So the news is going around the net today that Indiana Jones 5 has been confirmed for a 2019 release, with both Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg being involved. And as I’m a documented Harrison Ford fangirl, whose favorite movie of all time is after all Raiders of the Lost Ark, you better believe I have opinions on this matter.
Most of these opinions are centered around a lot of jokes I’m seeing from fandom along the lines of “LOL Indy is old”. I’ve seen jokes about “Indiana Jones and the Lost Rocking Chair” or “Indiana Jones and the Search for the Walker” or whatever. All of which I find pretty irritating, to be honest.
One: it’s ageist. It is part and parcel of the cultural assumption we have that old people can’t be heroic lead characters. We expect the old to be functioning as mentors while the young people get to be the ones who punch Nazis in the face, or who yank scimitars out of assassins’ hands with a trusty bullwhip, or who sneak into ancient ruins to recover idols, or whatever.
And that’s bullshit. Any fan of Doctor Who understands that “old” and “awesome and heroic” are not mutually exclusive concepts. Sure, the Doctor has been played by younger men through most of the New Who era–but I’ll point out that even our current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, is a dude with gray hair who has demonstrated splendidly that he is still perfectly capable of being a heroic central character.
Here’s another example: Gandalf in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. And before you protest “but Gandalf is a wizard and Indiana Jones is just a human archaeologist”, let me remind you that not all of Gandalf’s activity through those two stories was centered around his magic. Gandalf also whipped Glamdring the Foe-hammer around on more than one occasion. And he went at it hammer and tongs with the Balrog.
“Until at last I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside,” as he says in the movie edition of The Two Towers.
Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog was physical as well as mental. It broke his body. Gandalf does not survive the battle. The only reason he comes back into the plot at all is because Iluvatar resurrected him and sent him back to Middle-Earth, because his job wasn’t done yet.
And even aside from that, Gandalf spends a great deal of time running around in battle all throughout that story–at Helm’s Deep as well as in Gondor on the Pelennor Fields. We see Gandalf fighting with both sword and staff all over the place. Activity which is physically demanding, and yet, nobody was snickering and going “LOL Ian McKellen is old” or “LOL Gandalf is old”.
As near as I can tell, the only difference here between Gandalf and Indiana Jones is that Gandalf is portrayed on camera as old at all times, both in the movies and in the books. Whereas with Indy, we first meet him when he’s young.
Which brings me to why I mentioned Gandalf in the first place–because we also know, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, that Indy has had his lifespan extended. He drank from the Holy Grail, f’r cryin’ out loud. And this is even hinted at in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles as well. So in the scope of the Indiana Jones universe, with events that have already happened on camera, we have had it established that there is no particular reason to assume that Indy doesn’t remain physically active in his latter years. He’s no longer entirely pure vanilla human normal.
And that brings me to…
Two: If a character is aged yet has a physically demanding role in the story, what’s wrong with that? Yes, the sheer reality of aging does mean that an older character is going to have physical challenges that a younger character won’t. He’ll be more prone to aches and pains. His stamina might not be as good. But that shouldn’t mean that that older character is not ever allowed to swing a sword or a staff, to flick a bullwhip, or punch a Nazi in the face.
Good writing should be able to sell us on the idea that an aged character can still be heroic, while also acknowledging the burden that physical heroism may place upon him. Hell, the earlier Indy movies were excellent at this even while Ford was young.
Marion: You’re not the man I knew ten years ago.
Indy: It’s not the years–it’s the mileage.
Iconic lines, which, I might add, were in a scene that happened after Indy got beaten to hell and back in the truck chase, stealing the Ark from the Germans–including getting shot. Last Crusade did it too, when Indy painfully pulls himself back up from over the cliff while the others think he’s dead, and he keels over from exhaustion while his father is urging him to get up.
So there’s no reason that a well-written Indy movie can’t use the same style of humor to acknowledge the problems Indy might have when he’s 75 vs. when he was 35. It doesn’t even have to be a huge deal. I could easily see a wry little exchange, say, between Indy and his son in which Indy is having to steel himself to go into a fight. His son could be all “uh, Dad, maybe I better handle this”–and Indy has to gruffly step back and let his son get in the fight, while he does something else clever like, oh, say, setting explosives or deactivating a trap. And then his son can bitch at him later after he gets his ass handed to him, and Indy could be all “well you didn’t want ME in on the fight, what are you complaining about?”
Make it the same sort of chemistry Indy had with his own father. It could be awesome. It writes itself.
Three: Harrison Ford demonstrated in The Force Awakens that he is still perfectly capable of acting, and he brought some nuance and depth to Han that I for one was thrilled to see. Sure, that Han is old and isn’t the same character that I swooned over in the earlier movies. That’s okay. I’m older too. The character is still awesome.
Long story short: I’m way less concerned about Harrison Ford–and Indiana Jones–being old than I am about whether the story in Indiana Jones 5 will suck.
I’m not convinced that it won’t. And I say this as someone who really, really wanted to like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, too. I mean, not only did it bring back Marion and follow up on Indy and Marion’s relationship, it also had Cate Blanchett (one of my nominees for Queen of Everything) as the villain. It was setting itself up as Anna Catnip from start to finish. I did in fact enjoy it enough that I saw it twice in the theaters.
And yet, even I acknowledge that that movie was… not so good.
Here’s the thing, though: of the objections I had to that movie, none of them had a thing to do with Indy being old. And whatever else you might say about the movie, it already has given us the setup necessary for a younger character to have adventures right alongside Indy. One does presume that young Henry Jones III will be showing up alongside his father in Indy 5.
So yeah. As long as Ford’s physically up for the role, I say go for it, Harry. But I will be keeping an eye on further news of this movie, and I will be paying very close attention to what kind of a plot it’ll hand us before I’ll decide whether I’m firmly on board.
Because I’m very firmly of the belief that we do need more heroic older characters. Hollywood is very age-phobic, and it’s even worse for women than it is for men–just look at all the shit Carrie Fisher got for being old on camera in The Force Awakens, even worse than Harrison Ford did. This is a thing that needs to change, for men and women alike.
And a well-written Indiana Jones 5 would be a good start.