By In Joe Vault, Movies

He chose … poorly


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?

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122 Responses to He chose … poorly

  1. dabynsky says:

    My recollection of that scene was very much a question with “it would not be made of gold line” as well.

    • Ian S says:

      No doubt that there was a question mark in the way she said it. But after reading the article I now think that the script had the intention to make her deliberately give him the wrong cup, but the actress stated the line wrong, and they decided to keep that reading.

      (Maybe there can be a list of movies that have lines read incorrectly. In the first Matrix, when Neo is speaking to Sypher alone about the encryted matrix screens, Sypher states a line and gives enphasis on ‘for’ instead of on ‘work’ saying, “The image translators work FOR the construct program. But there’s way too much information to decode the Matrix.” What I’m sure was meant was, ” The image translators WORK, for the construct program. But there’s way too much information to decode the Matrix,” indicating to me that the actor didn’t quite understand the line.)

  2. Larry Rosenthal says:

    It’s been decades since I last saw this film, but I clearly remember interpreting this scene as you have, and it was clear to me the knight was referring to Elsa.

  3. Edwin says:

    Man, this is so awesome at so many levels that I don’t even know how to thank you for writing this. Amazing!

  4. visigoths says:

    Joe: when you are done with baseball (and I hope you never are), I hope you become a movie critic.

  5. mmaattw says:

    I liked Temple of Doom much more than you. The opening Lao Che sequence and the rail car escape at the end never get old. There are some dull moments in the middle for sure, though.

  6. PixiTVShow:

    Dukes of Hazzard. Damn, I can’t believe I loved this show as a kid. I watched an old episode a year or two ago and was horrified at how bad the show was.

    The A-Team. Not as bad as Dukes, but still pretty bad. They have an amazing supply of ammo every episode but never seem to buy any or run out. The bad guys are about as accurate as Storm Troopers. No cell phones or internet in the 80’s, but random people can find the A-Team yet the military has no idea where they are.


    Marshmallow peeps. Nasty!


    Home Alone. I mean, c’mon. Like a family is going to fly to France w/o their kid. At some point, you have an extra plane ticket in your hand since he’s still home. Biggest pet peeve of the movie is at beginning when they order 20 pizza pies but only 1 is plain. Yea, because kids aren’t picky at all.

    • likedoohan says:

      What is even more amazing in the A Teams is that despite all the shooting and exploding and car roll-overs, no one ever got killed, or even seriously hurt. They always added a shot of the bad guys emerging from a vehicle which just rolled three times, with dazed expressions, but no harm done.

    • Mac Denny says:

      The amazing, in-depth “20 Awesome Things About Home Alone That Will Blow Your Freakin’ Mind” lists on the likes of Buzzfeed show that someone threw away a ticket with Kevin’s name on it in the act of cleaning up the mess Kevin made from rushing Buzz.

    • Big Birdie says:

      You should watch the movie again. The plane ticket you mention is taken care of in a “blink and you miss it” scene. I was actually more impressed with the movie now as an adult. My kids think it is every bit as awesome as any nine-year-olds should.

    • Robert says:

      PixiMovies: Battlestar Galactica and Eddie & The Cruisers (although I still love the soundtrack to the latter).

      • JB is in town says:

        Eddie and The Cruisers! When I first saw that movie many years ago I thought it was great. Saw it again recently and was amazed at just how bad it really was. To the point it should hve been sponsored by Velveeta!

  7. Doug says:

    Elsa absolutely chose the wrong cup on purpose. That’s absolutely what happened. Bill James is right that you can’t discern the truth about someone by looking into their eyes. But Indiana Jones is a pulp action movie, not real life. And in pulpy movies, you absolutely CAN tell something about someone’s soul by looking into their eyes. So I am comfortable counting the significant look they share as evidence here.

    Also, I still really enjoy Temple of Doom. It’s definitely the worst of the three movies, but I definitely can still watch it multiple times. Yes, it has Willie, who is terrible, and some really questionable racial stereotyping. But it also has a fantastic opening sequence, and some really good action, and Short Round. It balances out a bit.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      Marvelous point about the eyes, Doug. Of course you’re right.

