I rewatched the Raiders of the Lost Ark a while back. It got me wondering. What is it that makes Indiana Jones such a cool character?
The flawed hero
Indiana Jones is an archaeology professor. In his spare time he runs around in a dingy hat with an old bullwhip and rescues priceless artifacts and damsels from Nazis (or Indian people).
It sounds a bit lame when you say it like that. The magic is in the execution, of course. Harrison Ford had the lovable rogue look down to a T. The dingy hat and bullwhip made him look interesting and aloof. The professor thing made him look smart. He looks very capable when he manages to find all manner of artifacts. Then there were the girls in his class who all loved him.
And any good character needs some flaws. Indy is a bit of a sexist, he’s very afraid of snakes, and he’s way too full of himself.
Then the story throws in a combination of puzzles, a clearly evil antagonist, and a race to find a precious artifact. Wouldn’t we all want to be Indiana Jones; I did when I was young.
If you look carefully at the movies, you’ll see the character is built up pretty brilliantly. The first scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark starts with Indiana in a jungle, cleverly avoiding a trapped temple to unearth a statue. After going through all the trouble of retrieving it, it is taken away from him by the bad guy. He goes back home empty-handed, moaning to his colleague about it after teaching a class filled with doe-eyed girls. That establishes the character perfectly in a very short time.
In short, the Indiana Jones movies manage to do some brilliant characterization, hitting all the buttons for the lovable rogue character. Combined with Spielberg’s iconic directing, it created a classical character that won’t be easily forgotten.