Movies to Watch With Your Dad: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Many of us who were children of the ’80s are likely well-versed in the holy trilogy of Indiana Jones films directed by Steven Spielberg. And, if you’re like me, you were probably introduced to these greatest of adventure films by your dear old dad. Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that Raiders of the Lost Ark is the greatest Indy film, but if you’re sitting down for a rollicking adventure with Pop, there’s more than a minor case that can be made that the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, is the way to go.
My introduction to the Indy trilogy was slightly unorthodox. (You may find that I tend to write as though 2008‘s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does not exist at all.) It consisted of a friend in third grade showing me his brand new VHS tape of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and fast-forwarding to all the “good parts”. So, I got a lot of hearts ripped from chests and chilled monkey brains without a lot of context. Needless to say, it made an impression.
Temple was never my favorite, though. I could do without all the overtly occult stuff, and Kate Capshaw‘s screaming is, charitably speaking, distracting. I came to Raiders and Last Crusade later, after my dad added them to his own collection and showed them to me. While I enjoyed every moment of Raiders, I gravitated to The Last Crusade. This was my Indiana Jones film, and, especially back in the day, it had a lot to do with reasons why it is the best Indy Movie to Watch With Your Dad.
The Last Crusade ranks within Flickchart’s Global Top 20 of the Best Movies of All Time, just 15 spots behind Raiders, so the distinctions are minor, but critics who prefer the original film point to Last Crusade‘s penchant for reusing tropes from Raiders as something of a crutch, or just a plain ripoff. After all, we’re back to Nazis for villains, and a prominent Christian icon for a McGuffin (and a much less eye-catching one, at that). For some, adding insult to injury is Crusade‘s heavier reliance on humor, which, admittedly, at times threatens to devolve into slapstick.
For myself and other fans of the film, the additional humor works, and the familiar trappings are a return to fine Raiders form after the decidedly darker Temple of Doom. The humor works, though, because Crusade offers up a heaping helping of heart to go alongside it.
We begin with the prologue that sees a teenaged Indiana Jones (River Phoenix) earn not only his trademark whip and fedora, but his love of treasure hunting and his deathly fear of snakes. Critics again may argue that none of these things were necessary, that some things either don’t require explanation, or deserve to remain a mystery. Yet the prologue also sets up a relationship that is critical to the success of the film. That’s right: Indy and his dad.
Dr. Henry Jones Sr. is played by none other than the inestimable Sir Sean Connery. Though only twelve years Harrison Ford‘s senior, he proves to be a perfect fit as the father of one of cinema’s most iconic characters. His presence is not just about having the best actor for the role; Connery was the original James Bond, in many ways Indiana Jones’s cinematic progenitor. Steven Spielberg had always been interested in directing a Bond film…until his friend George Lucas told him that he had “something better” in mind. In this way, 007 was Indy’s “father” in a very literal way.
Connery’s trademark Scottish brogue is this time supposed to pass for an American accent; as always, his accent transcends the character because he is SEAN CONNERY, and almost nobody else could have pulled off portraying the father of Hollywood’s biggest star of the 1980s.
Professor Henry Jones Sr. is written and portrayed as a man who loves his son, but is far from the most affectionate man in the world. His obsession with the Holy Grail leads him to be – intentionally or not – dismissive of his son, and distant in their relationship. Nonetheless, Indy looks up to his dad – after all, where else does his love of archaeology come from? – and wants to please him. Despite the fact that they haven’t spoken to each other in years, Indy is quick to leap to the rescue when he learns that his father’s search for the Grail has taken a turn for the dangerous.
The father-son relationship adds an extra motivation to Indy’s quest in The Last Crusade. Beyond keeping powerful artifacts that “belong in a museum” out of the hands of the Nazis, this film provides stakes that are personal. In the prologue, Indy comes face-to-face, decades later, with the mysterious man who escaped him with the Cross of Coronado when Indy was a teen. And Indy will do anything to rescue his dad when he’s kidnapped by the Nazis, despite the emotional distance between father and son.
When said rescue happens, just before the midpoint of the movie, the ensuing chases and action scenes are filled with subtle looks and gestures from both Harrison Ford and Sean Connery that illustrate precisely the relationship between the Jones boys, even if it is played for comedy. Dr. Jones Sr. visibly disapproves of his son’s theatrics and the casual way he dispatches the bad guys. The very fact that his dad keeps calling Indy “Junior” and the younger Dr. Jones keeps calling his father “Sir” speaks to how marginalized Indy feels in his dad’s presence. Further, Indy is exasperated by his father’s disapproval, as well as his seeming inability to act in the face of danger. But when Henry Sr. summons a flock of seagulls to take down a pursuing Nazi plane, one can see Indy gain a new respect for his father, and the different way in which he sees the world.
The film makes it clear that Indy’s mother died when he was fairly young, perhaps even before the prologue. With her out of the picture, and his father obsessing over his Holy Grail, Indy was often left to fend for himself. Indy claims his father was emotionally distant, while Dad maintains that his distance did not indicate a lack of love, but that he respected his son’s privacy, and taught him some self-reliance.
Aspects of this relationship can no doubt speak in a variety of ways to different viewers. Some may find it overly saccharine or silly, but it’s a connection that elevates The Last Crusade over the other Indy films. (When an opposing relationship is introduced in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with Indy as the father, it is not even close to being as successful.)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the second-highest grossing film of 1989, after Tim Burton‘s Batman, thanks in large part to the charisma of its two superstars. It’s a fitting swan song for one of film’s great heroes. And it’s also a perfect Movie to Watch With Your Dad, so give that a try some time.