    • I was about to say that. If this were a documentary, that look could mean anything. But since this is a movie, written by writers, directed by a director, acted by actors, I have to think that eye movement was intended to mean she knew. She also give Indy a little smile at the same time. And frankly, I would have done the same thing. Once he had the grail, Donovan would certainly have let Henry die, probably killed Indy and Elsa and kept the grail for himself.

    • Carl Berndash Omniart says:

      Yes. I love Bill James’s point about eyes not, in fact, being the windows to the soul, but that does not apply to the language of cinema, in which glances do have meaning.

      I also want to push back slightly against the dislike for Temple of Doom. Yes, it’s a bad movie, but it has some amazing sequences in it. No, amazing’s not the word I’m looking for. Well-crafted. Some of the sequences are exceedingly well-crafted. The opening in the restaurant; the plane crash; the dinner with eyeball soup; the bugs; Indy’s fight with the strong man; the mine car chase; the fight on the bridge. I usually hate it when people invoke particular actions sequences or special effects to defend a bad movie, but the best sequences in Temple of Doom are top-drawer.

      • Carl Berndash Omniart says:

        One other point: Temple of Doom is much more ambitious than Last Crusade. Temple of Doom fails, but it strikes out for new ground and at least is an interesting failure. Last Crusade plays things safe and mostly retreads ground covered by Raiders. It camps things up and turns inward by giving us origin stories for everything (Indy’s whip, Indy’s hat, Indy’s name).

        • Zac Schmitt says:

          I gotta agree with you on every point, and it’s actually funny re: Temple and Last Crusade; I’m completely backwards of Joe on this point. When I was a kid I didn’t really “get” Temple of Doom and thought it was sorta weird. Meanwhile, I loved “Last Crusade” because it was basically more “Raiders,” which I obviously loved. But now I appreciate “Temple” for what it tries to do a lot more and like “Last Crusade” a little less because it comes across as a little stale.

    • forsch31 says:

      The other part is…Joe talks about giving Indy a “knowing look”, but that wasn’t the only look she gave. When Donovan first chokes after drinking from the goblet, the camera snap pans to Elisa, who is now intensely watching Donovan with a clear, small smirk. And she’s not in the least surprised nor distressed that he’s drinking from the wrong goblet.

      Forget eyes…that’s acting and visual storytelling. No eyes into the soul required.

  8. Bill Caffrey says:

    I’ve seen this movie at least 20 times, though none recently. I don’t believe there’s a question mark in her voice. I think it’s unambiguous that she intentionally chose the wrong cup for Donovan and that this really isn’t even up for discussion. Having said that, I am now going to pull out my DVD and watch the scene. I’ll update you on my findings.

  9. Ryan Moran says:

    I think there’s another possibility where she knew she didn’t know which cup it was and intentionally picked one at random playing the odds and hoping it wasn’t the real one so Donovan would die. She was confident Indy knew which was which and needed Donovan dead in order for him to show her

  10. jscape2000 says:

    My wife had never seen Neverending Story, so we HAD to watch it. While still good, wasn’t the incredible experience I remembered.

    Mary Poppins is just so incredibly long that I lose interest, though it was my Favorite as a child. Each scene is still magic, but there’s no arc that makes me say, yes a third hour! when a scene ends.

  11. mmaattw says:

    Aren’t we giving Elsa too much credit here? Maybe she impulsively chose a chalice and gave it to Donavan and that is all.

  12. Kenny R says:

    Uh, why would she volunteer to choose the cup if not to set him up? Situation A). If she intentionally picked the wrong cup: set up. Situation B). If she volunteered to choose without really having any idea which one was the true Grail: set up. So, you can go around in circles on this, or you can just understand that the bitch set him up like he was Marion Barry and move on…

  13. […] This fun little Joe Posnanski bit about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is both an excellent close read of Elsa the Nazi’s motivations and a bite-size lesson about epistemology. [Joe Blogs] […]

  14. Dale says:

    I’ve seen that movie several times, and it had never occurred to me that she chose the wrong chalice purposely. But many people here are making very persuasive arguments of her intentions. Will have to watch it again soon.

