I have recently found myself revisiting the Indiana Jones movies, and have enjoyed them very much since “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out when I was just 8 years old in the summer of 1981. In fact, the first time I saw this movie, my brother, my father, and my dad’s friend and I thought it was so outstanding; we stayed in the theater to watch it a second time. The character of Indiana Jones with his hat, his bullwhip, and leather jacket captured my imagination as nothing else. I knew I was watching an instant classic unfold before my eyes as I was dazzled by one breathtakingly ingenious setpiece after another. This particular combination of gorgeous cinematography, a spectacular musical score, strong acting (I still believe this is one of Harrision Ford’s most underrated performances as an actor), a compelling story, and iconic, brilliant costume design were perfectly married to tell the story, with one action sequence and musical queue seamlessly transitioning to another without feeling forced or unnecessary. Everything feels essential to tell the story of “Raiders,” and to this day it is one of my all-time favorite films. While I enjoy the other Indiana Jones movies, none of them can quite compare to the perfection and the magic of the original “Raiders” in my opinion.
As a child, I accepted the supernatural elements of the Indiana Jones films, realizing that was part of the fun of them. The opening of the Ark of the Covenant was a spectacular display of incredible special effects which still come across as realistic and technically brilliant even in today’s modern digital imaging era. I still accept the supernatural elements as a part of the fun and fictional stories of Indiana Jones as I did when I was a kid, but what I do not accept as an adult is the general message each of these films share which I consider to be their greatest flaw – the notion that the mystical somehow is a literal reality, and not a metaphor for a greater Truth behind the mythical stories. This is the exact opposite of the Roman-created Christian Gospels, as we examined in “Caesar’s Messiah,” in which we discovered how the Romans used myth to point to the truth of how critical thinking, rational thought and logic are the authentic path to truth instead of blind faith in the factual correctness of superstitious stories, even though virtually the entire world reads the Gospels as literal fact instead of a satire as their authors intended. Interestingly enough, even after finding the Holy Grail and watching its amazing healing powers at work in curing his father’s would-be fatal gunshot wound in “Last Crusade,” Indiana Jones still does not quite “believe” in the supernatural, as he does not elaborate on what he learned once they leave the temple, unlike his father. Indy only mourns the death of the wicked Elsa, then seems to go back to “business as usual” once they are out of harm’s way. He also still speaks of things being “only stories” eighteen years later when he is asked by Mutt about the power of the crystal skull in the latest Indiana Jones installment. So, while the audience is supposed to “learn the lesson” that stories are not just stories, but literal fact, Indiana Jones persists in never quite learning this “lesson,” remaining a scientist and a skeptic at heart throughout the series. Nevertheless, the audience is supposed to buy in to the idea that Indy is not correct in seeing the relics he seeks for what they actually are – valuable pieces of exceptional historical significance rather than “magical objects of superstitious hocus-pocus” as Jones says in “Raiders.”
I am all about healthy skepticism. It is actually one of the qualities of Indiana Jones I most admire. Still, rather than simply remaining only a skeptic without realization of truth, I would have rather had Indiana Jones realize the greater Truth behind the facts he studies and uncovers in the films rather than discovering these legends as literal facts without realizing the greater truth behind his adventures. That to me would have put this series in a class all by itself. Indiana Jones even states the fact there is a difference between fact and truth, but does not elaborate on the difference in “Last Crusade.” Still, Jones sometimes does learn greater truths, such as awareness that the true treasure the civilization was seeking in “Crystal Skull” was knowledge, not gold. This is the only film in which Indiana Jones actually states his clear understanding of the “lesson.” In “Last Crusade,” while Jones is outwardly seeking the Holy Grail, he is actually seeking his father and the restoration of their relationship. Indy never explicitly states his understanding of his true goal to reconnect with his father emotionally, only that he wants to find his father who is missing. While there is a short conversation on a zeppelin between father and son about their past, their relationship is sadly not explored in the film anywhere near to the potential it could have been explored. But relationships are generally not what the Indiana Jones movies are about. They are about nonstop ingeniously choreographed action setpieces and good old fashioned fun. When thinking of so many various second-rate “entertainments” offered to the public today, this is definitely not a bad thing.
