October 19, 2023


Indiana Jones and the Weight of Glory: The film hero experiences the fear of the Lord many times across his cinematic career, yet each "beginning of wisdom" is a false start. (Hannah Long, OCTOBER 17, 2023, Plough)

The Judeo-Christian relics in the series demonstrate a dramatically dissimilar representation of supernatural power. In Last Crusade - which was a script largely rewritten by an uncredited Sir Tom Stoppard - the characters' will to power is foiled by the nature of the puzzles leading to the Grail. While there's no thematic inevitability to manmade booby traps, they're built in such a way that comprehending them demonstrates knowledge of reality. This is not technical knowledge that might be divorced from the posture of the heart, but rather humble assent. In Hebrew, the word for wisdom means something more like applied knowledge. When Indy stands on the edge of the chasm, hesitant, he has knowledge. When he jumps, he shows wisdom.

And this wisdom Indy has learned because, following the fifth commandment, he has begun to honor his father. Understanding why "only the penitent man shall pass" is the result of years of patient study and faith - more the effort of Henry Jones Sr., than of Indy himself, and (the camerawork implies) communicated between them through an almost supernatural father-son connection. Indy proves himself the sort of person who perceives what manner of cup a humble carpenter would possess, largely because he has reconciled with the father who can teach him that lesson.

Spielberg communicates a deep truth: the unholy cannot safely interact with the holy. Humankind cannot bear very much reality.

Still, what's to prevent an unworthy person from drinking from the Grail, and gaining its powers? There's little sense that the relic itself contains the ability or agency to discern the hearts of men.  It is rather the whole of the mousetrap, the whole of the providential situation, which discerns. And it's finally in the renunciation of the Grail - again, Indy's father's renunciation comes first - that the film finds its moral center. Henry had neglected his son for the search, and in giving up the object of his search, he gains his son. This only works because the Grail as an artifact is inherently humble. As the archdeacon in Charles Williams's Grail novel War in Heaven notes, "In one sense, of course, [the Grail] is unimportant - it is a symbol less near reality now than any chalice of consecrated wine."

The Ark is different. Even though the representation of the Ark in Raiders is highly fanciful, it gets the broad outlines right. In scripture, it was only licit for the Ark to be carried by Levites who were ritually clean, on long poles. One man was struck dead when he reached out to steady the Ark as it trundled along on a wagon. In Raiders, the Ark acts in a vitally different manner than the treasures at the center of the later films. Because it acts.

Every character in Raiders is looking to find the Ark so they can control it or bend it to their will. What they discover is that God will not be used. And they all have to learn this lesson. 

Posted by at October 19, 2023 6:41 AM