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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989): Father’s Day with the Jones Boys

This Father’s Day weekend, we’re taking a look at a movie classic where a father/son relationship is a key component. There are plenty of great movies from which to choose, movies such as “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Nothing in Common,” “Field of Dreams,” or “The Road” (if you really, really want to feel bummed out).

Today, though, our fatherhood movie is the first movie that comes to my mind when I think of such movies: “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the third film (and perhaps second best) in the Indiana Jones series.

Directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Harrison Ford,  the Last Crusade followed to a “T” the Hollywood formula for movie sequels: 

    • Stick with what worked in the original movie; and
    • Add some new things, perhaps a new supporting character.

The Last Crusade certainly stuck with what worked in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” perhaps too much. In many ways, Raiders and The Last Crusade are the same movie, to the point where both movies can be described by the same three paragraphs:

Start with a thrilling opening where Indiana Jones, an adventurer and college archeology professor, risks his life while pursuing a valuable artifact. We next see him teaching archeology to a class which includes girls fawning after him. While at school, he’s approached by men in suits to find a Biblical (and perhaps mystical) artifact that has been thought lost.

Indy travels around the globe (as shown by a map) in pursuit of the object, risking his life in each locale. Indy is opposed by the Nazis, who want the artifact and its powers to help them take over the world. The Nazis are led by a non-German who himself is not a Nazi but wants the object for his own glory and power.

The artifact is found in Northern Africa, where Indiana is assisted by his friend Sallah. In the climax, Indiana is captured by the Nazis, but is able to win the day when the magic surrounding the object overwhelms the Nazis. Indy survives due to his own superior intellect and knowledge.

The Last Crusade does have its variations from Raiders, although most of these changes (the Biblical artifact, the locales and Indy’s love interest) are relatively minor. The two major differences come first with the addition of River Phoenix, playing a young Indiana Jones in an opening sequence that explained many of Indiana Jones’s signature characteristics, such as his whip, his fear of snakes, and the scar on his chin (which, in real life, Harrison Ford received after a car crash). Phoenix did a great job in the role, which many thought would lead to Phoenix’s assumption of the Indiana Jones role. He may have, if he hadn’t died tragically.

The other major difference in the Last Crusade is the addition of Indy’s father, Henry Jones, Sr., played by Sean Connery, the original James Bond and, of course, Zed from “Zardoz.”

Zardoz-1.jpg

Ah, ’70’s sci-fi.

Anyway, in the Last Crusade, Connery’s character, Henry, is a medieval historian whose passion is the Holy Grail. Due to his expertise in the lore, Henry was chosen to lead the Grail quest until he disappeared with his research. Indy and his father have a troubled relationship and have hardly spoken for twenty years. Henry is strict with Indy, calls him “Junior,” and, in Indy’s judgement, is more concerned with “people who had been dead for 500 years in another country” than Indy’s well-being.

The relationship between Indy and his father and the chemistry between Ford and Connery are what drive this movie and raise it above typical sequel status. The interaction between the two men creates much of the film’s humor as well as its character arc. The relationship also is what makes the Last Crusade the quintessential Father’s Day film for me.

To a large degree, the conflict between Indy and his father is due to their failure to understand each other. Indy doesn’t understand his father’s passion for the Grail and hints that this passion caused rifts in Henry’s marriage to Indy’s mother, who died years before. Indy, like all sons, also has a limited perspective of his father. For instance, when Ilsa, the female lead in the movie, says that Henry was “as giddy as a school boy,” Indy responds that his father has never been giddy, even when he was a school boy.

Henry seems to believe that Indy is undisciplined. He also doesn’t understand the way in which Indiana engages in archeology (which, when you think about it, is completely understandable — normal archeologists don’t chase tanks with a horse and pistol).

Harrison-Ford-as-Indiana-Jones

Of course, the two men begin to understand each other better, and become closer, as they fight their way to the Grail.  There are two scenes that capture this rapprochement the best. The first scene occurs when Indy and Henry, standing on a beach, are attacked by a German fighter plane. Indy’s pistol is out of ammo (although he couldn’t have done much with a pistol against a fighter). Henry suddenly has an idea:

Notice the look in Indy’s eyes at the end of this clipo. He looks as if he has seen something in his father that he has never seen or appreciated. He contemplates what he has seen, perhaps thinking of Ilsa’s previous comment about Henry being as giddy as a schoolboy. Indy then gives an almost imperceptible nod, as if he likes what he has discovered.

Or he’s thinking, damn, he is James Bond.

The second scene is the climax of the movie. We’re in the cave where the Grail is located. Indy has found the Grail and healed his father with it, after Henry was shot by the main villain. Ilsa has carried the Grail across the seal of the cave, a big no-no. The earth splits open beneath the Grail, which falls onto a ledge in the rent earth. Ilsa, attempting to grab the Grail, falls through Indy’s hands. The earth shakes again, and Indy falls into the same crack, catching his father’s hands:

 

I love this scene. The Grail is within Indy’s reach. He actually touching it and, in another movie (if he needed to grab the Grail to save someone), he would.

Henry doesn’t care about the Grail, though, only for his son.  His son isn’t listening to him so Henry addresses him by the name he has chosen, Indiana, thereby acknowledging, him as the man he is, rather than the man Henry wishes he was. Henry says the name calmly, almost a whisper, rather than shouting, and tells Indiana to let it go. Indy does.

This end is a great climax to the movie, and I actually like it better than the climax of Raiders, although Raiders is by far the superior movie (and one of my three favorite action movies of all time).

These two scenes resonate significantly because they remind me of a moment that I had with my father, one that he may not know we ever had. My father and I aren’t the closest father and son in the world. We’re not nearly as bad as the Jones boys, but there are enough similarities that I relate to the movie. Both of us are to blame, or, maybe, if I am kinder to my father and myself, neither of us are. We are who we are and are trying to be better.

The moment occurred on my twenty-first birthday, which fell on a Saturday in 1993. I had celebrated the birthday with my college friends at midnight earlier with my first legal drink (a shot conincidentally called a  “Screaming Nazi”). I flew home the next day for spring break and my parents took me out that night for my first drink with them.

We sat there for a couple of hours drinking and talking. I don’t recall what we discussed, but I remember a moment when I looked at my Dad and, suddenly saw him differently. He was 44 at the time, younger than I am now. There was a look of youth and a lightness in his bright blue eyes that I had never seen, or perhaps never noticed. Suddenly, I could see him as a young man, like he would have been on his twenty-first birthday, two years before I was born. At that moment, I felt closer to my father than I ever had before.

I think of that moment every Father’s Day and every time I watch the Last Crusade.

“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” is a movie that, while perhaps too similar to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” is filled with a great deal of action, fun, and humor.  What makes the movie a classic is the storyline about the relationship between Indy and his father. Ford and Connery are awesome in their roles and demonstrate why each are huge movie stars.  They also make the movie one that should be watched every Father’s Day.

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad and to all Dads everywhere.

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