Age (and education) changes everything, and can sour one on even their favorite films from childhood. Once merry romps are now suspect to bitter pill analysis and changing, some might say hardening, crusting over, perceptions. The jaundiced way I see West Side Story (1961) for example, now corresponds to a warning about Syria: instead of letting warring tribes settle their differences in an organized rumble, Tony (the U.S.) barges in, uninvited, and two people end up dead. If he had just stayed out of it all the differences might have been ironed out in a simple brawl -- a few bloody knuckles and black eyes instead of corpses. But Maria says "any fighting is no good for us," - ai Maria! Fighting is much better than dying.
Similarly Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) used to be about awesome fights and solid thrills. I saw it eight times in the theater! Now, some 30 years later, I see that its innocence and 'matinee spirit' carry a steep price on the social science major's conscience. Innocence itself is the culprit behind its covertly pro-colonialist--even fascist--message. Spielberg and Lucas apparently woke up to this, too, because the 'where are they now' saga of growing old and passing the legacy and zzzz begun in Last Crusade (1989), which I despised despite the zeppelin, continues in Crystal Skull (2008). Now Jones is in the Sean Connery role, i.e. a know-it-all curmudgeon, traveling the world with rock-n-roll son in tow, and brawling with stakes far too high for his age. Do we think this is pleasant, imagining his frail old skeletal system subject to such harshness?
Worse, he wants to grab that skull not for his museum of alien research or curiosity but to return it to its rightful lost city from whence it came, so the Russians don't turn it into a source of 'limitless power.' Based on past experiences he should just mosey along after it, nice and slow, giving the Russians time to try it out for themselves, and then just pick it up from their melted bone fingers at a more convenient time.
Here's a classic parable of age, too, in addition to Indy's being too dumb to hold off and give the Russians some rope: This amazing skull with its alien grey oblong headshape and odd powers is clearly alien and yet Indy still scoffs when the only 'awake' character in the whole thing, Russian agent Spalko (Cate Blanchett), mentions its unearthly origins or expresses a personal desire to learn the truth about extraterrestrial experience and intentions. Even if the alien thing is true, Indy would never believe it coming from, you know, a commie spy, and worse, a girl. Maybe he's just stonewalling, but if so, why not be cool? Can you imagine Han Solo being such a buzzkill?
Time frames help, both the sociopolitical landscape of the year each film came out, and when the film is actually set. The first Indy film was set in 1936, with the Ark found and fought over in Egypt by Germans and one plucky Yank --six years before the Americans were officially at war. So really he's just a thief, though no more so than the Nazi archeologists. It's convenient that Egypt doesn't seem to interested in its own relics, and since any previous owner is long dead, the Ark belongs to whomever can grab it first and hide it from the others; a hot potato mcguffin fought over by Indy and his allies and the Nazis and theirs.
The early scenes in 1936 Peru with the Hovitos and the golden head is another example: the natives aren't brave enough to enter the mystery cave, even though they defend it. Whomever brings the gold godhead out is apparently their new king, but it helps to speak Hovito, which Dr. Jones doesn't deign to learn, so he loses out to the crafty Belloq, who merely follows Jones from a safe distance and lets him do all the dangerous stunts, then grabs the prize. Sorry but Belloq's far more of a 1982 man, a Wall Street shark, than Jones, an old-fashioned bank robber.
Is Spielberg being snarky about France with this recurring archetype? Consider for example the way De Gaulle went and took credit for the liberation of Paris while the American and British troops continued to push the Germans back to the Rhine in 1945! Or the way we forcefully took France's colonies back for them, from partisans who had been fighting the Japanese, like Ho Chi Minh, while they sat around and gesticulated in their little cafes!
I should mention that in the 90s used to work for a short, good-looking French art dealer who got into steep debt playing futures markets and wound up on the run in Brazil, leaving me holding the phones and various lawyers and feds and Mossad agents to sort out a morass of who-owns-what and owes whoms, and so forth, giving me a good insight into the workings of ownership, provenance, and extradition within international law. So naturally I can't see the presence of these characters running through the Spielberg mythos as any accident! Mon dieu!
