Friday, May 30, 2008

The Greatest American Hero

Reposted from

Not that long ago, the American Film Institute released another of their “100 Years, 100 … fill in the blank,” lists. This particular list was “100 Years, 100 Heroes and Villains.” The hero in the number one slot was Atticus Finch. That’s pretty hard to argue with. I still get a little dusty in “To Kill A Mockingbird” when Reverend Sykes turns to Scout and says, “Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.” Then all of the black people that were in the balcony during the trial stand out of respect for Atticus. The hair on my arms stands at attention just thinking about it.

The silver medal on that list was Doctor Henry Jones Jr. Indiana to his friends. Indy to his sidekicks and lovers. That placement put Indy ahead of James Bond, Rick Blaine (Casablanca), George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life), T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), and The “Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa. Pretty select company I’d say.

So what is it about an archeology professor with a beat up fedora that captures the imagination of men and woman alike? What makes Indiana Jones such a universally beloved character?

As I am sure 99.99999% of you know, the fourth chapter of the Indiana Jones saga, “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” is being released tonight at 12:01. (I know that’s technically tomorrow smarty pants.) Many of us have been waiting since 1989 to see another globetrotting adventure with Dr. Jones. I have been battling with my inner child, trying to keep expectations realistic. The truth is, I’ve had the Crystal Skulls Countdown widget on my desktop for six months. That’s ridiculous.

I think what makes Indiana such an iconic character is that he is the ultimate guy’s guy. He’s the kind of man that we want to watch a ball game with and he’s the kind of guy woman want to marry. He’s also somewhat complex. Much like myself, Indy toes the line between being a romantic and a cynic. Does he believe in God and/or the supernatural, or does he dismiss such notions as tales of the “boogeyman?” His words, not mine. That’s what he tells Marcus Brody in “Raiders” before he embarks on a journey to find the Ark of the Covenant. Does Indy believe in the basic tenets of Christianity, showing his faith with a leap onto an invisible bridge, or does he dismiss such beliefs and rely solely on what science can prove? I’ve watched these films literally dozens of times, and I’m not sure. Is he a selfish opportunist, looking only for “fortune and glory,” or is he willing to risk his neck for complete strangers – e.g. a small Indian village – based only on his own definition of morality?

Of course, we can overlook those kinds of logical and ideological questions and just love the fact that Indy battles evil armed only with his wits, a bullwhip, a six-shooter and a 10-year-old Chinese kid. There is no other force in the 20th century more reviled and wicked than the Nazi’s. Indy took them on twice. The Third Reich was nearly toppled by a khaki clad professor of archaeology. Sure, it was a bigger deal when allied troops captured the Nazi Eagle’s Nest, but Indy put a sizeable dent into the regime before that when he took the Holy Grail out from under their Aryan noses at Petra.

Indy is tough as nails. In a scrape he can hold his own against seven thugs in a Tibetan bar, or a Goliath-like German airplane mechanic. He’s smarter than you and me. Especially me. And he’s funny. “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.” Anybody ever said anything that clever? Anyone? Yeah, me either.

This weekend on 68th Street in Manhattan, I will join millions of others in cinemas across the globe as we relive our youth and join in the adventures of Dr. Indiana Jones, the greatest hero in the history of film.

What am I doing after the movie? I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.

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