Steven Spielberg perfectly captures the 1930s, from a leafy campus to the far reaches of a pre-globalization planet. I was taken in by the romantic depiction of air travel, particularly as Indy boards Boeing Clippers in pursuit of both knowledge and adventure. After my dad left the Air Force, he spent a decade working for Pan Am. Even though this was well after the airline had retired the Clippers, watching this film with him helped me understand why he was drawn to the skies. I love the way Spielberg depicted Indy’s travels by superimposing travel scenes atop a map with bright routing lines magically appearing to let the audience follow the journey. Since I first saw this film, I’ve been lucky to travel on five continents and in dozens of countries. Yet this still makes me yearn to be a globetrotter at the birth of commercial aviation.
Unfortunately, watching the film in our current moment, it’s hard not to make comparisons with the rise of Adolph Hitler. Indiana Jones is on a quest to prevent the Nazis from getting their hands on the Ark of the Covenant, the chest the Hebrews used to carry around the Ten Commandments – “if you believe in that sort of thing,” as Indy says. The story is that Hitler has become obsessed with the occult, believing the Ark can make his armies invincible as they seek to cleanse the world of non-Aryans.
This is scary shit. Not just at the time. Not just because we know the Nazis went on to murder millions. It’s scary because we’re currently seeing a terrifying rise in white nationalism and fascism around the globe, particularly right here in America. Donald Trump’s base is made up of evangelicals impassioned by a deep religiosity that leads them to believe that the nation given to them by God is being stolen by non-white interlopers. And, perhaps even more worryingly, a large segment of conservatives who don’t believe these things are still willing to support the authoritarian-in-chief. They are the Belloq’s of today, the French archaeologist in the film who is willing to go along with the murderous Nazis in pursuit of his own selfish aims.
I love the scene in the movie, when the Ark is in the cargo ship’s hold, when the swastika is burned off the crate that’s holding it – as if God’s showing his displeasure. I’m not a religious person, but if there is some greater power in this universe, I hope it’s on the side of love and knowledge and not hate and ignorance. I hope it will scorch the forces of evil that are seeking to reverse the course of history.
But, for me, I’m not counting on it. I’m with Indiana Jones, who is the embodiment of the pure pursuit of understanding in all of its many forms. Like him, we must fight against evil, injustice, and oppression. We must defeat those who seek to pervert our longstanding struggle to create a more perfect union. Like Indy, I plan to do what I can, in my small way, to ensure that today’s self-satisfied Nazis are brusquely swept into the dustbin of our national story.