Saturday, July 8, 2023

Growing Up and Older With Indiana Jones: A Dial of Destiny Review


Scott D. Parker

The new movie is a chance to reconnect with an old friend for one last adventure before we have to say good-bye. In that framework, the new film works quite well.

The Space Age of 1969

After a wonderful opening sequence that can stand alongside any action sequence from the original trilogy, we meet the old Indy. He’s shockingly in his boxers, asleep on a recliner, with the remnants of booze on the side table. Gone is the hale and hearty man we met in the 1980s or even the middle-aged version we saw in 2008. This man—Indiana Jones and Harrison Ford—is old. As good as it was to see an old friend, the visuals took a few scenes to get used to.

Soon, however, things begin to roll along. Helana Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) arrives and she’s looking for one half of the Dial of Archimedes, an object her father was obsessed with and ultimately the cause of his death. She’s not the only one. A former Nazi scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) who now works for NASA is also after the Dial. His plan is to find the other half, link them together, and then, armed with the knowledge of how World War II ended, go back in time to not only kill Hitler but become the new leader of Germany.

Chases ensue, clues unraveled, treasures found, and Indy has one last adventure.

The Clash of Styles

I found the inclusion of Helena a breath of fresh air for the franchise. She’s a little bit Elsa from Last Crusade but she’s also a bit how Indy himself was in Temple of Doom. He wanted the Shankira Stones because they’d be worth a fortune. Remember the “Fortune and Glory” mantra he says over and over? Helena has debts to pay and she thinks antiquities can fetch a high price. As such, it is a battle of wits between her and “It belongs in a museum” Indy over what’s more important.

I also enjoyed Helena’s own “Short Round,” Teddy, a teenaged street urchin in Tangiers. Once he enters the story, he never leaves. There are generational differences to exploit and echoes of Short Round himself as Indy slowly comes to make sure the kid is safe, despite all the bad guys doing bad guy things.

Like Marion, Helena goes toe to toe with Indy. She’s not a screamer. She’s an active participant in the story. Heck, it was her entrance that started the story itself. Loved the somewhat gawkiness of Helena despite as she put up multiple fights. If memory serves—I’ve only seen the movie once at this point—she’s never in a situation where Indy needs to save her. It’s Indy that needs saving, and more than once.

The McGuffin

I really dug the truth of the Dial itself. It wasn’t a tool that would enable someone to go back anywhere in time. It only went to a single place in time: 212 BC at the siege of Syracuse. The twist of the Dial was foretold via Helana’s card trick, something that only comes into focus after you learn the truth of the Dial.

I like that there are fissures in time that present themselves. It helps explain how boats and planes just disappear from time to time. I like that Archamedes figured out a way to calculate their location and duration. It’s all just math.

Indy’s Vulnerability

No matter where this movie lands in the list of Indiana Jones films, there is one scene that will be vaulted into one of the best of the franchise. When Helena asks Indy where he would go if he could truly travel back in time, without hesitation he says he’d go and prevent his son from enlisting in the army as an act of defiance against his father. Mutt dies in Vietnam, and that broke Indy and dissolved his marriage. Harrison Ford may not get a lot of credit for his acting, but in that scene, he was fantastic. As a father myself, I felt the gut punch of Indy’s words. I find it fascinating that so many movies this summer—Dial of Destiny; The Flash; Into the Spider-Verse—all have common moments when parents talk about their children. It’s just a sign that we’re all getting older.

Growing Up and Older With Indiana Jones

For so many of us, much of our lives have had Indiana Jones in it even if there were not any new movies. In 1981, I had little experience with the type of film Raiders the Lost Ark wasis and it lit a fire. I didn’t become an archaeologist but I did become a historian, and part of the ingredients that blended together in my being that made me love history was Indiana Jones.

The kid I was in middle school the summer of 1981 became a high school freshman by the time Temple of Doom came out. I loved both films, and, awkward teen boy that I was who had zero luck with girls, I fantasized about being Indy’s partner in Temple of Doom. Naturally, Willie Scott had a younger sister that was just about my age. My derring-do won her heart… because of course it did.

I worked in a movie theater the summer of 1989 and saw Last Crusade many times—and parts of the movie even more than that. The music by John Williams was phenomenal as ever, and seeing Indy’s dad be Sean Connery was icing on the cake. I was twenty, in college, and yet I still wanted to be like Indy. But it was Connery as Henry Jones imploring his son to “Let it go” that helped set a certain mindset. Like both my parents and my grandparents showed me by their words and actions, Connery reminded his son that there were things in life way more precious than some trinket.

I was a father myself in 2008 when Indy returned. My son was in grade school and, just in case Crystal Skulls was another dark film like Temple of Doom, only my wife and I saw it on opening day. While Last Crusade ended in the best way possible—literally riding into the sunset—it was nice to see Indy again. And Marion and their son, Mutt. At the time, I didn’t love the film like the original trilogy but that has softened over the years. But here was Indy as a dad, and I was a dad, and wasn’t that something.

Here in 2023, Indy is much older. He’s alone and he’s lost his son. Thankfully, I am happily married and our son is starting his life on his own, but he moved out last year and his absence is felt everyday. There are times when I imagine my son’s future and I remember what it was like to be in your twenties with a lifetime of choices and experiences waiting to be made. For the younger me, part of the zeal for life was the the zeal for adventure like Indy had, even if I wouldn’t be traipsing across the globe dodging bullets or finding lost treasures.

Now, at middle age, I have the ability not only to look backward but to look forward as well. I get to reflect on the results of my own life’s adventures so far and have the time to adjust for the future. Inexorably, life moves forward. The beauty of a movie like Dial of Destiny (and Crystal Skulls before it to say nothing of The Force Awakens) is to acknowledge that time moves forward for our movie heroes as well. Some characters—like Ferris Bueller or Kevin McAllister—will forever remain fixed looking a certain way at a certain point in time. Others, like Indy, get to age with us. Just like old friends do.

I am so thankful I got to grow up and get older alongside Indiana Jones.

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