  15. jayjayhawker says:

    Full House. Loved it as a child, but when I come home and find my wife and son watching it I feel like I failed as a father and husband.

  16. …excellent stuff yet again, joe. very nice. i seem to remember (it’s been awhile) the question mark and inferring that the knight was speaking about donovan’s choice of female to trust…

  17. Tim says:

    Here’s my main question. Indy’s dad drank from the grail. So does he have everlasting life and great power now?

    • Tim says:

      Or wait, did bringing it past the seal cancel out any everlasting life that may have been conferred? It’s been a while.

      • Ed says:

        I’ve had this argument with people before — I think the movie makes it clear that the cup only has power behind the seal. The knight specifically says something like the seal is the price and limit of immortality.

        Also, the other Grail knight that finally leaves the place dies of old age, so he obviously didn’t live forever once he went past the seal.

    • itsrdc says:

      I think you have to keep drinking from it on a regular basis in order for immortality to last

  18. […] This fun little Joe Posnanski bit about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is both an excellent close read of Elsa the Nazi’s motivations and a bite-size lesson about epistemology. [Joe Blogs] […]

  19. Ben says:

    It’s definitely a question – Elsa is, above all else, greedy. She didn’t purposefully sabotage the Nazis, the look on her face is one of mesmerized greed (I know you aren’t big on the eye test, Joe but still) – and we KNOW this because of how she dies…

  20. Steve says:

    Even if it’s a question mark, though, that doesn’t mean Elsa doesn’t know. She could simply be asking Indy for confirmation of her hunch – e.g., “It would not be made of gold, right?”

  21. Herbie the Love Bug was the best–and third best–movie of all time until I turned ten or so. I assigned personalities to all of my hot wheels growing up, so I can only assume that a vaguely anthropomorphic car fascinated me. I even tried to see if I could sabotage my father’s Toro lawn mower by filling the gas tank with whipped cream. My father seemed somewhat less excited then me when it turned out to be true.

    For Pixifoods, I used to devour Oscar Mayer bologna as a kid, particularly in ketchup, cheese, and bologna sandwiches. Blech.

    • Gsegse says:

      I just introduced my six-year-old to “The Love Bug”. It holds up. It’s a silly kid’s movie, but it isn’t aggressively stupid.

  22. TS says:

    Stripes- Thought the movie was hilarious originally. Watched it the other day. Quite possibly the stupidest movie ever. What happened?

  23. Uncle Willy says:

    Pixifood: Cadbury Cream Eggs. Worst part is, I get my hopes up every spring, and am always disappointed.

    On another note, the 4th Indiana Jones movie wasn’t so bad. Certainly better than Temple of Doom.

  24. Matt Bugaj says:

    Cinematically, I’m in agreement that the new Star Wars Trilogy and the third Godfather are not great or worth their titles. But in their political assessments of the world today, they fall in with Orwell and Huxley in their dystopian natures. Michael Corleone was trying to take his business straight but found the higher he went, the more crooked it became. Forget the lousy drama. Likewise, the political maneuvering that Palpatine used to gain power was remarkable. In 21st Century American politics, if you want something done, you create a Phantom Menace and fight against it, rallying regular folks behind you. The Storm Troopers were purported to be created to defeat the trade federation’s droid army, not to consolidate Palpatine’s power. Heck, he used Jar Jar Binks, the idiot of the people, to get himself declared Emperor. Try on those theories for size.

  25. Chris says:

    I have always felt she was up to something. However, I have always struggled with Donovan. How could a wealthy, seemingly intelligent, successful businessman suddenly be so stupid as to forget that Jesus was a “common man” during his time on earth…NOT a king (“my kingdom is not of this world”)? The line Donovan utters about the cup of a king seems almost impossible (though it moves they story and sets up Indy’s juxtaposed line about the cup of a carpenter really beautifully).
    Anyway, have always found that bit to catch in my throat, as it were.

  26. Ed says:

    I think I’ve seen Last Crusade at least 10 times and never once did I hear a question mark in Elsa’s voice OR even consider the possibility that she didn’t intentionally pick the wrong cup for Donovan. I just don’t see that in the movie at all.