While Indiana Jones often appears to be more of a Han Soloesque mercenary, he still has the heart to care about others. Rather than only save his own hide and get out of Pankot Palace alive while in possession of the Sankara Stone in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” he first releases the children held in captivity as slaves. And while he returns the Sankara Stone to the village without selfishly keeping it for his own “fortune and glory,” it is the return of the children to their families that matters most. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” while Indy succeeds in getting the Ark of the Covenant back into the hands of the United States government, and out of the hands of the Nazis, there is really no “lesson” Indy seems to learn either implicitly or explicitly. This film is all about fun and adventure, and is not necessarily about “deeper” meanings. In “Last Crusade,” Indiana Jones faces his ultimate test in which he cannot rely on his mind, his wits, or his body, and has no choice but to literally “step out” in faith. When Indy reaches an enormous chasm he cannot jump, with nothing above the chasm with which he could attach his whip, Indiana Jones realizes he must make a “leap of faith” as he calls it. When he steps out into the apparent void, his foot lands down on a rock bridge which was camouflaged by the rock background of the chasm. The point is clear. The bridge was always there, but he could not perceive it. I have always been very moved by this scene, and see it is an excellent lesson in learning to overcome and face our fears with courage, for our growth and the benefit of others. The words Indy reads in the Grail diary speak to this on “the Path of God”… “Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.” The lion is a symbol of courage, showing how Indy is being asked to make a leap of courage as much as a leap of faith.
Throughout my writings on this site, I speak very critically of faith because it is the acceptance as true that for which we have no evidence, which is the essence of laziness, dishonesty, and untruthfulness. What I am referring to here is religious faith, which is not at all the same as having faith in ourselves or extending trust to our children. We are sometimes asked or feel compelled to take chances or to “step out” when there is no evidence or a guarantee we will succeed. This would be akin to taking a risk to start a new business which may fail, putting our child in a rehabilitation program that may not work, being rejected by another person we approach, etc. Still, I would say these examples are not the same as “religious faith,” which is the blind acceptance of something as true without any evidence to back up a truth or factual claim. Instead, I would say these things show the “faith” if you will, of Love, about living now, in the present moment, without fear. The difference between “religious faith” and “loving faith,” is religious faith is the product of fear, while loving faith is the product of love. Loving faith involves that which is of the real world, “real life” if you will. It involves faith in oneself and faith in others – actual real people – not blind faith in superstitious notions and imaginary beings to pacify our hopes and soothe our fears as we do in “religious faith.” I sometimes lose patience with those who would say this scene in “Last Crusade” validates “religious faith.” On the contrary, when Indiana Jones steps out into the chasm, he does so as an act of love for his father, an act of loving faith, not as an act of hope in pleasing or fear of displeasing an imaginary being as is the case in religious faith. The two are not at all one and the same. In this scene, Indiana Jones “steps out” in loving faith, meaning he “steps out” for the sake of another while putting himself at potentially great risk. In stepping out in courage, Indy shows the value of sacrifice – the willingness to take a chance to lose one’s own life to save that of another. In stepping out into the chasm, Indy takes a risk he will die, but to not step out would result in his father dying. It is a true act of love and is perhaps the essence of love – to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of another.
We are all seeking the Truth even if we are not aware of the fact. In that sense, Indiana Jones is just like us, which is at least one of the reasons why we can identify with his humanity so well. Most of us seek facts without seeing the truth behind it, as many scientists and archeologists tend to do. We all can do this, as we live in a fact-obsessed society. But the perpetuation of myths as literal fact instead of metaphors which point us to Truth as often found in the literal interpretation of religious scripture, and sometimes shown in the Indiana Jones movies is an unfortunate manifestation of our persistent desire to believe in “miracles” and “magic,” rather than see the true “miracles” which exist in our seemingly “mundane,” real-world everyday lives. The myth of the “supernatural” is irrelevant in the vision and awareness of the true transcendence of “the Oneness of All”…