Richard Dreyfus though was no Indy/Han older brother archetype, that was maybe the hole at the center of Close Encounters, the way the whole in Star Wars never really closed up for us kids until that Cantina bar and Han Solo. Of course the aliens in CEOTTK were interesting looking, but a little too friendly perhaps, and Spielberg's films since then have led the way in presenting two alien agendas--being cuddly and angelic or being ruthless corporate raiders--ruining us for any future alien visitations that might be more complex, with secret agendas that eventually traumatize the few men who hold this dark secret tight to their chests. Our innocence depends on this dichotomy staying firm.
And that is why we aren't ready for alien reality or true racism-free harmony! Spielberg fucked us up with his candy coated heart-ouchiness! We can only do 'good' (E.T., the CEOT3K greys, John Rhys-Davies) or evil (Nazis, War of the Worlds martians, CIA investigators, Tom Cruise) and alas, other races and species are in between. So for Reagan and Raiders we had to bend low and lunge forth at a bull china clip through the Cairo markets of complex realities, trusting if we just keep our eyes closed it would all come magically right in a bath of hand-painted light and wind. It did! And here we are.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) follows this self-imposed blindness as it moves into the atomic age, replete with Jones surviving an atomic bomb test by hiding out in a model home fridge, and getting caught up in a greaser vs. jock fistfight set to Elvis songs, driving around on a vintage motorbike, but scoffing at the idea of a real alien presence on earth, once again avoiding destruction by not looking into Medusa eye of the true unknowable Other, the one who would explode his cute/evil dichotomy.
But the main tell in this version is that the academic deconstructions of Jones as an emblem of bull in a china shop imperialism have taken hold. Now Jones can only take the skull and bring it back to its rightful place at El Dorado; when he tries to take so much as a small sword - a knife from a mummified conquistador (because he needs one) his doofus son makes an 'ahem' voice, like put that back, that's not yours, that belongs to the dead conquistador's family, or... he doesn't have a specific reason, and it suddenly casts all of Jones' past acquisitions for his museum in doubt. 'Grave robbers will be shot,' the sign says going in, which his son points nervously a-towards. "Well, we're not going to do any grave robbing," Indy says, but of course his whole life has been one long grave rob.cConsidering the modern age legal battles over cultural ownership of relics (see here) of late, perhaps Lucasfilm and Spielco have begun to realize that the casual American arrogance underwriting Jones' grave robbing in the first films might be unconscionable but they should realize that this arrogance is what makes it so eloquent as a metaphor for 80s amok capitalism. Jones is a badass because he's so heedless, so obsessed with acquiring whatever ark-shaped jet ski catches his eye. Imagine how great the film might be if Jones was a heroin addict thanks to a dislocated knee? Instead Indy can't even borrow a dead conquistador's knife for his future endeavors, because his son--leather jacket and motorcycle signifying only conformity in rebellious trappings-- clears his throat in a way so pussy proper over 'stolen' antique weaponry it makes me want to punch him in the face and steal his switchblade.
This question of who gets the loot started to flair up for me a few weeks ago while watching another of my first world favorites, the MGM 1934 version of Treasure Island. Whose treasure is it, rightfully? Whomever has the map? Whomever paid for the expedition? Or whomever stole it in the first place? When Jim Hawkins and his mom go to look for the money Flint owes in his chest after he dies, mom plays the moral cuckold, saying first say they will collect only what is owed "and not a penny more!" But the treasure map makes it okay to in fact take Flint's whole savings account. Maybe he stole it from his fellow pirates who all stole it from Spanish lords and ladies from centuries before: Spain, the enemy of England, Jim! Like stealing the Nazi gold from Kelly's Heroes or the black bird from Kemidov; it's hard to say anyone really has a right to it if the current possessor stole it from people who stole it from (and killed) the previous owners, yet try telling that to the Mossad, am I right, Wildenstein?
The status of the treasure as up for grabs offers a very peculiar notion of 'white makes right' in this case white being the clothes and the powdered wigs of a gentleman born and bred sez I. In the MGM production there's no mention of how the treasure will be divided up, presumably in equal parts between Jim, Ben Gunn, the Squire, and Otto Kruger. But does the crew get a share? Presumably the pirate crew would get nothing for their efforts other than some measly pay. Are they really the bad guys for wanting to seize it for themselves? In reality the only ones with any right to it are the relatives of the victims of the pirate crew's piracy, and after that, the pirates themselves. But the right of Jim and his gentleman born to have all of it and the devil take the pirates is the way things seem meant to be.
|"Three more stout and loyal men you'll never find... in this room, Jim."|