  27. Jeremy says:

    Just re-watched it and I think she knew – or at least if it isn’t supposed to be clear that she knew, then it’s supposed to be ambiguous. It’s all in one shot, to me – the shot where she hands Donovan the cup.
    First the exaggerated sweet smile she gives Donovan while handing him the cup plays very much like her trying her best to be convincing, as if she knows she’s lying and doesn’t want him to suspect it – that felt clear even on the first time through.
    But I think the bigger clue is later in that same shot. As soon as Donovan turns away from her with the cup, she (in the background of the shot) immediately turns to Indy, her face drops, and not only does she give him the supposed knowing look but also clearly shakes her head at him, presumably letting him know it isn’t the grail. Then of course it cuts to her and we see a second take of her turning to Indy, with her face dropping, only no head-shake (or perhaps just a hint of one before it cuts again?).
    On seeing that my feeling is that at the very least, the actress was in line with the script and saw it as Elsa knowing and telling Indy, even if Spielberg then decided to cut around it (at least as best he could) and go with ambiguity.
    I think that’s also in line with ‘it would not be made out of gold’, which I also watched a few times and think is ambiguous as to whether it’s a question or not. My instinct is that it isn’t, but I can’t be sure, and that could be on purpose.

  28. Bill James is, as usual, right. However, movies are not real life. Actors are making exaggerated gestures and line readings that are intended for us to be able to follow them, which is very different from claiming to be able to see the evil in a killer’s eyes. There is still a level of truth to the fact that the situation, music, etc. very much informs the audience–there was a famous experimental work where a director interspersed a man staring blankly into the distance with various emotional scenes and audiences project the emotions of those scenes onto the man even though it’s the same stare the entire time–but let’s not pretend that a “knowing look” couldn’t be real in a movie but fake in real life.

    And Alison Doody’s line readings are horrible throughout the entire film. I don’t think you can tell anything from her sentence sounding like a question (which I don’t think it even does).

    My parents didn’t let me watch “Temple of Doom” until years after I had seen the other Indiana Jones movies and then when I did see it I wished they hadn’t let me, because it’s just so bad. The other two both fit into your “pixifilm” category as far as I’m concerned.

  29. Lars says:

    Looking in to someone’s eyes to see their soul is not the same thing as giving someone a knowing look.

  30. Dark Side of the Mood says:

    My wife and I saw The Last Crusade when we were dating and 25 years later we use “You must choose, but choose wisely” at least once a month. And you can add Zingers to the Pixifoods list.

    • I never saw Zingers before college and they are now one of my favorite snacks in the world. (I often pretend not to see them on shelves because I really will eat a box of them as a between-meals snack.) I vehemently disagree with them being pixifoods. 🙂

  31. Charles Pierce says:

    Ok, Joe. Here’s what happens with a Jesuit education. The Grail is the cup used by JC at The Last Supper. The Gospels tell us that The Last Supper took place in the upper room of a man in Jerusalem. We can assume that the man was well off, because he had an upper room big enough for entertaining at least 13 people. Now, assuming that JC didn’t travel with his own set-ups, they would have used the house place-settings. Those cups, while not necessarily gold, would not have been the nondescript goblet depicted in the movie, either. I will now retire to the Old Pedant’s Home.

    • DB says:

      Jesuit and Opus Dei here so not sure where I go with that. I agree with where you are going but I think this guy would have also heard about Jesus and the money-lenders, etc. I think he would have pulled out his oldest, cheapest stuff (not broken though) and not even the normal place settings. What that would look like I am not sure. Equivalent of the stuff you take to your first apartment from your mom’s old settings or Target brand. Basically replacement level cup.

      • Richard says:

        Charles and DB understand…. However, given the history of the Grail and what’s been done to and with relics over the years, the original cheap cup would probably have been covered with gold and encrusted with gemstones, in many different styles of art.

        I’ll wager that there’s absolutely no way anyone could have picked the correct one out of the hundred or so on display.

        So, what’s the deal with the choosing, anyway?

        The Grail is a holy relic, with many supernatural powers. Couldn’t the divinity behind it have figured out who was doing the choosing and what they wanted it for? We read in the Parsifal tale that just having the Grail isn’t enough to use its powers; you need to have obtained the Grail in an honest manner.

