Indiana Jones and the Meaningless Void

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 18, 2008

With so much to love about the "Indiana Jones" movies, is there anything to know?

To ask is to miss the point, but let's miss it by a mile anyhow, on the eve of Dr. Jones's rollicking return to the multiplex. Let us not be like those fawning, tight-sweatered Archaeology 101 coeds from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and instead be film theory students in dirty, pseudo-vintage T-shirts: What does "Indiana Jones" meeeeean? What does it do to us? What part of us does he represent? (Besides summer? Besides ophidiophobia?)

The film professor opens up the question to the whole class. Anyone?

"Um, he's America? He blunders, he plunders? He's ersatz John Wayne?"

Nice one, Eric. But what else? You in the back -- Patricia.

"Misogyny! Xenophobia!"

Patricia, you always say that.

"But look at how he treats women! Look at the devaluing of indigenous cultures! Listen to the phony accents, the minority stereoty--"

What else? Trevor, stop texting and tell us.

"It's, uh, Spielberg working through his Holocaust grief? Like, before Schindler, before Private Ryan? It's about revenge?"

The professor assigns a five-page, double-spaced paper to his cineastes, due Wednesday. Suss it out, gang. Re-watch the first three films. (Since the new one, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which opens Thursday at midnight, was not being made available for critical analysis until the last minute.) Discern what's underneath. Be like Indy, and excavate deeply. Rip out his heart, "Temple of Doom"-style, and offer it to the goddess Kali.

The papers are reluctantly submitted. Everyone gets a C-minus, except Eric, who BS'es through it by drawing parallels to the Reagan era, how the 1930s were really the 1980s, et cetera. Patricia winds up writing about the symbolism in Indy's bullwhip. Half the class focuses on the Nazi stuff. (Remember? In the third one? Where Indy met Adolf Hitler at the book burning in Berlin? That was awesome.) Most only come up with a paragraph or two.

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