How Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Saved My Life


Late 1980s and beforejurassic park The early 1990s were not entirely successful times for Steven Spielberg. Empire of the Sun (1987) was futile Oscar bait, while Still (1989) and To hang up (1991) failed to charm audiences as his earlier fantasies had. Indiana Jones and the last crusade, on the other hand, released 33 years ago on Memorial Day weekend, was a huge success, the second highest-grossing film of the year after the phenomenon that was Tim Burton Batman. Critics and audiences loved it, and more than three decades later, it remains one of the director’s most popular films.

Yes, some special effects are annoying, but that was true even back then. And the action pales in comparison to the inspired breathlessness of The Raiders of the Lost Ark (nineteen eighty one). But John Williams provides some of his most moving music, and the relationships and comedic timing are special. I saw the movie a few years ago to a packed house and it still played like gangbusters. As we gear up for a hopefully redemptive fifth Indiana Jones movie (after the unholy mess of Crystal Skull Kingdom), I reflect on how the themes of the film have transformed me.


Spielberg’s Broken Families

Beyond Spielberg’s sure instincts as an artist, last crusade holds up so well because its themes still resonate. The sentimental and sincere film – Spielberg’s mea culpa for the violent and the macabre Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) – reflected the director’s changing ideas about family at the time. Like many of his films, last crusade talks about the pain of children separated from their parents. In Dating of the Third Kind (1977), a fatherless boy is taken from his mother (Melinda Dillon), while a man (Richard Dreyfuss) abandons his family to travel to the stars. HEY (1982) also features an absent father and a family torn apart by a cosmic departure. In The purple color (1985), a woman (Whoopi Goldberg) suffers horribly from the abdication of parental responsibility, while Empire of the Sun depicts a boy (Christian Bale) torn from his family by the war.

last crusade dramatizes both separation and abdication. The film opens with a young Indiana Jones (River Phoenix) whose mother is long gone, and whose father might as well be. Like the character of Dreyfuss in close encounters, Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery) has abandoned his family responsibilities to pursue his obsession: searching for the Holy Grail. Later in the film, when Indy rescues his father from the Nazis and they pursue the Grail together, some of the film’s most emotional scenes revolve around the adult Indy’s (Harrison Ford) expressions of pain and resentment. “What you taught me,” he said at one point to his father, “is that I was less important to you than people who had been dead for five hundred years in another country, and I learned it so well that we barely spoke for 20 years.

River Phoenix is ​​the young Indiana Jones

In search of faith

But the film isn’t just about a torn family; it is also about a reunited and ultimately healed family. Spielberg became a parent in last crusade, and he would embark on an era of films such as To hang up (1991), Schindler’s list (1993) jurassic park (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), in which men took responsibility rather than shirk it and learned to put family first. last crusade bridges the two eras. It starts with a fractured family and an irresponsible parent and ends with a man realizing what’s important before it’s too late. “Indiana,” Henry says as Indy puts himself in danger to save the Grail at the film’s climax, “Forget it.” I finally see that it’s not as important as you.

I shared Indy’s (and Spielberg’s) pain. My sister died of a long illness at the end of that summer and my parents (like Spielberg’s) divorced soon after. I sincerely hoped for family reunification, a parent who would look up from their obsession and acknowledge that I was important. The movie’s dream of family healing sustained me through a time of loneliness. I saw him at the theater six times that summer.

Although never religious, I also responded to the film’s themes of faith. “The search for the cup of Christ is the search for the divine within all of us,” says Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) at the start of the film, as he and Indy prepare to save Henry and begin their search for the Grail. The line points out that while an action movie made in secular times clearly won’t be religious — Hollywood had stopped making biblical epics decades earlier — last crusade is a spiritual film, which uses the quest for the Grail as a metaphor for the struggle to find faith.

The Lion’s Head Leap

The most impactful sequence for me, then and now, is the climax, when Henry is shot, and Indy must pass three death tests to reach the Grail and use his healing power to save his father. During the final test, he comes to a ledge overlooking a bottomless crevasse and realizes, “Only by leaping from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.” With Henry bleeding to death behind him, Indy chooses to take a leap of faith into the chasm, at which point a previously invisible bridge reveals itself to lead him to safety. The scene is a moving evocation of faith as a terrifying abyss into which one must sink if one hopes to obtain the ultimate reward.

Unsurprisingly, given its impact on the entire modern cinematic experience, much of the success of this sequence, and the film as a whole, is due to John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score, which is far from a Raiders retread. Williams only sparingly evokes the fanfare he made famous in the first film, instead composing new music that includes a beautiful, puffy Grail theme and thrilling action choruses, especially for the scenes. inspired opening in which bandits chase the young Indy atop a hurtling circus train. .

Men ride at sunset in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

find enlightenment

The women rarely play with the boys in these stories, and true to form, the only woman (Alison Doody) in last crusade is a Nazi. Her role is that of temptress and traitor, the traitor of so many immature imaginations. When the passionate brotherhood leaves together towards sunset, they leave her buried in the rubble.

Of course, such things didn’t phase me at the time. I was a boy myself that summer. Girls seemed as unobtainable as ancient biblical artifacts and male friendships were the most important thing in my life. The idea that I could find spiritual “enlightenment,” as Henry puts it, through adventures with friends, was telling. My teenage years were difficult. Fortunately, Spielberg made a movie that suggested I could find a brighter future if I was just willing to take that metaphorical lion’s head leap. It’s an idea that still sustains me today.

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