He chose ... poorly

indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-billboard-holy-grail

This would qualify as: Overthinking it.

We spent the last couple of days as a family watching the Indiana Jones movies. Well, the girls saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark" a year or two ago, and they kept asking to see "Temple of Doom" and "The Last Crusade," and I kept putting them off. A friend had told me that she let his young daughter watch Temple of Doom when she was 8 or 9 and she kept having nightmares afterward.

In retrospect I can see why: Temple of Doom wasn't nearly as fun as I remembered it being when I was a kid. It's dark (literally dark; so much of it is in the Temple) and there are a lot of disturbing images in there and it's not nearly as funny as the other two*.

*I am of the belief that there have been three Star Wars movies made, two Godfathers and three Indiana Jones movies. I am developing a concept called "Piximovies" -- it is a blend of my movie expectation scale, where you rank movies based on what you expected, with Pixifoods*, which are foods that tasted good as a child but are disgusting as adults. Piximovies are movies you loved as a kid but the movies have either (1) aged terribly or (2) weren't every really that good in the first place. "Indiana Jones and the Tample of Doom" is my first entry into the Piximovies genre.

*I am putting together an authoritative list of Pixifoods -- please feel free to enter yours in the comments, and Piximovies too if you like -- and I just added Smucker's Goober Brand peanut butter and jelly in a jar to the list. That seemed like SUCH a good idea when I was a kid. For one thing, it seemed a technological breakthrough being able to put both peanut butter and jelly together in one jar. Second, it was a brilliant way to make a sandwich using just one knife (something Michael Schur does anyway). However, I had a Goober sandwich the other day ... let's just say for now that there are, um, problems.

But the point here is not Piximovies or Pixifoods or even the Temple of Doom at all but to ask a simple plot point question from the third movie "The Last Crusade," which DOES age well and is still as fun and awesome as ever. The question -- and if you somehow have not seen Crusade there are about a million spoilers in here -- is this:

Does Elsa purposely choose the wrong Holy Grail for Walter Donovan at the end?

Quick catch-up since you might not have seen the movie last night like we did: Elsa is the best character in Crusade (though Sean Connery as Indy's father is pretty fantastic too). You never quite pin her down. At first, she's a smart and thoroughly not squeamish (man was that Kate Capshaw character in Doom annoying) professor interested in finding the Holy Grail. Then she's Indiana Jones' love interest. Then she's a Nazi who turned out also to be Indiana Jones' father's love interest. Then she's a sensitive academic who cries when she sees books being burned. She lets Indiana Jones go when he comes back to Berlin for his father's diary. Then she's back with the Nazis, watching people get killed with significantly less emotion than she showed over the books. It's clear that her guiding motivation is finding the Grail, and we are left to consider why.

So, we get to the climactic scene -- Indiana Jones works his way through the three tests (which are, I must say, inspired) and he walks in on the knight who protects the grail. This Knight is not nearly as funny as the French knight in Monty Python, but he's still pretty good. He sees in Indiana Jones a modern knight come to defend the grail. He is trying to end this misunderstanding when Elsa and Donovan walk in -- Donovan is the movie bad guy and his motivations are not cloudy like Elsa's. He's an American who aligned himself with the Nazis for this. He wants everlasting life and all the power that goes with it. He wants the grail.

There are many chalices in the temple, though, and the Knight tells him, and I quote, "You must choose ... but choose wisely. For as the true grail will bring you life, the false grail will bring Spielberg's special effects people to create a gruesome death, not unlike the deaths in the other Indiana Jones movies. Remember when their faces melted after they opened the Ark? It will be like that only perhaps worse. Yeah, choose wisely."

DONOVAN: "I'm not a historian. I have no idea what it looks like. Which one is it?" ELSA: "Let me choose." DONOVAN: "Thank you, Doctor."

Elsa takes about two seconds to choose one, the most beautiful of the golden chalices, and she smiles and hands it to him. She looks over at Indy who looks stricken. Then Donovan drinks from the cup, he begins to realize something is wrong, he grabs Elsa and forces her to watch his horrible Spielberg death. The Knight utters the best line in all three Indiana Jones movies: "He chose ... poorly."

So ... did Elsa purposely give him the wrong cup? I asked this question on Twitter, and I would say 90% of people say yes, of course she did. She wanted the grail for herself. She had become disenchanted with the Nazi philosophy. She had feelings for Indiana Jones and for his father (who was dying in the other room waiting for the cup to be retrieved). After all she gave Indiana Jones what could be described as a knowing look. And then perhaps most importantly there are these words -- as pulled from Jeffrey Boam's official script -- as Indy started looking through the chalices to find the right one.

ELSA: "It would not be made of gold." INDIANA JONES: "That's the cup of a carpenter."

And he picks up the plainest of the chalices, which of course turns out to be the Holy Grail.

Seems open and shut, right? She said right there: "It would not be made of gold," and she had given Donovan a golden one. In the script, there is even a line about Elsa and Indy exchanging looks after he chooses the cup, as if they both just knew it was the right one. Like I say: Seems open and shut.

Except for ... a couple of things. One, I don't think we have any real way of knowing what Elsa really wanted. Bill James talks about the eye trap -- he has read countless True Crime books (and, of course, he wrote one himself), and he says that in most of them there is some ridiculous reference to the killer's eyes. You can see it in their eyes. Their eyes gave them away. The eyes are the windows to the soul. Except he thinks that's baloney on the same level as "Pitching is 90% of baseball." He doesn't believe that you can really see things in people'e eyes, especially people who have proven to be skilled liars and manipulators and killers, which is obviously the case with Elsa.

So I'm throwing out the "She gave him a knowing look" bit as unconvincing evidence. It may have been a knowing look, but I don't know what she was knowing.

Then there is the "made of gold" exchange with Indy after Donovan died. The script is unequivocal about the punctuation, and so I cannot argue with that. BUT that's not the way I saw and heard the scene at all. I rewinded and played it a half dozen times, and this is the way I saw it. Donovan dies. Indiana Jones begins looking for the real grail. But he walks past all the gold chalices.

ELSA: "It would not be made of gold?" INDIANA JONES: "That's the cup of a carpenter."

Yes, the question mark ... I hear that question mark very distinctly in Elsa's voice. And, of course, that question mark changes the whole meaning.

"It would not be made of gold," no question mark, suggests she knew all along.

"It would not be made of gold?" with a question mark suggests she was SURE it had to be gold.

I hear that question mark. It sounded to me like she had no idea what the Holy Grail looked like, which sort of fits the theme of the rest of the movie because best I can tell Elsa really didn't offer much practical help in finding the Grail at any point in the movie. She was wicked smart ... but not necessarily when it comes to archaeology.

Here's my theory: Elsa did not have any idea which one was the Holy Grail, so she quickly picked out the most extravagant cup and expressed confidence that she did not really have. I don't think she cared whether Donovan lived or died so it was a win-win bet (which is why I think she chose so quickly), but my guess is that she did not PURPOSELY choose the wrong one. I think she took a stab at that being the right cup and when it proved to not be right, eh, big deal, guy dies, she quickly switched allegiances to Indy, whom she liked more anyway. Anyway, that's my theory.

And it leads to one final question: When the knight said, "He chose poorly," was he referring to Donovan's choice of cup (which, after all, he did not make) or Donovan's choice of Elsa?