        Donovan wanted the Grail for his own glory, and wasn’t man enough to make the choice himself. Jones mostly wanted the Grail to help his father. If you are the god behind the Grail, who are you going to help?

        The knight’s comment about choosing poorly or wisely had nothing to do with the actual cup, but rather with choosing the right reasons for wanting it in the first place.

    • John Fembup says:

      You raise an interesting point. Indy says “This is the cup of a carpenter”. But was it a carpenter’s cup? Perhaps not. Instead it was very likely the homeowner’s cup. Indy made a very risky assumption that Jesus carried his own cup around with him.

  32. mkd says:

    I’ve got a good reverse piximovie–where you go in assuming it will have aged terribly, but turns out to be even better than you remember: Short Circuit. Turns out Short Circuit is awesome!

  33. Mark says:

    It’s pretty clear that she says “It would not be made out of gold.” as a statement and not a question. She says it exactly as it is written in the script and there is no ambiguity. It is impossible to mistake this as a question when you re-watch the scene. So she obviously knew she gave Donovan the wrong cup.

    The better question is, if she knew which cups were not the grail, why didn’t she set up Indy the same way she set up Donovan and just keep the grail for herself?

  34. bullman says:

    Tron & Underwood Deviled Ham

    • Jim D. says:

      You must have been the only kid in American history who liked deviled ham. I hated that stuff then and still can’t stomach it forty years later.

  35. Blake says:

    Oh dear, I know this could cause comment drift, but I gotta say it …

    We’re talking about the Holy Grail here. Could God have influenced Elsa? Maybe neither she nor Donovan had free will.

  36. […] He chose … poorly […]

  37. Daniel Louden says:

    I too have overthought this in the many years since I first saw it. I always viewed Elsa as taken aback at the fact that she didn’t choose right, and, like Joe, I always heard the question mark at the end of the sentence and also interpreted Indy’s response as “of course it’s not gold; THAT right there is the cup of a carpenter”.

    Tangentially, I always also further interpreted that it was Indy’s selflessness which allowed him to “choose wisely”. Maybe I’m reading way too much in to it, but I always viewed “choosing wisely” as not choosing a grail for the wrong reason; the idea that the Nazis were not looking for it to glorify God, but rather to exploit him basically sealed Donovan’s fate; whereas it didn’t matter what grail Indy chose because he chose and drank from it with a selfless heart and not for his own personal gain.

    Like I said, probably way overthinking it, but that’s what I like to see when I watch it.

  38. Carl Berndash Omniart says:

    I do not think that Elsa is the best character. I recall a comment by Alison Doody to the effect that her role as Indy’s love interest was taken by Sean Connery. Elsa is there because an action film needs its romantic subplot, but Indy and Elsa’s relationship is not the primary relationship in the movie; instead, the movie is about Indy’s reconnection with his dad. Thus were left with a leading lady whose role is unclear.

    It seems to me that all the plot twists came first, and Elsa’s character was loosely retrofitted to account for all the changes. She really doesn’t have a character of her own, so they adapt her to the various situations. To put it another way, does she try to reach the Grail and fall into the chasm because she’s really obsessed with the Grail? Or did the movie writers need someone to be obsessed with Grail and fall into the chasm, the better to contrast with Indy letting the Grail go and being pulled out by his dad?

    • forsch31 says:

      I disagree strongly. Elisa is a relatively complex character for this kind of film. She is essentially the Belloq character with more shades of gray that eventually undo her. She is pulled in two directions in her obsession for finding the Grail, and trying to play both sides against the middle. On one side are the Nazis, who, after annexing her home country a year before, she is forced to deal with out of survival as well as advantage, and on the other are the Joneses, whose own archeological obsessions and concern for knowledge match up with hers, and births a mutual attraction against the better judgement of all three. She is not as disrespectful of life as Donovan; she is distressed both at watching Kazim die (even before he utters his warning) and as Donovan keeps sending frightened servants into the three tests to die, and his cold dealing with the Joneses is what sends her over the edge (note: her car has already left the castle when Donovan received the message from Berlin to eliminate the Joneses, and she doesn’t appear to rejoin Donovan until the fictional Hatay).

