Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – 1989 – dir. Steven Spielberg
Harrison Ford is in this movie too, but Indy for the first time takes a backseat to a character that is even more engaging than he is: his father.
A public left scratching their heads at the significance of Shiva Lingas identified far more readily with the lure of the Holy Grail. “Every man’s dream,” indeed.
Of course, the Holy Grail is a metaphor, and while it makes a physical appearance in this film, it stands for tempered wisdom, responsibility, and courage. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) says, “The search for the Grail is the search for the divine in all of us.” Indiana Jones, as he walks the breath, word, and path of God, demonstrates his humility, his wisdom, and his bravery. In short, Indiana must prove himself heroic to be worthy of the grail. Certainly, so must we all.
In a twist on the age-old father quest, Indiana locates his father early on in the story, and through the butting of heads (both physically and psychologically) they realize that neither man can make it alone. Indiana, who believes himself wiser than his father, must rely on his father’s wisdom, and Henry, having believed himself braver than his son, must rely on his son’s courage and wit. “The quest for the grail isn’t archaeology. It’s a race against evil,” a stern Henry Jones reminds his son. It’s a search for truth. Not fact. Despite the definition of archaeology that Indiana gave his students at the beginning of the film, he has to find a new way of looking at things.
Watch for a great exchange that encapsulates the movie’s theme within two lines:
Elsa: You don’t disappoint, Dr. Jones. You’re a great deal like your father.
Indiana: Except he’s lost and I’m not.
Father and son reconcile. The son finds the father. The father finds illumination, and the son will follow after him.
Last Crusade also offers arguably John Williams’s most ambitious score of the series. The grail theme is singularly beautiful, and makes me want to go out and buy the soundtrack. Or find the grail.
When Indiana finally has the chance to claim the grail for his own and complete his father’s quest, his father says, “Indiana… let it go.” His father’s quest had become his own, but both men realize that there exists something far greater than any cup that can bestow eternal life (if you deign to live in a cave for the rest of eternity). While he reaches for the grail, what Indiana really wants, what he has wanted all along, is in his other hand.
Henry tells his son, “Elsa never really believed in the grail. She thought she had found a prize.” Both men, despite their differences, are strikingly similar in their humor, their interests, and even their attraction to Elsa. Each is a mirror of the other, which shows them what they least want to see, but what is actually that which is most important for them to discover.
Ever notice how whatever it is that Indiana searches for, be it an ark, a sacred stone, a grail, or a crystal skull… he never ends up bringing any of these treasures home with him? What does he do?
He puts them back where they belong. At least, to the best of his ability. He restores the proper order of things so that life can go on. Eternal life? Hardly, but the life of a hero, which, it can be argued, can perhaps last forever and ever.
After you, Junior.