Sep 13 2013 12:00pm

Indiana Jones is Not James Bond

indiana jones, james bond, sean connery, Harrison Ford

The now-famous story goes that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were on vacation in 1977: Spielberg had come off the recent success of Close Encounters and Lucas was running from Star Wars, which he presumed was going to flop. Spielberg told his buddy George that he wanted to direct a James Bond film and Lucas said (something to the effect of), “Pfft. I’ve got something way better than that.”

And then they made Raiders of the Lost Ark.

As a result, Indiana Jones is often thought of as some kind of inheritor to the James Bond mantle. In a way that seems a logical choice; they are adventurers who deal with high-octane thrills, lovers of women, and have a similarly wry sense of humor. They have jobs that require a fair share of globe-trotting and an ability to improvise that is unmatchable. They both were in play during the Cold War—that is, if you count Crystal Skull in you personal continuity, which I know many fans are against. Sean Connery was deliberately cast as Henry Jones Sr. in The Last Crusade because, according to Spielberg, only James Bond could be the father of Indiana Jones. And it’s fair to say that Indy was filling a gap left by the 80s Bond era—regardless of your feelings on later-Moore and early-Dalton, their films get a lot of flak. Indy was the sensible alternative while fans waited for new Bond films that were more to their taste.

But despite all this, Bond and Indy really couldn’t be more different. And I’m not just talking about their jobs or their attire; their choices, as two separate men, do not make them the same kind of hero at all. Continually comparing them is a blunt exercise at this point. They just don’t match up.

indiana jones Harrison Ford professor indy

Start with Point of Divergence Number One: Professor Bond is a patently awful idea.

We know that Indy ignores his job when he’s got ancient talismans to locate, but when we see him in class, he’s actually good at the gig. He knows how to lecture, what books to assign for course reading, and treats his students in a professional (if confused) manner no matter how hard they flirt with him. We can infer that Indy’s teaching job is the way he pays bills rather than his passion, but that’s also a pointed difference; at the end of the day, Indiana Jones is just another working stiff. He operates as an archaeologist for his own personal satisfaction and out of a duty to history—because that belongs in a museum, not in his basement—and not because he gets cut a big check at the end of the day. Sometimes people pay him well for his services, but you have to figure that a large portion of his income is going toward more trips into the jungle/desert/mountains. And when he gets there, he sleeps in tents or on the ground.

Bond works for the government to do what the government deems necessary. He has all the money he needs in order to do that job, and is rarely sleeping in the dirt. He is someone else’s tool—despite rampant self-centeredness in most incarnations, his missions are for a larger good and have very little to do with his personal desires. He doesn’t need another job. He doesn’t have to keep watch on his pension. He doesn’t have to foster the next generation.

james bond, sean connery, goldfinger

Much is made of Indy’s woman-a-movie tally, but his relationships couldn’t be more different from Bond’s habitual non-relationships. 007 often sleeps with more than one woman a film, and respects practically none of them. There’s his eventual wife, sure, and an argument can be made that Daniel Craig’s version has a very different tack and rapport with women, but for Bond when Indiana Jones was conceived… the spy-who-loved-’em-all had some appalling tendencies where sex and consent were concerned. Calling him a rapist outright is basically fair game. Saying that he uses women is an understatement. That he considers them a means to an end is equally obvious, even when he’s protecting them.

We see Indiana Jones with three different women over the course of the initial trilogy. There’s Willie, who is the least suited to his adventures, who he teases and cajoles. But there’s never a question as to whether or not she’s open to his advances, and it’s fair to say that they both know their fling is going nowhere serious—it’s just convenient in the here and now. There’s Elsa who turns out to be a Nazi spy, which at first glance looks like it comes right out of the Bond playbook. Yet in a very un-Bond twist, we find that Indy is genuinely hurt over her betrayal. He cares for Elsa even after the revelation of her allegiances, so much so that after she has sold him out, he still attempts to save her life. The audience is signaled to write her off—Henry Jones Sr. has no problem distancing himself on their affair—but Indy refuses to. It adds an odd touch of sadness that one might not have expected from the end of Last Crusade; it would have been much simpler for Indiana to shout “You deserved it!” as Elsa falls into the abyss, but he’s just not that kind of man.

indiana jones Harrison Ford, last crusade, elsa

And then there’s Marion Ravenwood. Indy was no prince to her—in fact, we know that she fell in love with him at a very young age and that he did not break up with her in a suitably mature fashion. But due to his involvement with Marion’s father and his work, we can deduce that this was no simple affair; he was also likely quite young (though older than her), panicked over how serious the relationship was getting, and bolted. Which is what a lot of people do when they overthink their first major relationships.

