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The Hero’s Journey Breakdown: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

By Ken Miyamoto · July 10, 2020

How does Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey breakdown?

The following is a continuation of our series about The Hero’s Journey, inspired by Ken Miyamoto’s series from our our partners at ScreenCraft: The 12 Stages of the Screenwriter’s Journey.

Christopher Vogler’s approach to Campbell’s structure broke the mythical story structure into twelve stages. For this series, we define the stages in simplified interpretations:

  1. The Ordinary World: We see the hero’s normal life at the start of the story before the adventure begins.
  2. Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with an event, conflict, problem, or challenge that makes them begin their adventure.
  3. Refusal of the Call: The hero initially refuses the adventure because of hesitation, fears, insecurity, or any other number of issues.
  4. Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters a mentor that can give them advice, wisdom, information, or items that ready them for the journey ahead.
  5. Crossing the Threshold: The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero learns the rules of the new world and endures tests, meets friends, and comes face-to-face with enemies.
  7. The Approach: The initial plan to take on the central conflict begins, but setbacks occur that cause the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
  8. The Ordeal: Things go wrong and added conflict is introduced. The hero experiences more difficult hurdles and obstacles, some of which may lead to a life crisis.
  9. The Reward: After surviving The Ordeal, the hero seizes the sword — a reward that they’ve earned that allows them to take on the biggest conflict. It may be a physical item or piece of knowledge or wisdom that will help them persevere.
  10. The Road Back: The hero sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but they are about to face even more tests and challenges.
  11. The Resurrection: The climax. The hero faces a final test, using everything they have learned to take on the conflict once and for all.
  12. The Return: The hero brings their knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world.

Here we turn to the classic Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Note: As with any application of story structure or formula, this is just a hindsight interpretation and implementation of The Hero’s Journey to this cinematic tale. There can and will be variances. 

The Ordinary World

As is the case with all Indiana Jones movies, Indy’s Ordinary World is present within the midst of an adventure. In this third film within the Indiana Jones series, we actually get three versions of his Ordinary World, two of them opening midway through adventures.

We’re first introduced to a young Indiana Jones scouting caves during a Boy Scout retreat in Utah.

Young Indy comes across a group of treasure hunters who have found a golden crucifix belonging to Coronado. Young Indy steals it from them, declaring that the artifact belongs in a museum.

The treasure hunters chase Young Indy through a passing circus train — an adventure that introduces us to the origin story of some of Indy’s trademarks.

Young Indy escapes. We briefly meet Indy’s father and witness the dynamics of their relationship.

But the local sheriff makes him return the cross to the treasure hunters. They sell it to a mysterious benefactor wearing a Panama Hat.

The leader of the treasure hunters is impressed with Indy’s bravery and gives Indy his trademark fedora.

We flash forward to 1938, as a grownup Indy battles “Panama Hat” and his henchmen on a ship for the possession of the cross from Indy’s youth. Indy escapes overboard just before the ship explodes. He recovers the cross and later presents it to Marcus Brody, finally bringing the cross to where it should be — in a museum.

We are now back at Indy’s other Ordinary World, the University of Chicago, where he’s still a Professor of Archeology.

Call to Adventure

After escaping the clutches of his students, Indy is approached by a car full of men. He is later introduced to Walter Donovan as they discuss the legend of the Holy Grail and the final crusade that allegedly found it.

Donovan is enthralled with the notion of the eternal youth that the Holy Grail holds for anyone who finds it. And actions are already underway to find it. But their mission has hit a snag. Donovan’s project leader has vanished, along with all of his research.

Donovan offers Indy the opportunity to pick up where the previous project leader left off.

Refusal of the Call

Indy smirks at the offer, telling Donovan that he has the wrong Jones. His father is the Holy Grail expert.

Donovan informs Indy that Indy’s father is the project leader who has disappeared.

Meeting the Mentor

Throughout the first two Indiana Jones movies, Indy’s major mentor is his knowledge of archeology. However, he’s finally given a mentor in this third installment — his father.

We first meet Henry Jones, Sr. in the opening Young Indy sequence — albeit somewhat off-camera. Indy is then reunited with him later on. But Henry’s mentorship is present through the diary that he sent to his son via mail.

Crossing the Threshold

Indy and Marcus cross the threshold when they travel to Venice to meet with Henry’s colleague Elsa. Indy has left the campus behind and is on the hunt for his father.

Test, Allies, and Enemies

Indy, Marcus, and Elsa go to the library where Henry was last seen. Indy figures out a key clue that leads to a hidden entrance beneath the library to the catacombs that house the tomb of a First Crusade knight.

Indy and Elsa venture within the catacombs and discover a complete version of the inscription that Henry had used, revealing the location of the Grail.

They have passed a test that Henry most likely would have been able to — reaching the tomb through an endless collection of rats, Henry’s greatest fear.

