I Hate Indiana Jones: Day 54

Day 54: Indiana Jones and the One Tin Soldier

I'm sure everyone reading this is familiar with the term 'MacGuffin', but just in case, I'm going to offer a quick lesson. Everyone in the know, feel free to skip the next paragraph.

Initially used by Alfred Hitchcock, the 'MacGuffin' is the thing in a film that people want, but that has no real importance to the plot, beyond getting it moving. The quintessential MacGuffin is the money in Psycho. Stealing it sends Janet Leigh on the road to her doom, and chasing after her (and the money) gets Arboghast killed and finally leads to Norman Bates being captured. The money itself plays no role in the film beyond a motivator to bring characters into conflict with one another. In the years since its introduction, the definition of 'MacGuffin' has been stretched to include any object of desire in a film, whether it is practically used in the plot or not. Strict MacGuffins, like the tape in Escape from New York and the briefcase in Ronin now share the term with broader MacGuffins like the disc in Escape From LA, or the valuable shotgun in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

The Indiana Jones franchise has always featured the second variety of MacGuffin, as the objects in question, be they stones, grails, or arki, always play a key, practical role in the film's climax. Likewise, this film's MacGuffin, the Crystal Skull, is a valuable tool for the vast majority of the movie's running time. It cows natives, repels ants, and even raises an alien from the dead. The briefcase from Pulp Fiction, this is certainly not.

So let's look past the Crystal Skull to the film's second, corollary MacGuffin, the 'power' that the commies (especially Cate Blanchett) hope to gain by returning the skull to its titular valley. For the entire film, we're teased about just what this power might be. Obviously it's a big deal, since the commies are willing to go to such lengths to obtain it. It's never clear exactly what they think the crystal skull aliens are going to do for them, but the Commies seem to believe that whatever treasure lies at the end of their journey will, if nothing else, give them the edge in the 'occult artefacts' arms race.

The other films offered some fairly robust treasures to be found at the end of the trail. The Ark actually did have the ability to smite down those unworthy of looking upon it. In addition to burning the unrighteous, the Shankara stones could apparantly bring crops to a barren village. The Holy Grail had the power to, in no uncertain terms, heal mortal wounds and prolong life indefinitely.

So what did the aliens have to offer in exchange for returning their skull? So much information that it caused the reciepient's head to explode. As powers go, that's a little on the disappointing side.

As Harrison Ford so succinctly explains in the film: "Their treasure was knowledge. Knowledge was their treasure."

Since the other films had faeatured real, powerful items that the characters were striving to find and exploit, I couldn't find a comparison point inside the franchise. As a result, I had to move to the world of music, specifically the song 'One Tin Soldier', which details the Valley people's attempts to acquire the 'treasure' that the Mountain people possess. After the brutal slaughter of the Mountain people, the Valley people discover, in an achingly ironic twist, that the 'treasure' was actually a message. The message: Peace on Earth. I'd have to say that's roughly equal with the treasure being knowledge, wouldn't you?

Which gives this movie something in common with Billy Jack, a condition that I'm sure almost all filmmakers, deep in their hearts, are really hoping for.

1 comment:

Tilting at Windmills said...

So you just had to take a swipe at One Tin Soldier - one of the dreariest songs to ever make the top of the hit parade! Good comparison though.