His loss, because Marion is easily the best suited to him, to his life and temperament and flaws. He clearly knows it, he’s just incredibly difficult on the point. There are many fans who showed irritation over Indy’s marriage Marion at the end of Crystal Skull, but I’d cite that as one of the few things that movie got right. Because he’s not a callous spy whose double life makes certain that he can never, ever have attachments. In fact, Indy’s life calls for the presence of friends, allies, lovers. Family is how Indy operates. It’s how he’s managed to stay alive as long as he has—people love him and want to help him.

indiana jones Harrison Ford, temple of doom short round

Has Bond ever had a kid sidekick who pierced through one disturbing veil of mind control with the words “I love you” and a quick second degree burn to his chest? I rest my case. Just the thought of Bond getting close to an impressionable child makes you twitch. But Indy is good with kids, half-adopts Short Round for a time and presumably finds him a good home once their adventures are done. He’s not the most moral person you’ll ever meet, but he’s basically a nice guy.

And here’s another thing: Indiana Jones is a damned klutz.

There, I said it. Sure, Bond is funny in places, mostly if you’re a fan of puns. But Indy has always been funnier than the super spy, and that’s because he constantly screws up. He comes off suave when he’s dragging from a rope behind a giant truck, but let’s not forget—this is a guy who shot a master swordsman in the streets of Cairo because he forgot where his own sword wandered off to. A guy who set off a series of booby traps because he misjudged how much of a weight difference there was between sand and gold. (How do you let sand out of that bag—do you have any idea how flipping heavy gold is, Indy? Do you?) A guy who didn’t bother to check who he was renting his getaway plane from in Shanghai, who never noticed that Elsa talked of Nazis in her sleep, who knocks out uniformed men to take their clothes only to find out that they’re several sizes too small. (This happens more than once.)

indiana jones Harrison Ford raiders of the lost ark

His motto is, handily, “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.”

You know who isn’t making those mistakes on a regular basis? Yeah, you do know who. Because Bond is about wish fulfillment. He’s the best because we want a glimpse of what it feels like to be the best. So he knows how many bullets you’ve fired, and he can tell that you’re working for the bad guy, and he’s not going to crack no matter how well you’ve devised those nasty tortures. And on the rare times he doesn’t know, that he can’t handle the pain, it’s decidedly not funny at all. It’s tragic. Unless you’re Roger Moore, because you’re already wearing bellbottoms and we stopped taking you seriously a long time ago.

It’s entirely possible that a lot of this has to do with who is portraying him; Indy would have been a much different guy if, say, Tom Selleck had really sold his screen-test and nabbed the part. There are glimmers of darkness running through the Raiders script that aren’t really built up to their full potential, and that’s likely because Harrison Ford wasn’t into playing mean at that point in his career. He built his legendary status on being charming, glib, and knowing when to pout boyishly through his stubble. When he arrives at Marion’s bar and tells her he never meant to hurt her, you can see he means it, but in another actor’s hands he could have come across much more sinister. Moreover, the Indiana Jones figure is inherently American—which naturally gives him more of a cowboy bent than a cold British gentleman one. That’s a huge divergence, one that I’m not sure any comparison could come back from, unless we want to align Imperialism and frontiersman and start getting really heavy with the note-taking.

indiana jones, Tom Selleck

Indiana Jones has a mythic quality to him, certain ’superpowers’ if you like, but he is not the same kind of hero as the essential MI-6 agent. If he were, that silent man with his back turned on the camera during the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark would have been all we ever knew of him. So while it’s fun to ruminate on Bond being the only dad for him, you’ll need a lot more to convince me that they should be counted in the same canon of heroes.

Emily Asher-Perrin went through a period in her childhood where she tried to become Short Round because she really wanted to be Indy’s best friend. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

1. a1ay
the Indiana Jones figure is inherently American—which naturally gives
him more of a cowboy bent than a cold English gentleman one.