Little do they know that the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword — a secret society that protects the Grail from evildoers — has knocked Marcus out and set the petroleum-saturated waters of the catacombs aflame.

Indy and Elsa survive, only to be chased by the Brotherhood through Venice, leading to a boat chase that ends with the capture one of the Brotherhood, Kazim, who tells Indy where Henry is being held after Indy explains that his only goal is to find Henry, not the Grail.

The Approach

Indy and Elsa head to a castle in Austria where Henry is being held prisoner. Indy impersonates a Scottish Lord when he knocks on the door, but the butler isn’t falling for it, forcing Indy to knock him out.

They explore the castle and discover that it is overrun by Nazis. Indy locates the room where he believes Henry is being held. The door is wired with an alarm, forcing Indy to enter from the outside.

He crashes through the window and is then attacked by his own father. Henry was acting in self-defense. The father and son immediately go back to their bickering ways when Nazis arrive. Indy manages to kill them in a rage when his father calls him Junior one time too many. They escape into the hallway.

The Ordeal

As they go out to find Elsa, they enter a room to see with a gun to her head. A Nazi Commander holds her hostage, demanding that Indy drop his weapon. However, Henry insists that she’s a Nazi. Indy doesn’t believe her until he gives up his weapon to save her, only to watch Elsa reveal that she is indeed working for the Nazis. She retrieves the diary from Indy’s pocket.

Donovan is revealed as a Nazi collaborator as well.

Meanwhile, Marcus is off to rendezvous will Indy’s trusted Ally Sallah, holding important torn pages and maps from the diary. He is sadly captured by the Nazis.

Back in Austria, Indy and Henry are tied to a chair together. During their escape attempt, they set the place on fire and are confronted by a wealth of Nazi soldiers.

They escape the confines of the castle after a pulse-racing motorcycle chase.

The Reward

Indy and Henry go to Berlin to find the diary. Indy confronts Elsa during a Nazi book burning parade. She offers sympathy towards him and informs him that she’s not a Nazi. She just wants to find the Holy Grail. He doesn’t believe her but spares her life.

The Road Back

Indy and Henry board a Zeppelin that is headed out of Germany, but the Nazis discover the Joneses are aboard.

They escape in a biplane and later crash after a dogfight with German fighters.

They travel to Hatay to meet with Sallah, only to learn that Marcus has been taken.

The Nazis have been equipped by the Sultan of Hatay and are moving toward the Grail’s location, which was discovered within the diary map that Marcus had. I

Indy, Henry, and Sallah find the Nazi expedition as it is ambushed by the Brotherhood. Henry is captured by the Nazi Commander while attempting to rescue Marcus from a tank.

Kazim and his fellow members of the Brotherhood are killed during the battle. Indy heads off on horseback to pursue the tank. He and Sallah work together to save Henry and Marcus and get them off of the speeding tank.

As Indy fights with the Nazi Commander on top of the tank, he barely escapes before the tank goes over a cliff, sending the Nazi Commander to his death.

The Resurrection

Thought to be dead by Sallah, Marcus, and Henry, Indy arrives from behind as they stare down the cliff at the wreckage of the tank. Henry hugs his son with emotion when he sees that he’s alive.

Indy, Henry, Marcus, and Sallah travel to the temple where the Holy Grail is being held. They find the surviving Nazis, Donovan, Elsa, and some unlucky soldiers that are unable to get past the three protective traps.

The Nazis discover them in the shadows.

Donovan shoots Henry, mortally wounding him in order to force Indy to risk his life against the booby traps. If he finds the Holy Grail he can use its healing power to save his Henry.

Indy safely overcomes the booby traps and reaches the Holy Grail’s chamber.

It’s guarded by an ancient Crusade knight, kept alive for 700 years by the power of the Holy Grail.

But the adventure is not over yet. The true Holy Grail is hidden among dozens of false grails. The knight informs them that the true Grail grants eternal life, while a false one will kill the drinker.

Elsa chooses a golden chalice studded with emeralds for Donovan.  He quickly dips it into the water and takes a drink. After a brief moment of pause, he withers in pain as his body ages into dust. It was a false grail.

Indy selects a simple ceramic cup and is informed by the knight that he has chosen wisely. The knight warns Indy that the Holy Grail cannot be taken beyond the temple’s entrance seal.

Indy heals Henry with the Holy Grail and Sallah wards off the remaining Nazis when he captures a weapon.

Elsa ignores the knight’s warning and tries to take escape with the Holy Grail, pleading with Indy to join her. Indy warns her, but it’s too late. She has crossed the seal. The temple begins to collapse around them.

When the Holy Grail falls into a chasm, Elsa struggles to grasp it and Indy tries his best to save her. He can’t. She plummets to her death trying to recover it.

Indy nearly suffers the same fate before Henry urges him to leave it behind. He does.

The Return

Indy, Henry, Marcus, and Sallah escape the temple and ride off into the sunset.

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