“Indiana, let it go.”
Words have power. Sometimes, just a handful of words can heal a lifetime of pent-up angst. Provided they are the right words; provided they are the words you needed to hear.
Sean Connery just passed away, which made writing this installment of “movie scenes that have made me cry” a given. I loved Sean Connery growing up. My dad showed me all of the classic James Bond movies when I was a kid (I’m a big fan of Thunderball. Not a popular pick, I know. I guess I just like sharks. It also has a great song.) As a Tom Clancy fanatic, The Hunt for Red October was a big deal for me. And while I count myself among Michael Bay’s legion of detractors, I also count myself among the people who can’t resist the sheer awesomeness of The Rock. Hell, I can’t resist the sheer awesomeness of the line, “Welcome to The Rock!”
All of this is to say, Sean Connery fucking ruled.
However, when it comes to Connery, to me, there will always be One Scene to Rule Them All. It comes at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Obviously Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great film, and I have the utmost respect for those who rate it as the best Indiana Jones movie. For me, though, the best one is Last Crusade, and the reason is Sean Connery. Or rather, not just him, but what his role as Indy’s father, Henry Jones Sr., brought to the story, which is an emotional context that the earlier film lacked.
Throughout Last Crusade, we explore the relationship between Indy and his dad. It isn’t great. We learn that Henry Sr. was a distant father, more caught up in his personal obsession with finding the Holy Grail than interested in his son. We get the sense that perhaps all of Indy’s heroic questing for artifacts originated from a desire to gain his father’s approval, or at the very least his attention. (Rescuing diamond-encrusted crosses and raiding lost Arks is sort of like finding the Holy Grail, right dad??)
Now that the two are adults, things aren’t much improved. Our first sign that their reunion may not go swimmingly is that Indy’s father greets his son by bonking his skull with a vase. (Ming Dynasty, breaks the heart and the head.)
Their estrangement over, the Jones boys immediately start to bicker and snipe at each other, even in the face of far more pressing concerns, such as raging fires and Nazis with machine guns. Indiana can’t let go of his dad’s lousy parenting; he actively regresses into a sullen child. Henry Sr., for his part, is so clueless he can’t seem to understand the damage his inattention wrought on his son’s psyche. Even when it’s on display right in front of him, he dismisses it.
Through it all, the most potent motif of their father-son quarrel is Henry Sr.’s refusal to acknowledge the name his son has chosen for himself, “Indiana,” insisting instead on calling him by his hated moniker, “Junior.”
Of course, the point of the film is for the characters’ relationship to evolve, to have an arc, if you will. As the plot progresses, the Jones boys start to reconcile. The danger that they are in forces them to confront the fact that, underneath all of their bickering, they do actually care about one another. And for all of their ceaseless arguing, they can at least agree that Nazis are bad. (Better than a lot of families are doing these days.)
Henry Sr. completes his journey first. Part way through the film, he is given a scare, when he thinks Indy, single-handedly fighting a Nazi tank (as one does) has gone over a cliff to his death. “Oh god,” he murmurs, staring into the wreckage, “I’ve lost him.” His next words are critical, since they show that he finally realizes how much he’s done wrong as a father. “I never told him anything… Five minutes would have been enough.” Death has a way of providing sudden clarity.
Fortunately, this is an Indiana Jones movie, so it takes more than just going off the side of a cliff to kill our hero. He comes climbing up out of the abyss, to his father’s immense relief. Henry Sr. might now be at a place where he realizes what’s truly important—his son, not the Grail—but the story arc still isn’t complete. There are two halves to this whole, and Indy still isn’t there.
At the film’s climax, the Grail’s resting place is found. Indy does what he does best: He beats the traps, he solves the puzzle, he finds the relic, and he saves his father—who’d been shot by Nazi-collaborator and all-round asshole Walter Donovan—in the process. Along the way, he learns a key tidbit about the Grail: you can’t bring it outside. This sets us up for The Scene. The big moment that, no matter how many times I watch it, still manages to get me all misty.