An infuriated Scot writes: Bond is SCOTTISH damn it.
Mandy Pietruszewski
2. MandyP12
I agree! I've never been a fan of James Bond, but I aboslutely love Indiana Jones. The two are inherently different.
Chris Nelly
3. Aeryl
Elsa spoke German in her sleep

Of course she did, she was from Austria. I assume Dr. Jones Sr meant she referred to her Nazi loyalties in her sleep.

Tom Selleck had really sold his screen-test and nabbed the part.

I always heard he did get the part, but he passed to do Magnum instead. One of the many rumors I heard for Indy IV(back in 1998 this was) was that they were going to get Selleck back, this time to play Indy's brother, in a movie that was going to have all the Joneses.

Your observation is spot on, they are very different characters. And you are correct, in the hands of a different actor, the movie would have had a VERY different tone. But what it has, works. It's just the right balance of action, humor and believable stakes(within the scope of the story's universe) that make the story worthwhile. IMO, that was where the Bond movies went wrong at the same time Indy was at it's peak, was that they no longer had believable stakes.
4. Underbelly
An infuriated Scot writes: Bond is SCOTTISH damn it.
An Imperialistic American writes: Is there a difference?
Emily Asher-Perrin
5. EmilyAP
@1 a1ay -- True! But if I'm not mistaken, Flemming actually made Bond Scottish retroactively because he liked Connery's portrayal so much. Which means that, in a foundational sense, the character was initially British. No offense meant!
Adam S.
Agreed that Bond is not Indiana Jones, at all. I actually always thought of Batman as the American James Bond (or I guess James Bond as the British Batman, since Batman is older).
Emily Asher-Perrin
7. EmilyAP
@3 Aeryl - Whoops, that would be me not working on all thrusters. For some reason my brain briefly chose to forget every history class I ever took dealing with what countries speak what languages. *headdesk* Will fix that.

As for Selleck, I feel like I have heard so many different rumors surrounding his casting that I'm never sure what's real. I do remember Lucas being against Ford because he was against the guy showing up in every movie he made, which always tickled me. :)
8. 2nihon
There's also the fact that Henry Jones Sr. (Indy's father) is absolutely nothing like James Bond. He also has that professor-ly air about him, and again, the backstory doesn't match.
9. treeandleaf
@7 EmilyAP

Another mildly irritated Scot writes: Fleming deciding to make Bond a Scot does not make him suddenly non-British. It stops you reading him as ENGLISH, but English is really, really, not a synonym for British, any more than Texan is a synonym for American. (Not a perfect metaphor, as the individual states are not analogous to the constituent countries of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but still).

Does it matter if Bond is English or Scottish? Not hugely perhaps, except for patriotism points with Scottish Bond fans, but it nuances how you read the character. Bond-the-Scot becomes someone who can inhabit Whitehall, the Establishment, and the remains of Empire perfectly well (naturally, half the people runing Britain's colonies were Scots), but who is also slightly, just ever so slightly, 'other'. He comes from a slightly different background to his peers and superiors.* Which is quite appropriate for a spy.

Although, of course, the thing people tend to forget about Bond is that he's also half-Swiss. How that plays into how one might read the character is another question entirely.

* Very slightly. He is an old Etonian. But his identity is nevertheless slightly but significantly different. One of the things I liked about "Skyfall" was the sense of him running back to ancestral ground to turn and fight on his terms, even if that did feel significantly more like something out of a Buchan - the original author of Scottish secret agents - than Fleming.
Emily Asher-Perrin
10. EmilyAP
@9 treeandleaf - I am actually aware that British and English are not synonymous, but seem to have swapped their usage in my head. Which explains the ire! Ah, confusion.

It's actually a very interesting discussion, dealing with Bond's heritage and how it comes into play in various incarnations. Flemming states that he spent his early years bouncing from place to place due to his father's work. (While I agree that the use of the family estate in Skyfall is fantastic, his obituary indicates that he didn't spend much time in Scotland, if any--Bond's early education was "entirely abroad.") Once his parents die when he's eleven, he moves in with his aunt in Kent and then onto Eton.

I feel as though Craig's Bond is might be the only incarnation to address how his heritage has built his character; particularly considering Vesper's comments in Casino Royale about the chip on his shoulder formed during his school days (being singled out as not-English would likely help with that). Other not-Connery Bonds don't really encourage the exploration at all. What might be even more interesting, though, would be to address his mother's background and what kind of influence she had on his development. Or even finding out what countries he studied in as a boy....
12. treeandleaf
@EmilyAP - no worries. And you make some good points about his background.

