Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nazis and Indiana Jones

My son pointed out to me the fact that the really cool (read: successful) Indiana Jones movies involved a religious artifact, preferably Judeo-Christian in origin, and Nazis. I suppose that when we want some really despicable bad guys, nothing beats a Nazi.

Think about it.

In the first movie, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, the coveted artifact was nothing less than the holy lost Ark of the Covenant. Who among us tolerant, multi-cultural, Americans didn't cheer when the Nazi's face melted at the climatic moment?

The second movie tanked, probably because Americans couldn't focus enough WWII animosity on the Temple of Doom dudes whose heart-ripping-out grisliness just didn't seem justified for the sake of some throbbing quarzite orbs. Not only that, the Chinese gangstas just didn't command enough universal hatred. Not like the Nazis!

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was a smash hit. A lot of people think that's because of the one-two punch of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in the same film, but let's face it: with that much technicolor testosterone on one movie, what enemy could possibly compete? Why, the Nazis, of course! And didn't it just do our hearts good to see Ilsa, the Nazi-sympathizing archaeologist, slip into oblivion like a blond Gollum because she couldn't let go of her greed?

Naturally the last Indiana Jones movie fell a bit short not because, in my opinion, there was anything lacking in Cate Blanchett's portrayal of a powerful, dominating enemy nor because Harrison Ford was over 60 when he made the film. But if they'd made Blanchett a Nazi instead of a commie, why, we would've had a FILM! And if Indie and Marian had been after the Veil of Veronica or some other Judeo-Christian relic instead of those crystal skulls, we really would've had a blockbuster!

One part of the holiness we ascribe to created objects seems to be treasuring and venerating them because of their particular provenance. The Holy Grail, which may or may not ever have touched Jesus' lips at the Last Supper, would have been someone's pottery cup-I can imagine it being akin to the "banquet ware" we would rent for a large dinner party when we were afraid we wouldn't have enough of the good set of glasses to go 'round and we didn't want anyone to have to drink from plastic. But for centuries, claims of its conservation and contemporary existence became the stuff of legends.

Another part of holiness we ascribe to created objects flows from our beliefs surrounding their legend. If the true Ark of the Covenant, golden cherubim notwithstanding, were somehow discovered in our time, it would be our beliefs which would assign to it an unworldly pricelessness. Because it is the notion that it was designed by God, and executed by God's chosen people to be the dwelling place of holiness throughout the Exodus that makes it, in our imagination and tradition, an unspeakable thing of power.

Yet, all things considered, when the Spirit of That Which is Holy moves in our creativity and joins with the individual artist in expression, don't we all as artists become the vehicles which express unspeakable power? Whether it's a John Williams musical score, a Harrison Ford performance, a Steven Spielberg/George Lucas movie, a potter's simple cup, or a beginner's 5th-grade watercolor painting, the art of the world, both simple and accomplished, shows us that creativity is such a powerful force for blessing that evil would have to choose the most formidable champions it could find to oppose it.

It's not surprising we had the Nazis. They were the perfect personification of evil! What is surprising is that we want to think they've disappeared. I don't think we should allow ourselves to be fooled-there will always be those who tell artists and believers to abandon art in favor of more "productive" pursuits-It is up to each human being to discern and determine for themselves those forces that block the creativity which supports and gives shape to the Spirit.

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