Indiana Jones struggles with the times. That was the case with his cinema premiere in 1981, when he took on a Gestapo major in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Set in 1936, eight years later, in 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade takes place in 1912 and 1938. In the prologue, young River Phoenix played the determined Boy Scout with the moral compass intact, who has a unique wants to bring the artefact to safety from the bad guys and, as usual, fails at first, but at least gets his famous slouch hat and decides to study archeology.
And today, in the fifth part, we meet Indy in the brilliant start only in 1944, then for the main part of the story in 1969, and at the end we even go back to antiquity with a time machine, where we get to know Archimedes.
With all the bobbing on hanging bridges, loathsome attacks in snake-infested crypts, train-roof chases, Moroccan fence auctions, and plenty of whip-cracking—the franchise’s all-time signature moments—one is amazed to find just how much the action film series tells us about how time flies and we become historical to ourselves.
“This belongs in a museum!” Harrison Ford shouted at the villain in “The Last Crusade”. At that time he replied: “You too!”
In the meantime it has become obvious. Harrison Ford will soon be 81, and at the Cannes Film Festival press conference, when asked by a reporter if “Indiana Jones and the Wheel of Destiny” was really the last part, he replied so cool and tight-lipped that you thought he was is still in character: “Isn’t that obvious?” And paradoxically, the very technology from George Lucas’ special effects company Industrial Light and Magic, which digitally rejuvenated the warrior’s face at the beginning, emphasizes the gap that the years have struck. One watches with emotion as young Indy saves his life with a noose around his neck of all things while his would-be executioners fall to their deaths. As a viewer, one suspects that the fountain of youth cannot last forever, just as the effect of the eternal youth-giving Holy Grail, which Ford once drank from at the end of the “Lost Treasure”, must have worn off at some point. Even the greatest artifacts are only half magic; the other half is marketing.
Harrison Ford is a sprightly 80-year-old, no question. It’s easy to believe that he’s in his late sixties, swearing and making coffee in his T-shirt in his New York apartment while stoned hippies make noise below him. Indiana Jones is really not made for Peace and Love, so he doesn’t need to be told twice to rush after the legendary mechanism of Antikythera. This is a mysterious device actually discovered by Greek sponge divers in the early 20th century. It is a kind of antediluvian computer whose synchronized gears and dials were once used to calculate astronomical constellations. Renamed the “Wheel of Destiny”, it has infinitely more to offer in the film and is not, as it is in reality, in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, but broken in two parts in an Alpine river or on the seabed, in a chest, surrounded by thousands Moray eels, which, to Indy’s dismay, have to be considered snakes of the sea.
His adventures are traditionally family trips. In the first part he met his wife, in the third Sean Connery accompanied him as his father, in the fourth 15 years ago Shia LaBoeuf as his son. Now he has his goddaughter in tow, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. So, of course, she’s not a love interest. Your role consists above all in bringing the film up to date in terms of the spirit of the times. In the last “James Bond” she co-wrote the screenplay in a similar capacity, now she snippyly comments on plot elements on the screen.
“I fought the Nazis!” Indy once tries to impress her. Then she: “And robbed indigenous peoples!”
And it’s true. The clean slate of archaeology, which has long gathered treasures from all over the world, often from the most shady sources, if not stolen personally, has long looked like Indy’s leather jacket after it has been through water, fire, mud and a hundred spider webs – somewhat battered.
In the US, prosecutors visit venerable institutions like the New York Metropolitan Museum or the Getty Museum in Los Angeles almost every month, with search warrants in hand to confiscate illicitly acquired antiques. Last summer, the Getty announced it would be sending back to Italy a life-size terracotta sculptural group known as Orpheus and the Sirens. In the 1960s, curators like Thomas Hoving, later director of the Met, boasted about self-descriptions that would land them in prison today: “My collecting style was pure piracy,” Hoving said, “I had the reputation of a shark. He smuggled a Romanesque relief out of a Florentine church with the help of a dealer who liked to hide the art treasures under the mattress in the back of his station wagon. In just the past few months, four antiques from Denver have been returned to Cambodia and 29 Benin bronzes from the Smithsonian in Washington to Nigeria.
Germany also had its experiences with the Benin Bronzes. The first 20 had hardly arrived in Africa, personally delivered by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the end of 2022. The news that the Nigerian President was giving the bronzes to the Oba of Benin was irritating. This creates two problems: First, the historical artefacts, which date back to the 16th century, would possibly be withdrawn from the public and not exhibited in a planned museum, the construction of which Germany is helping to finance. And secondly, the ruling family was once involved in the slave trade and was therefore not a victim, but an accomplice to colonial crimes, which the return actually wanted to alleviate. The topic is far from over, has just started. There are currently similar troubles with Cameroon, for example.
Such ambivalences and contritions are also reflected in the face of the aged Indiana Jones in “The Wheel of Destiny”. At least a bit. The screenplay can’t completely free itself from at least protoraist arrogance. At the start of the film series, in 1981, when Indy’s girlfriend Marion was kidnapped in a raffia basket in a Moroccan souk, she was able to shout with impunity: “You can’t do that to me. I’m American.” That would be unthinkable today. But there is a strange plot line in the new film in which a mad North African intends to commit an honor killing on Phoebe Waller-Bridge, to whom he was apparently once married. The subsequent chase in a tuk-tuk through the streets of Tangier, on the other hand, is charming Holterdipolter with the typical mixture of action and humor.
Director James Mangold, who has taken over the carrot and stick from Steven Spielberg, does a great job overall of dignifying the old-white-man venture. There are horse races on the New York subway and during the moon landing parade, filmed in Glasgow, Scotland by the way, so the action dates to the weeks around August 13, 1969. You can also rely on Mads Mikkelsen’s villain. He plays the Wernher-von-Braun blend Jürgen Voller with freeze-dried grandeur. And for those who find the ending too farfetched when they fly through a rift in time to ancient Greece on a WWII plane, remember that “Indiana Jones” has always been serving tiki cocktails of science and esotericism – the Ark of the Covenant ascending to God, the Holy Grail that bestowed eternal life, now machine guns versus catapults at the Battle of Syracuse in 212 BC.
“Do not disturb my circles,” Archimedes is said to have called out to the Roman soldier just before he was killed. In this sense, “Indiana Jones” is still a pretty well-rounded thing even in our present. At the same time, everything has its time.