Apologies for the double post. I have no idea why my browser regurgitated an old comment, rather than posting the one I'd just typed out (which was to the effect that if Indy is like any earlier cinematic icon, he's much more of a Rick-from-Casablanca than a Bond. Jaded cynic who's really a bruised romantic, not above dodgy deals, but always does the right thing when it really comes down to it....
13. treeandleaf
Said double post now seems to have vanished. I shall retire in confusion...
Leah Schnelbach
14. Cloudyvision
@treeandleaf - The Indy=Rick-from-Casablanca idea always makes me mentally jump up and down in glee. Ah, bruised romanticism...
Emily Asher-Perrin
15. EmilyAP
@treeandleaf and Cloudyvision - Wow... Can someone draw some fan art for that? Because I can imagine every Casablanca-Rick line in Ford-cadence far too easily.
16. mirana
Yikes, I never knew there was any comparison to be drawn between Bond and Indy. I will love Indy forever, and utterly despise Bond, so...
17. BDG91
Two white men who go around in other people's countries stealing shit and killing those who get in there way, am I missing anything here? (I only half-kid). I've always had a problem with both characters and the brand of imperialism they represent, and frontiserism is imperialism (just go ask all those dead and displaced Native Americans) so I have to shut my brain off when watching the movies. They're entertaining but both pretty repulsive.
18. Alright Then

Benjamin Sisko would disagree.
19. Harry Connolly
Indy was no prince to her—in fact, we know that she fell in love with
him at a very young age and that he did not break up with her in a
suitably mature fashion.

Actually, Marion was 14 when Indy started their affair, and he was ten years older. Spielberg and Lucas, being youngish nerds at the time, didn't see anything problemmatic in that.
20. a1ay
Two white men who go around in other people's countries stealing shit and killing those who get in there way, am I missing anything here?

You're missing the obligatory uses of the words "orientalist", "hegemony" and "Other".

Plus I don't think that Bond ever actually stole anything particularly significant. Except the Russian SPEKTOR cipher machine in "From Russia With Love", and that was stolen from other white men, so presumably doesn't count.
Most of Bond's chief adversaries, in fact, are dead white European males! (at least, they're dead by the time he's through with them) Emilio Largo, Blofeld, Goldfinger, Red Grant, Le Chiffre, Hugo Drax, Scaramanga... there's a token black dude (Mr Big) and a token Asian (Dr No) but other than that Bond is fighting against the white man and on the side of oppressed minorities everywhere. Just look at his sidekicks and allies: Quarrel, Darko Kerim, Tiger Tanaka, Pussy Galore... a regular Benetton advertisement.
21. nor
One thing that slightly confused me about Skyfall is that, although he is Scottish (and a large plot point revolves around him retreating to Scotland), but when they do the word association game as part of his psych test, he replies to "country" with "england" (if I recall correctly).
James Nicoll
22. JamesDavisNicoll
How do the two compare in the 'actions often completely irrelevent to outcome' test? Because Jones often could stay home and things would work out much the same.

For example: Raiders: Jones stays home. Nazis get medallian from Marian - probably bad for Marion unless it occurs to the Nazis to offer her money - and having both sides find the ark. They then carry out the field test we saw in the movie with the exact same results.
23. Dr. Cox
Interesting article! I never did see "Indy as klutz"--I just always saw those incidents as extra things to make the movie different, more interesting from the usual run of action flicks.
Alan Brown
24. AlanBrown
Professor Jones always had the feel of an everyman thrown into dangerous situations, where Bond is anything but an everyman. Indy would sweat and fret, while Bond always kept his cool.
And when I was young, my dad said that after one adventure like portrayed on the screen, they would have kept Bond at his desk explaining himself for the rest of his career. Now that I am older, I understand that completely.
Alan Brown
25. AlanBrown
Professor Jones always had the feel of an everyman thrown into dangerous situations, where Bond is anything but an everyman. Indy would sweat and fret, while Bond always kept his cool.
And when I was young, my dad said that after one adventure like portrayed on the screen, they would have kept Bond at his desk explaining himself for the rest of his career. Now that I am older, I understand that completely.
Anthony Pero
26. anthonypero

Harrison Ford as "everyman" is every bit as much wish-fulfillment as James Bond. Every man is most definitely NOT Harrison Ford.
Alan Brown
27. AlanBrown
Ha ha, Anthony, I know what you mean. That is why I said he had the 'feel' of an everyman. He might mug and sweat and grimace when he did what he did, in a way that helped you identify with him, but he was hardly just your ordinary guy off the street!
28. Eugene R.
@EmilyAP - "Do you have any idea how flipping heavy gold is, Indy? Do you?"

