I Hate Indiana Jones: Day 31

Day 31: Indiana Jones and the Russian Stand-Off

The Mexican standoff is a relatively common device in film. It's a situation where two characters or groups are on completely equal footing and are therefore unable to act, because they're afraid that they won't have a good chance of a positive result. The most common occurrence of the situation involves people pointing guns at one either at close range. Either one could pull the trigger, but since they can't be guaranteed that their opponent won't get off a shot before dying, they know that they only have a 50-50 chance of coming out of the situation alive. Not great odds to risk a life on.

The most common way of resolving the situation -- so common in fact it has become something of a cliché -- is having a third character appear behind a character in the standoff putting a gun to one of the characters' backs, changing the odds drastically. What's interesting here is that the odds have not changed completely. Since the character with a gun to their back is still completely able to shoot the person they're aiming at, they're just at a much greater disadvantage. Now the person with the gun to their back has a 100 percent chance of dying, which forces them to choose between surrendering, and mutually assured destruction.

The other common subtype of Mexican standoff is the 'one versus group' Mexican standoff. In this case, a single character, most commonly the hero, holds off a large group of enemies by aiming a gun at their leader. This is the most implausible kind of Mexican standoff because it requires every single member of the villain's group to put their leader's life before their own. While they've got guns on the hero, the average henchman has almost no chance of getting killed, and their leader is around 50/50. It's tenuous because there's no real reason that one of the henchmen wouldn't just shoot. The only way it's even slightly plausible is if a cowardly leader orders their minions to surrender. Even then it's still a bit of a stretch, because surrendering puts their own lives in danger, while shooting the hero only puts their general, president, or cult leader's life at risk.

It should surprise no one at this point that of all the possible types of Mexican standoff, it's the most contrived that shows up in Indiana Jones and the Valley of the Crystal skull. I mentioned this standoff earlier when discussing the Ray Winstone's meaningless betrayals of Harrison Ford across the course of the film, but this particular betrayal bears mentioning again because it's such a perfect example of the filmmakers' refusal to think anything all the way through before including it.

The mistake they made was attempting to include both the most contrived type of Mexican standoff while also resolving it in the most clichéd fashion possible, i.e. Mac suddenly turning out to be evil and sticking a gun into Indy's back. What's wrong with this? Allow me to set the scene. Harrison and Winstone have just swiped guns from the Commie guards, and are now aiming at Cate Blanchett who stands on a jeep high above the dozen or so other Russian guards. The threat is obvious. If guards attempt to shoot Indiana Jones or Ray Winstone, they'll respond by killing Cate Blanchett. It's the perfect example of a hero versus group Mexican standoff, with all the problems that suggests. Specifically that Indiana Jones and Ray Winstone are going to definitely going to die, and the one card they have to play is that they can take Cate Blanchett with them.

The filmmakers then attempts to resolve the Mexican standoff in the classic fashion by having Ray wins don't betray Indiana Jones and suddenly put his gun at Indy's back. Seeing the futility of the situation, Harrison Ford surrenders his weapon and we get the ridiculous escape sequence where he throws his gun to the ground somehow knowing go off etc. etc. all covered back on Day 7. Seems logical enough, doesn't it? What the filmmakers don't seem to understand is that Ray Winstone's betrayal of Harrison Ford has not changed the situation's odds in any meaningful way, or given Indiana Jones any additional motivation to surrender.

When Ray Winstone and Indiana Jones were aiming their guns at Cate Blanchett, the situation was simple: if people started shooting, Ray Winstone, Cate Blanchett and Harrison Ford would definitely be killed, but no one else. Harrison Ford was betting on Cate Blanchett's desire towards self preservation leading her to let him go. After Winstone's betrayal this situation has changed to this: if everyone starts firing Cate Blanchett and Harrison Ford will be killed. The only person for whom the odds have changed is a Ray Winstone, Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett are in the exact same situation they were just moments earlier. So why does Harrison Ford surrender? Because he has a ludicrous plan that could never work? Perhaps? But since the situation, and his odds of survival within it, hadn't changed at all, why should his behavior change? Indy still has a rifle aimed at Cate Blanchett, and there's no reason for him to back down.

Wouldn't a far better resolution to the situation be having Cate Blanchett announced that her life is of no particular value and inform Indiana Jones that, regardless of whether she survives or not, the mission will continue? This move truly takes away Harrison Ford's leverage since suddenly it's his drive towards self-preservation that's being called into question rather than hers. It also serves to strengthen Cate Blanchett's character, since it establishes her as the kind of fanatic that Americans are so terrified of.

The scene still could have ended the same way, with Harrison enacting his frankly retarded plan to escape, involving a magic gun that goes off for no reason, and Russian soldiers who were jittery in the incredibly specific way that a gunshot causes them to get confused and befuddled, rather than just opening fire, as they're trained to. At the same time this change would have both made Cate Blanchett a more formidable foe, and added a beat of Indy considering his own mortality, which would go on to become a theme in the film. The only thing lost would have been Ray Winstone's betrayal of Harrison Ford, an element which, and I can't say this enough, adds absolutely nothing to the film.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Get a life.