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Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Women of Indiana Jones

If there is one thing I want to learn from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- one damn thing -- it's why the hell Dr. Henry Jones Jr. didn't end up married to Marion Ravenwood. Was she just too much for him? Or did she dump him, fed up with a man who was not only a scattered academic, but a fly-by-night adventurer? Really, that has to be a tough combo when you just want him to take you out to dinner.

With Kingdom of the Crystal Skull not only bringing back Ms. Ravenwood, but introducing the domineering Irina Spalko, I think it's high time we discussed Indy's women. Where would Dr. Jones be without the ladies? Without Marion, he probably would have been in an early grave, without Willie Scott and Elsa Schneider, he may have been spared a few extra scars.

I don't really need to sing the praises of Ms. Ravenwood here. We already know how she was the coolest sidekick of all, the sort of kickass chick who was not only unusual in 1981, but still pretty rare today. She rivals Princess Leia as one of George Lucas' finest characters. (It's rather sobering that the man who gave us Leia, Marion and Sorsha could only conjure up the broken-hearted Amidala years later. Seriously, Lucas, you burned your geek girl cred on that one.) I give Lucas the credit because my gut says it is owed him. When it comes to his action-adventure movies, Spielberg never quite spent the kind of time on his heroines like Lucas did. But he gets major props for the way his moms shine -- Spielberg knows that when you have kids, you don't immediately become a screeching moron -- even if your kids do surprise you with an extra-terrestrial.

Unlike a lot of fans, I was never too perturbed that Marion never returned. It made sense he had a different chick in each movie, it was a throwback to the serials, and it kept you guessing. For me, it was clear Marion was destined to be with Dr. Jones and in my own imagination; they went back and forth for years before finally settling down together. I always figured that's why she was absent from his adventures – she had a life, and didn't need to tag along. He knew where he could find her. (On the other hand, this article in Newsweek is a little alarming. How were audiences the only ones who fell for her?)

But I digress. I think it's time we examine the other women of Indiana Jones -- and I'm going to shock you all by defending the two everyone love to hate (especially the one named Wilhemina Scott).

I won't lie. As a kid, I loved her. I thought she was hilarious. I loved her musical entrance – and I still covet that dress. (And the ability to sing Anything Goes in Chinese. I think it could come in handy.) Even in adulthood, I can't muster up the incredible hate everyone feels towards her. She is annoying, certainly; she is shrill -- but she's also a throwback to the 30's, an homage to screwball comedies. She's the one average chick Indiana Jones encounters in his adventures and as such, you have to feel bad for her. She has a nice gig at Club Obi-Wan, an apartment in Hong Kong, dresses from Paris – and she somehow gets sucked into one nightmare of an adventure. How is a nightclub singer really supposed to cope with jungles, monkey brains, and tunnels full of bugs? I defy any chick, even Marion Ravenwood, not to totally flip out when someone tries to rip out your still- beating heart. Especially when the handsome archaeologist you were kind of into is just standing there watching. Knowing he was brainwashed with the Blood of Kali just doesn't make that situation any easier to tolerate. We would all be shrieking – in fact, I'm pretty sure most of us would be in the fetal position, weeping. Willie Scott manages to survive, sanity and scathing retorts intact. Maybe she even became a better person after.

And then there is Elsa Schneider. I don't particularly like Elsa, but I think she's well written. It's easy to forget that in her own way, she's a rebel. It says much about the times Indy lives in that he immediately assumes the Dr. Schneider he is to meet is a man. You could even imagine that with her cool practicality, she played on that every time she submitted a paper for publication. While she shamelessly used sex and beauty to get ahead, I'm not willing to believe she slept her way to a doctorate, because she knows her facts. She struck me as a solid academic – and one who enjoyed subverting the male expectations of a female brainiac by looking like Veronica Lake. She knew what idiots men could be – and that is how she manages to play every single man in the movie, from Donovan to Jones.

Action wise, she's just about as tough as Marion; handling fire, rats, and high-speed water chases with aplomb. Oh, she has terrible political leanings. But like Belloq, she tries to play the Nazis to get the prize, seemingly not appreciating what kinds of monsters she was dealing with. (Both scholars are what Indy could become, except that his conscience and beliefs override his desire for fortune and glory.) Unlike Belloq, I think she actually realizes it, but far too late. Like Anakin Skywalker, there is still good in her (you see it when she cries over the slain Knight of the Cruciform Sword), but she is in too deep. I think her complicity in killing Donovan is her way of atonement, as chillingly horrific as it is – and for all Indy's disapproval, it isn't like he stopped her.

To bring this all to some kind of unwieldy close, I think that when it comes to women characters, you have to give a nod of approval to Indiana Jones. The women in all three movies could have been vapid love interests, like so many Bond girls. But three films produced three unique women – and love them or hate them, they were at least recognizably human. But most of all, they held their own against Dr. Jones ... which is an adventure all by itself.,21/5/2008,written by Elisabeth Rappe

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