Indiana Jones — the article’s up!


My article on the Indiana Jones series is now up at Books & Culture.

The first draft was a bit longer than it needed to be, so, among other things, I squished the section on the films’ treatment of family and sexuality down to a single paragraph. Here’s the longer version:

Take sexuality and its relationship to the family. Indy was originally conceived as a Bond-like character, so each of the first three films presented him with a different leading lady — but each film also introduced other characters, seen or unseen, who either complicated these relationships or, at the very least, made Indy less of a loner than Bond. In Temple of Doom, Indy is at his most Bond-like, boldly promiscuous and telling Willie that he has done “years of fieldwork” in “primitive sexual practices” — but the greatest bond in that film is either fraternal or filial, not erotic, as Short Round declares “Indy, I love you!” before causing him the necessary pain that will free him from the spell that Mola Ram has cast on him. The film ends with man, woman and child happily united in a sort of makeshift family.

In Raiders, Indy is a little more intimidated by the women he encounters. He pauses, awkwardly, when a female student makes eyes at him in class, and he is apologetic when he reunites with Marion, an ex-girlfriend several years his junior who was still in her teens during their previous affair. To make matters even more complicated, Marion’s father Abner — now dead — was something of a mentor to Indy, but the two men had a falling out around the time of Indy’s earlier affair with Marion. Whether Indy split with Abner because of Marion or with Marion because of Abner is never clarified, but this background, and the possibility it raises that old wounds can still be healed, gives Indy’s relationship with Marion a deeper resonance than usual.

In Last Crusade, Indy is back to his promiscuous ways, flirting and sleeping with an Austrian archaeologist named Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody). But this relationship gets the shortest shrift of all, as Elsa is soon revealed to be a Nazi double agent, and the primary relationship of the movie is revealed to be the budding reconciliation between Indy and his father. Once again, family trumps mere romance.

So it comes as little surprise that, by the time Crystal Skull comes along, Indy is finally ready to settle down. Near the beginning of the film, there is a funny fish-out-of-water sequence in which Indy, sweaty and clad in his usual adventurer’s garb, roams around a replica of the perfect 1950s suburban neighbourhood. (The replica has been built to test the effects of an atomic bomb on the typical American home; talk about a “nuclear” family!) But as incongruous as this image may seem, domesticity of a sort proves to be Indy’s ultimate destiny: the film reunites him with Marion, who has also been captured by the Russians, and she reveals that Mutt is the son that Indy never knew he had. And so Indy finishes his fourth and presumably final adventure by getting married; the ersatz family of Temple of Doom has given way to the genuine article.

Make of all that what you will!

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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