder, consider, and ferret out what these things might be, the good news is we have a Creator and Lord who will inevitably bring them into the light. He has the ability to reveal the most amazing thing we so desperately need that we aren’t even looking for.
Thank God for revelation.