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Who is Indiana Jones?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Indiana Jones is the iconic fictional character created by George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg for the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, and for the subsequent three films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, and the long anticipated final movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Known as "Indy" by friends, and depicted deftly by Harrison Ford, Jones has become a prototype for the adventurer character in modern fiction. He is certainly referenced by characters like Lara Croft of Tomb Raider, and Robert Langdon of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

When the audience first met Indiana Jones in the 1981 film, they met an adventurer who was a dedicated archaeologist. On the side, Jones teaches archaeology under the supervision of Professor Marcus Brody, hilariously depicted by the great actor Denholm Elliot. Jones’ great love is actually adventure and the collection of rare artifacts, and he’s called upon by the American government to thwart Hitler from collecting the Ark of the Covenant, where the stone tablets Moses collected containing the Ten Commandments supposedly reside. A hallmark of Jones’ character is his intense dislike of Nazis, which is referenced again in the third film. This referencing to Nazis is no doubt a contribution of both Lucas and Spielberg, since it draws in the audience to a common enemy.

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The first film is violent, and under the new rating system earns a PG-13. Jones kills over twenty people in the movie, which has been criticized as excessive by some. However, he is the archetypal man’s man, inspired by serial comics and films of the 1940s. The main difference is that the violence is typically on camera instead of off, displaying Jones as righteously or some suggest overly wrathful. In later films we see Jones’ tolerance for various cultures, particularly the Islamic culture, and the Hindu culture represented in the second film.

Indiana Jones is certainly not a mindless killing machine, and his lifestyle suggests he’s not an archaeologist for profit. Instead he likes the idea of sharing archaeological finds with the people; most artifacts in his words “belong in a museum,” rather than belonging to private and greedy collectors. He’s fully prepared to use whatever means of stealth and/or violence to obtain artifacts from private collectors, especially if they have ties to fascists.

Lucas and Spielberg significantly increased the depth of Jones’ character by including Indy’s father, Henry, in the third movie, played by Sean Connery. The complicated relationship of the Jones father and son suggest many reasons why Indy can’t fit into the typical mold of college professor. Indy’s father is depicted as meticulous, and caring but primarily uninvolved in his son’s life. The two share little in common, but Indy is forced into his father’s world, which has revolved around the search for the Holy Grail. Henry despises some of Indy’s methods, but reconciliation between father and son is reached in part by the end of the film.

In addition to the Indiana Jones films, Spielberg launched the television series Young Indiana Jones which aired from 1992-1996. Jones has also inspired rides, comic books and novels depicting more of his adventures. He has several recognizable features and character traits. He carries a bullwhip, wears a brown fedora, and a leather bomber jacket. Jones is also recognizable by a horizontal scar on the chin, and by his fear of snakes. The hat, whip, fedora, fear of snakes and scar all are given explanation in Last Crusade.

An interesting piece of trivia is that initially Tom Selleck was cast to take on the Jones role, but had to turn it down because of contract obligations. It’s difficult to imagine anyone but Harrison Ford playing the role of the adult Indy. The staying power of the character has as much to do with Ford’s portrayal as does the writing, directing and production quality of the films.

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