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The Case Against Indy

Or why he matters less than you think.

12:00 AM, May 22, 2008 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Finally there is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, taking place in 1938, and once again involving the Nazis, who are searching for the Holy Grail. Except they cannot succeed without the assistance of the diary belonging to Indy's father, Henry Jones Sr. The elder Jones wisely sends the diary to his son in the United States. But when Indy goes looking for his father, he brings the diary with him, and thus into the hands of the Nazis. In addition, at the castle, Indiana sees his love interest held at gunpoint by Colonel Vogel. Jones's own father had it right, insisting it's a trap and that Elsa too is a Nazi. But the son makes yet another poor decision--believing Elsa's life is threatened--and surrenders his Schmeisser. The rest of the film consists of the Joneses' race to get back the diary and catch up to the Nazis.

Now had Indiana not gone to Europe in the first place, his father probably would have been executed. The Nazis may or may not have found the location of the Grail. But even if they had it down to the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, how many men would have been beheaded by the "breath of God" before they made it passed the next two challenges? And then how many more would have drunk from the various chalices before finding the right one? Even so, there is no moving the cup beyond the seal, let alone bringing it to Berlin.

None of this is meant to remove the fun from all the films. Trust me. Indiana Jones remains one of American cinema's great swashbuckling heroes. (The other being Allan Quatermain. Kidding!) But as we head to the theaters to see the good doctor one last time, perhaps we should pause and view his experiences in a different light: not always leading the way, making up for lost ground due to errors in judgment (despite the best intentions), occasionally and inadvertently aiding his enemies on the quest for the world's greatest mysteries. Yes, he is undeniably brave and ingenious. He is also quite human.

Victorino Matus is assistant managing editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD. His greatest adventure consists of a whitewater rafting trip in Costa Rica. He almost lost his glasses.

ADDENDA: Reader Greg Caires points out that "Herr Todt's burnt hand is what gave the Nazis the information about the staff of Ra's length. So your assertion that had he burnt his hand on the reverse side of the headpiece, they WOULD NOT have known the staff's true length" is incorrect. Interesting and certainly plausible, though it's never directly mentioned. Secondly, says Caires, "In the comic book tie in I once had, Indy uses his whip to lash himself to the U-boat's periscope, which remains 'up' during the transit to the island. This isn't a satisfactory resolution as it raises more questions: Why was the boat at periscope depth for so long? What was Indy's physical condition upon arrival? (In the comic, he says the whip is cutting him and the wounds are stung by salt water.)"