Some people think I’m biased toward blockbusters and certain genres, but I can honestly tell them:
I love Indy films.
With Raiders of the Lost Ark making an IMAX debut in a few weeks, it seemed timely to look back on this beloved, iconic character and see what Indiana Jones and his adventures had to might offer on a deeper level. Lucas and Spielberg launched this franchise out of a love for the old Saturday matinee cliffhangers, so it’s easy to assume that the movies are simply roller coasters with a light application of plot to fuel the ride. However, watching the original trilogy chronologically revealed some nice surprises (not just snake surprise) in character development and spiritual themes that are more overt than an open Ark. They may not melt your face, but they do add a nice jolt to to the world Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. inhabits and reflect some of the things we confront in our own lives. Anyone sporting more than a chilled monkey brain should be able to appreciate them, unless you’ve had your heart removed by Mola Ram.
“Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”
It’s 1935, a year before Indiana Jones will encounter the Ark of the Covenant and reconnect with Marion Ravenwood. Some forget this film takes place prior to the first one (and I disagree with most who regard it as the weakest because of a few cheesy scenes; Last Crusade is just as silly or moreso, changing the previously serious Brody and admirable Sallah into comic relief). Many people watch the second film and think they know Indiana Jones, but remember: this is a year before the film where we first met him, a year prior to his encounter with the wrath of God. You might assume you know his character, but look again: he’s hawking the priceless remains of a Chinese emperor to a sleazy ne’er do well named Lau for a diamond that isn’t identified in the film, and his purposes for it go undisclosed. He sticks a fork in Willie Scott’s ribs before he even knows how annoying she can be.
“…give me what you OWE me… or ‘Anything Goes!’”
Remember some things we find out later in Raiders: by this point in 1935, we know he’s the kind of man who burned his relationship with mentor Abner Ravenwood and emotionally scarred Abner’s daughter Marion. He’s caused a lot of heartache, not your traditional “good guy”.
Now, let’s factor in that flashback from The Last Crusade, where in the opening (1912) we see a teenage Indy face off against a dubious man in a leather jacket and hat… a man who is obtaining the cross of Coronado for a sleazy ne’er do well. Sound familiar?
As a young teen Indy cries out things like “it belongs in a museum” and we later see a post-Raiders adult Indiana echo the same sentiment. However, as Temple of Doom opens we’re between those two moments in his story. He’s become the very thing he hated: a compromised man, a little more ruthless, lacking both conscience and conviction, perhaps not much different than the rugged figure he fled from as a youth.
It also may be true that he rescued Short Round from a horrible life on the streets, but he’s clearly facing some child endangerment issues by having the kid play wheel-man during shootouts. He’s not as bad as he might be, but Indy is conniving and out for self-interest. After their plane crashes escaping Lau, he clearly feels bad for the people of the village they encounter, but when he sets out for their precious sankara stones his primary motivation is clear: fortune and glory, not humanitarian aid. It is below Pankot Palace, in the Temple of Doom, where Indiana Jones encounters both the supernatural and his own hardened heart. Naturally, seeing someone else get theirs removed gets the ball rolling.
Jones is utterly shocked as he observes the man in the cage is “still alive” after having his heart ripped out. From the look on his face, it may be the first time he’s encountered the supernatural. While a professor of archaeology and well-versed in the occult, this is real. This is in his face. He still swings over and gets the stones for his own purposes, planning to leave… but then hears the cries of the children. Looking down at the shackled boys and girls in their wretched state, Indiana Jones gets religion.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” – James 1:27
These kids technically aren’t orphaned, but they’ve been stolen from their parents and forced to work to the death in hideous conditions by the mad Mola Ram. Jones’ path gets worse before it gets better. The temple’s resident maniac uses voodoo on Indy and most certainly “stains” him with tainted blood that turns him into a thrall. He’s delivered by the loving and faithful actions of a child, then proceeds to visit these children in their distress and set them free, ending Mola Ram’s reign of terror forever. Do you recall Mola Ram’s plan? “The British in India will be slaughtered. Then we will overrun the Moslems and force their “Allah” to bow to Kali. And then the Hebrew God will fall and finally the Christian God will be cast down and forgotten.”
Mola thought he could overrun the British and the Moslems, then take down the “Hebrew God” and “Christian God”. It’s curious that Indiana’s further adventures will engage the very same God of that last sentence over the next two films. For now, he’s simply become a better man because he exercised a good religious notion and put the needs of others above his “fortune and glory”. This trio of verses says it nicely:
“…for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls’…” - 1 Peter 1:24
“…and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.” - James 1:11
“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.” - Proverbs 15:16
Also, Indiana is no longer bringing Short Round with him a year later in Raiders, making one assume (or hope) he provided a better situation for the boy to grow up in. He still looks like the compromised treasure hunter at the beginning of The Last Crusade, but he’s beginning a broader adventure that (over the course of three films) take him back to his youthful idealism, needed reconciliation, and much more.
Next, we see in Raiders of the Lost Ark that helping needy children isn’t the only thing our would-be hero still exerts a religious zeal for. In the next two posts we’ll see Indiana Jones’ true religion spelled out by his enemy, and how over the course of three films he goes from:
encountering the supernatural…
to experiencing the fear and power of God…
and finally: taking up the cup of Christ.
To quote Indy’s short, enthusiastic friend:
“Hang on lady, we going for a ride!”
(And yes, I said three films. Only three.)