Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The heavy hitter media franchises of the last thirty years have all swirled around various ideas which have focused them on a variety of issues. For example, the Star Wars series has long focused on the conflict between good and evil, which is stylized both internally and externally by the characters in the series. In contrast, the Lord of the Rings trilogy focused on the significance of one person’s indomitable will being used to shape the destinies of all.

Gods and Heroes

With Indiana Jones, there is a distinctively different feel. This latest film and its predecessors are all based at least in part on the notion that faith in a higher power can lead to unexpected rewards. The first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, followed Jones as he quested for the lost ark of the covenant. While he was compelled forward a variety of motives– such as romance or nationalism, he was also motivated by religious conviction. He did not want that holy relic to fall into the hands of the Nazis and thus have its power perverted. In the end, it was his knowledge of that artifact that saved him and his romantic interest from the same horrific death that befell the Nazis.

In the second film, Jones once again goes out on a quest against insurmountable odds in the name of faith. In this case, it is the faith of the Hindu tribesmen he encounters early in the film. He subscribes to their notions of fate and destiny and this compels him to come to their aid, delivering them from other people acting as a destabilizing force.

The religious iconography in the third film, The Last Crusade, was perhaps the most obvious. Jones, the Nazis, his father, and a gaggle of others are all in hot pursuit of the holy grail– the greatest of artifacts which is supposed to endow immortality and power. Jones knowledge of religion once again servers him in finding the grail and in avoiding the many various traps that lie between him and the treasure. In the end, he is forced to choose between that which he sought, which many men have sought throughout the ages, and between life and family. He makes the right choice, and follows father’s advice, finally coming to terms with his relationship with Henry Jones, Sr., played by Sean Connery.

Gods and Aliens

In this latest film, there are many issues which could be discussed. These would include the familial issues of the addition of “Mutt,” Indiana’s new sidekick, or of the appearance of Communist Russians replacing the Nazis as the villain du jour. But there is a continuing thematic thread in form of the reliance on faith and ideas of religion. The first film focused on Judaism, the second on Hinduism (to a certain extent), and the third on Christianity. This latest one does not subscribe to any established religion at all. Rather, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull references an entirely different religious phenomena– the modern belief in extraterrestrial life.

Unlike the previously depicted religions, which are rooted in mysticism and supernatural unexplainable “divine” power, this belief in peoples from outside of the Earth is based in science supposition. It can be assumed that given the immense variety and incalculable size of the universe, that life– intelligent life– must exist somewhere. Because of this, the sociological phenomena this film refers to does not outwardly appear to be religious at all.

Despite that, this belief in extraterrestrials is for the film’s audience a matter of fear, superstition, rumor, and is predicated in the idea of something or someone far greater than themselves. Furthermore, this belief is widely accepted but not widely discussed, and in some circles approaches cult status and can frighten outsiders.  The film delves into this further by tying together numerous preexisting conspiracy theories– such as aliens being involved in the construction of the pyramids or other great ancient works. It goes on to include many artifacts from reality which have theoretical ties to aliens, such as the crystal skulls, the Nazka lines, and the Lost Cities of Gold.

These ideas are pulled together further by Cate Blanchett’s character– Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko. Spalko is a Soviet parapsychologist who manipulates Jones into going on this quest. While her character spends a lot of time acting as a foil, explaining to the audience what her paranormal investigations have revealed, she acts as a lens which focuses the extra normal pieces of the plot. This prevents the audience or the other characters from becoming too involved in the comparatively mundane aspects of archaeology and family drama.

This film continues in the same vein where its predecessors left off. It combines exciting adventure with excellent characters and a compelling story rooted in mystery and antiquity. It is everything one would expect from an Indiana Jones feature and adds to the dramatic breadth of the series.

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