Bill Wolfe is a native of Ohio and long-time resident of Los Angeles. Though he loves his adopted city, his midwest background gives him a funny perspective on its occasional quirks. This month, he talks about the return of an iconic movie hero.
I was never swept away by the Indiana Jones movies. They were deftly made, yes - no one has ever had Spielberg's knack for moving his camera in relation to an object that's moving across the picture frame in such a way that we in the audience feel as though we're moving, too. But they were also elephantine - too long, too loud, too demanding in their insistence that we be transported: it's hard to feel enchanted when someone's poking you in your chest and yelling at you.
But there was always something more that bothered me about the movies, something even beyond George Lucas's chronic, fatal terror at anything resembling adult sexuality. I could never quite put my finger on it until yesterday, when I was reading "Lost in a Good Book," the second in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels. There's a long section devoted to a sporting adventure centered around Charles Dickens' Miss Havisham, and suddenly it hit me: Indiana Jones is our American Miss Havisham, with a Fedora, bullwhip, and leather jacket substituting for the famous wedding dress.
In Dickens' "Great Expectations," Miss Havisham was jilted at the altar; forever after, as per Wikipedia, she could be seen " flitting around her house in a faded wedding dress, keeping a decaying feast on her table, and surrounding herself with clocks stopped at twenty minutes to nine." That is, in response to a great tragedy, she denied its existence, stopping her experience just short of the disastrous moment. Thus with Indiana Jones. Lucas and Spielberg came of age in the mid-to-late1960s, when the great certitudes of American life were shaken or shattered, through the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X; the race riots in virtually every American city; the endless, pointless war in Vietnam, based on the falsehoods of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution; and then, in the first half of the 1970s, the Watergate crisis. And all through this era of outright debacle there was the ever-lurking gray moral world of the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear apocalypse. For ardent mainstreamers like Lucas and Spielberg, this must have been deeply unappealing and unsettling. It can't be a coincidence that Indiana Jones made his screen debut just after Ronald Reagan declared it morning again in America - as blatant and deliberate a cry as can be imagined for the American public to engage in a willed forgetfulness about all the bad dreams and scary monsters from the prior two decades. Spielberg and Lucas did their part, taking their hero back to the time of "the Good War," fighting against the Nazis, the perfect monochrome villains. After nineteen years, Indiana has returned, now fighting Communists. Presumably, if Spielberg and Lucas wished it to be so, Shia LeBoef could pick up the whip and carry the franchise forward.
But there's the rub. "Forward." That can't be. For if they went forward from the late 1950s, they'd hit Dealey Plaza and the Texas Book Depository. And just as Miss Havisham's clocks are stopped at twenty minutes to nine, Spielberg and Lucas's calendars are stopped at November 21, 1963. Because if they don't stop time there, Indy would be cast adrift on a never-ending search for the second gunman, forever hidden behind an ever-receding grassy knoll. And we'd be forced to see the sorry sight of Indiana Jones's son shipped off to the jungles of Vietnam. When of course the entire point of the movies is to pretend that these tragedies, and many others, never darkened our American horizon.
this, finally, that puts me off the Indiana Jones movies. Not
that they're pitched to 13-year-old boys, but that they're conceived
by two very powerful, successful men who are, nevertheless, too
cowardly to face the tragedies they've seen in their own country
during their own lives. I can sympathize with poor Miss Havisham,
overwhelmed by her loss, but I have no patience for two filmmakers
who know what they don't want to know, and know we don't want
to know it, too.