Yes, he does. In fact, he OVER-estimated the weight of the idol, since the sand bag causes the pedestal to depress into the stone column, indicating that it was heavier than the idol. Indy accepts your apology. :)
Chris Nelly
29. Aeryl
@28, I don't think that's any indicator that it's overweight. Do you really think if it was underweight, it would have risen?
30. Eugene R.
@29 Aeryl - Well, if the bag were lighter than the idol, why did it cause the pedestal to depress? I assume that the trigger was a balance mechanism, as Indy was careful to make the swap as swiftly as possible, before the absence of weight could register. How would a balance work so as to move downward with a lighter weight?
Chris Nelly
31. Aeryl
I'm just of the opinion that ALL weight inconsistencies made the thing go down, but YMMV. It's never established one way or the other. Logic agrees with you, but this is LUCAS!! Logic's got nothin' to do with it!
32. Eugene R.
@31 Aeryl - Yes, you do penetrate to the heart of the matter - this is Lucas and Spielberg, so logic is much less important than feeling. I surrender to the emotion!
Steven Lyle Jordan
33. Steven_Lyle_Jordan
@30: How could blocking a shaft of light instantly cause deadly spikes to spring out of the wall? Movies, man!
Chris Nelly
34. Aeryl
@21, nor. IMO, Bond was messing with that psychologist. That's why when he's asked country he says "England" rather than Scotland, and then gets upset when the guy asks about Skyfall.

It's hard to make that connection at that point in the movie, because we don't yet know what Skyfall is.
35. Parzival
@30: "How could blocking a shaft of light..."

There are naturally occuring photosensitive substances that one might use in a trigger mechanism, especially if all you need is a fraction of an inch of change to spring it. Though how such things survive and function perfectly after several centuries of exposure to a rainforest climate is another question altogether. ;-)
Brent Webster
36. DirtiusMaximus
I agree, Indy is a far more interesting character than Bond.

Regarding the Tom Selleck thing, here's what happened: As Emily pointed out, Lucas didn't want to be that filmmaker who always works with that one actor. There are plenty of examples of this in Hollywood. Harrison was also almost not Han Solo for this same reason. He had already been in Lucas's American Graffiti. Fortunately for all of us, Harrison Ford is just THAT good, but I get ahead of myself.

So, despite the fact that both Spielberg and Lucas know that Harrison would knock the part of Indiana Jones out of the park, George says no, so off they go to find another actor and they settle on Tom Selleck. They bring him in for some screen tests and he's okay. He's no Harrison Ford, mind you. The problem was that he was under contract with Magnum P.I. and there was a conflict in the shooting schedules.

Other actors were considered, including Jack Nicholson, Nick Nolte, Steve Martin, and Bill Murray. After all of the other choices did not work out, Lucas relented and told Spielberg to go ahead with Harrison Ford...less than three weeks before filming began.

The irony is that Magnum P.I. that year did not begin production until after Raiders wrapped.
Chris Nelly
37. Aeryl
@36, That's all very interesting. Still wanted Indy 4 to be "Indy and his brother Ken* fight Nazis)

*C'mon YOU KNOW there was a cat named Kentucky
Alan Brown
38. AlanBrown
How about Indy's long lost cousin Rhody? A little tiny guy...
39. RobinM
I've never compared James Bond and Indiana Jones before except you know because of Connery. They are completely different men in goals and temperment. Indy marrying Marion at the end of Crystal Skull is the only part I liked about that movie. Please tell me that Marion was 14 when they orginally met not when they started going out with each other. I've never heard the 14 year old thing for Marion before.
40. Adam david hooley and
42. MacWard
James Bond is Scottish, Indiana Jones is Scottish-American. Don't be hating.
44. Lequita Schwegler
Marion says in the movie that she was 16. I am pretty sure. And, they would have known each other while he was an undergrad, if I remember correctly. Certainly before the dig where it (their relationship) seems to have blown up.

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