There’s that part in Raiders where Indiana Jones turns to Sallah and says, “I’m going after that truck.” He nods at the truck fast disappearing down a dirt track.
“How…?” Sallah asks.
“I don’t know,” Indy says, defensively. “I’m making this up as I go.”
Indiana Jones is the most consistently disorganised, reckless, unprepared, seat-of-pants hero on screen. He just isn’t prepared for anything. I doubt he packed spare underwear. He says he’s a cautious man, but he’s not a forward-looking one. He relies on his encyclopedia-like knowledge of history, not a pragmatic outlook on life.
He is the anti-Bond in some ways: he hasn’t really got a smart quip for everything; most of the time his words invite a smack in the mouth. He has only two ‘gadgets’ – a whip and a gun that sometimes doesn’t have ammo. He often makes mistakes – like bringing the Grail diary to a Nazi-occupied castle. He’s constantly on a back foot to the action, something he has in common with the hero of Half-Life. Indiana Jones, unlike Sherlock Holmes, has absolutely no people-savvy at all.
James Bond tends to seduce women he knows he will never see again – it’s easier to appear suave, mysterious, implacable then. Indiana Jones’ libido tends to get him in real trouble: Marion’s “It was wrong and you knew it” implies that Indy’s early relationship with the daughter of his professor was unethical the first time round. The first movie somewhat suggests, I think, (later confirmed by Indy 4, but I am not quite sure I consider that movie as important as the first three) that the affair between Marion and Indy is actually based on love rather than lust, meaning extra complications on his adventures that threaten to derail his quests. The sexual stand-off in Temple of Doom, which is perhaps my favourite scene of all three films, in which Willie and he play chicken with their libidos, eventually ends in Indy being strangled by some stranger. Elsa slept with both Jones Jr and Senior and is a Nazi. It’s really cemented into Indy lore that he’s not so great at choosing his bedpartners at all. Although I have never dated a Nazi I empathise on the sexual stand-off part, I really do.
Who hasn’t fallen into bed with someone who later turns up in a situation where you have to get the Grail and the temple you are in is collapsing around you and a huge argument ensues about who never called who and why? Life is a constant series of lovers I never really wanted to see again in case my heart bleeds itself to death or explodes from guilt. But there’s Elsa again and for fuck sake Elsa, let it go.
I guess as what the internet might call a ‘millennial’ I really identify with this guy. He fails a lot. He doesn’t realise he can’t do some things: no one ever told him he couldn’t. The child of neglectful parents (although, mine were never so), he just gets on a horse and rides off to see if it’s possible. When he looks at the gap across a chasm, he thinks he can make that jump – no – no – he knows he has to make it against all odds, and almost doesn’t. He clings on to dear life to ledges and cliffs and bridges and the hoods of careening trucks and almost doesn’t make it.
Indiana Jones watches his one true love explode in the back of a van full of dynamite, and for one horrible moment you think he might cry over that bottle of whiskey and the creepy Nazi monkey, that he might throttle Belloq to death right there in the bar and become a darker man, because it he thinks it is his fault. And you, the audience, are almost ready to give up with him. It’s so rare in an action movie to witness a hero having failed.
Indiana Jones fails a lot. This is actually a very common trait in noir fiction: the noir hero will often be a punchbag, a pin cushion. Formed in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street crash, the noir hero is someone who is willing to have the shit kicked out of him just so he can have a shred of a clue what the fuck he is doing in his hellish surroundings. What defines masculinity in those fictions is the ability to endure. To keep going. It is also a trait of Ripley. Of Sarah Connor. Of Sharon Stone in that cowboy movie.
It is to know that the problems are infinite, and therefore so must you be. Millennials are the second generation of post-crash fuck-ups.
Indiana Jones is quintessentially American in that Dashiell Hammett form – he’s scrappy, dishevelled, a loner on a roadtrip in a hostile outback. He hasn’t got the resources that James Bond has. No Marines will turn up. There’s no Aston Martin parked by Pankot Palace.
But you know: he has the support. His friends adore him. Although he broke Marion’s heart she forgives him. Marcus, a stuffy museum dweller, would throw himself in front of a bus for Indy. Sallah uses his own children as a human shield (?!) to protect him. Short Round just straight up tells him he loves him. His friends adore him. My friends too have never let me down.
It’s sort of easy as I’m travelling to get a little downhearted about my failures. I’m tired a lot and I am always on, always absorbing things, always terrified I will miss some vital clue and I never feel comfortable anywhere. Sometimes I feel like I wasn’t grateful enough, didn’t see as many people as I should have, didn’t show my gratitude, didn’t write the best thing, didn’t say the right words, ran out of time, didn’t consider people enough or understand when I was intruding. In that scene where Indy thinks Marion is dead there’s an alternative exit: one where Indy goes to a hotel room and drinks himself into a stupor, smokes and drinks himself to death, never sees Marion alive again on the dig site. There’s an alternative place where Indiana Jones never gets up again after he has the shit kicked out of him in the Pankot mines.
But I guess Indiana Jones doesn’t ride passenger with failure. He opens the door and shoves it out.
In that bar Sallah came by to rescue him, to take him home. Indiana Jones carried on until he saw Marion again, and some guy’s face melted off.
There are many faces in the world. You can kiss them, or you can melt them. Make it up as you go.