I first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark the day after my 13th birthday. In Quebec the film was rated 14-and-over for violent content, which means I shouldn’t have been allowed in. But the movie gods smiled on me that year and my school ID came back in its laminated plastic tomb badly cropped, with the last digit of my birth date missing. All I had to do (and do often) was lie to the ticket vendor about what that final number was supposed to be and they couldn’t deny me entry to this or any number of other inappropriately violent, gory or sexy films.
Much as I was a James Bond devotee, the adventures of Indiana Jones won me over instantly, and I’ve been along for the ride, through the ups and mostly downs of the series, ever since. To appreciate the Indiana Jones oeuvre, and its various incarnations in books, comics and tv shows, you have to understand two very important things about the character.
1) He’s a complete prick.
2) He’s a bad archaeologist.
Audiences let him get away with a lot of shit because he’s played by Harrison Ford, who happens to be a big star with a charming smile. But ignore the handsome face and just look at all his character moments, on screen and referenced by others, and you’ll quickly appreciate that he’s an unscrupulous treasure hunter, a mercenary for hire, a grave robber, and often a bit of a sadist. He’s also not very nice to the ladies. It’s why, as follow-up films go, I prefer Temple of Doom in which he openly cops to seeking fortune and glory, to Last Crusade that tries to (literally) paint him as a Boy Scout.
The fact that Disney now owns the rights to the franchise and plans to recast and churn out a bunch of new adventures is fine by me. I know some fans are up in arms, but hey, maybe we’ll get another good movie or two out of it. It could happen. You can’t argue that all the Bond films since Connery left the role have been crap. You can’t even argue that all the Bond films starring Connery are great. Or that all the Indy films starring Ford are great. Or good. Or even adequate.
Yes, even the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, undisputed Hollywood classic that it is, has holes in it. The Big Bang Theory fired a major shot across its bow when one character proposed that Indiana Jones has no role in the outcome of his own film – that things would have played out, much as they did, with or without him. Putting aside the argument that the story is really about a guy reconciling with his old girlfriend (his statutory rape victim, in fact) after ruining her life, others have disputed the Big Bang interpretation.
One such recent article points out that Indiana Jones’s story arc in his first cinema outing is one of character rather than action. And I’m sure there are other defending essays to be found by the hundreds out there in the interwebsland.
They’re all wrong, of course. Here’s my version of the story, which is, quite obviously, the correct one.
The idea that Indiana Jones has no major impact on the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark is ludicrous – that if he weren’t involved in the story at all, the Nazis would have found the Ark, opened it on the island, and been wiped out regardless. It’s a silly premise that ignores the facts. By attempting to thwart the nefarious Nazi plans throughout Raiders, not only did Indiana Jones have significant impact on the events surrounding the Ark of the Covenant, he actually managed to fuck up world history and condemn tens of millions of innocent people to death.
Don’t believe me? Look again. The whole idea of taking the Ark to the island for a sneak preview was Belloq’s, and only happened because Indy’s constant interference prevented the Ark from being shipped out of Egypt in a timely fashion. Until Indy’s penchant for violence and ineptitude blew the whole thing up, the plan was to send the Ark directly to Berlin on the Flying Wing. German high command would have had it safely out of the hands of any and all grubby archaeologists in short order, and Belloq, if he wanted to be present at the opening at all, would have been stuck trying to thumb a ride on the next plane out.
And what would have happened then? The Ark would have been opened, as originally intended, in front of Hitler and the entire senior staff of the Nazi Party, wiping them all off the face of the Earth via God’s wrath, ending their stranglehold on Germany in 1936 and preventing World War II (at least in the European Theatre) from happening at all. The Pacific war might have still been on, but then again, perhaps not. Would Japanese aggression against British holdings in the Pacific have been so bold if England and her navy weren’t occupied by the Blitz and the Battle of the North Atlantic? Yeah, maybe Indy fucked over everybody on that side of the world too, come to think of it.
This can hardly be construed as an isolated incident of Indiana Jones ruining the 20th century for the rest of us. If you take his historic interference in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles to heart (in which we see our hero incapable of going to his front porch to collect the morning paper without running into five historic figures and shagging one or two of them) then there’s no end of misery and suffering this globetrotting asshole has inflicted on the world.
Regardless of who writes, directs or gets cast for future Indy outings, I look forward to them explaining how Indiana Jones personally crashed the Hindenburg, lost the Viet Nam war for America, and unleashed the AIDS epidemic, all while trying to get his greedy mitts on some antiquarian doohickey because “It belongs in a museum!” rather than the country and culture of origin.
Some hero. My hero.