Last December, I sat down with my father to watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. To me, it’s one of the best summer blockbusters in a long time (yeah, you heard me: the second one). Yet, after we finished, my Dad turned to me and said, “Where are the feel-good action movies?” I asked him what he meant and he replied by recalling movies that weren’t so oppressively dark. Where were the real good guys? he asked. Where were heroes like Indiana Jones?!
My introduction to Indiana Jones was with my Dad. He never bought movies when I was young. Ever. If it was good, you could just catch it on TV. So I knew it was something special when he brought home a VHS of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I didn’t know what it was, so when my father sat me down in my grandparents’ basement in front of our little 14″ TV, I had no idea what awaited me. I was young (no more than five) and probably didn’t even know what the movie was about. I imagine my Dad fast-forwarded through some of the kissing and I know he made me cover my eyes at the end when Donovan chooses the wrong cup and melts into a dusty skeleton.
Over the next few years, I watched the film again and again. I remember being filled with wonder at the music and humming it everywhere I went; it was the first soundtrack album I bought. I can recall sitting at the little school desk in my room and drawing The Keeper of the Grail’s shield emblem on a piece of parchment paper. Growing up in a religious household, I was especially interested in how Indy’s search for these ancient religious artifacts would conclude. Heck, I actually thought the real Cup of Christ was housed in the ancient city of Petra.
But more than any of this, Indiana Jones captured my imagination because my young, impressionable mind saw in him a hero. He was someone I felt like I could stand beside and join in the adventure. Because of him, my perception of heroes were people who went after the good in the world unselfishly, did battle with those who would want destroy that good, and ended up achieving their goals in the end. After all, Dr. Jones isn’t in the business of archeology to make millions of dollars or get his face plastered all over the headlines of national newspapers. He may get the girl in the end but most of the time the artifacts he retrieves are boxed up and put in a warehouse or entrusted to a good friend or a museum. His is a business of finding and giving, not discovering and keeping.
Flash-forward to the “heroes” in the Pirates of the Caribbean saga in which we’re asked to constantly cheer for characters whose claim to fame is committing acts of piracy. By the time things wrap up in the messy third installment, there are no “heroes” you can feel good about rooting for, whose motivations don’t change every other second, and whose allegiances are always sure. In the end, no “good guys” remain — we’re left with a boatload of selfish people willing to betray anyone and everyone to satisfy their own lust for fortune and glory.
“Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory,” says Indy to Short Round in The Temple of Doom. Yet Indy says it in an extremely flat monotone, expressing that fortune and glory have perhaps worn out their welcome for him. How fitting that Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom is a prequel to the other two Jones films, for in it we witness an immense change in Indy. Matt Zoller Seitz points this change out beautifully in his recent post on The Temple of Doom by saying, “‘Fortune and glory’ is the lie that the old Indy has to tell himself, in order to give himself permission to start the adventure that will birth the new Indy: a man willing to risk his life for principle.”
Each generation has their own set of movie heroes. Members of Generation X will no doubt think John Wayne’s many incarnations or T.E. Lawrence of Lawrence of Arabia. A list from Generation Y, my generation, would assuredly include Indiana Jones, accompanied by a few other movie franchise faces. But what kind of heroes do Generation Z, the earbud, iPod, text-message generation have? Heroes willing to risk their lives for principle are becoming few and far between. Perhaps a visit from Indiana Jones will prove timely, even if he only serves as a faint reminder of that “old-fashioned” (but never outdated) kind of hero.