      Elisa is not “adapted to the various situations”; her actions and attitude are born out of that personal conflict. And as such, her character arc is the most interesting thing in the movie.

  39. Alex says:

    I always thought Elsa said, “It MIGHT not be made of gold.” Based on that I always assumed she didn’t really know. Some heavy thinking going on.

  40. James says:

    No movie death shook my childhood like Elsa’s. Yeah she was a Nazi, but she was awesome. And BOTH Jones boys loved her! (Best line of the trilogy still goes to Connery) My 6 year old self totally had a crush on her.
    But, because Spielberg paints all Germans as evil sub-humans, I assume he would make it so she wouldn’t know the cup was plain.

    Die hard completely stands the test of time. Watched it last night. My god what a movie.
    Crocodile Dundee… Not so much
    Reverse piximovie- Best Of Times… The Robin Williams football movie. I absolutely love that movie now

  41. Anon says:

    Another vote for Dukes of Hazzard as a pixiTVshow. To anyone of a certain age, that show was AWESOME (in caps) and it is just laughably bad to re-watch. I mean I’m sure it was bad to adults at the time as well but it is just dreadful. Actually, I think you can say that about a lot of TV shows frankly.

    As for “He chose. . . .poorly” being THE best line of the 3 Jones movies, not sure I can go with that. Raiders had both “Truck? What truck?” (inflection is key there) and also “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” which go ahead of the chose poorly line for me. Actually going through the lines on imdb there are some more good ones like “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” with Sallah’s reponse of “Asps. Very dangerous. . . you go first.” and “It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage.”

  42. […] This fun little Joe Posnanski bit about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is both an excellent close read of Elsa the Nazi’s motivations and a bite-size lesson about epistemology. [Joe Blogs] […]

  43. Gsegse says:

    Bill James’s crime book was terrible and proof that he should stick to baseball. He’s endorsed some crackpot theory that JFK was killed by friendly fire from a Secret Service agent.

    As for stuff that ages poorly, I loved “Three’s Company” as a kid. Loved it. Caught an episode in reruns some 20 years after it went off the air and my God, it was horrible. Just horrifically, offensively stupid.

  44. Chris says:

    Top… Men.

    • Anon says:

      That was another line I was going to post but I had already posted like 4. That is a great line.

    • Richard says:

      Actually, I think the gov’t got it really right with how they handled the Ark. Dr. Jones knew exactly what it was for, exactly what it could do to people, and exactly what people would do to get it. Did he honestly think it would be safe and harmless sitting in a lab somewhere? No, the best thing to do is hide it someplace where you can get it if you really, really need to, but no one else will be able to find it.

  45. Chip S. says:

    I wonder if A.O. Scott has a Top 40 Baseball Players list he’d care to share.

  46. If I can pick TV pixi shows, I’d go with the six million dollar man or woman. They aged horribly given their reliance on slow motion to show case their super speed and strength. Editing is light years ahead of that now. For,pixi foods, I’m going with fluffernutter. Loved it as a kid. Now, it’s barf inducing.

  47. Tom Wright says:

    “He chose….poorly,” is indeed the best line of the movie. But “No ticket!” is a close second.

  48. Joel A says:

    Hostess Cup Cakes — my grandmother bought them for me every week till I was in junior high. I loved them. Didn’t have them for years. Bought some for my kids one week when I noticed them on the shelf at the store. They were awful!k

  49. Reagan says:

    A few things…

    First, Joe, you are overthinking this. More thought went into this article than went into the movie itself.

    Second, you mentioned all do the crazy twists that the Elsa character went through (she cries at the book burning, and so in). These are the result of a poorly written script, not a clever one.

    Third, I have a friend (internet acquaintance, actually) who is a bit of a Spielberg expert (you should read his analysis of Empire of the Sun – it’s amazing). His one sentence assessment of Holy Grail: plays like fan fiction directed by a Speilberg impersonator.

    Fourth, Spielberg didn’t have his heart in anything at this point (just look at the movies he did between Empire of the Sun and Schindler’s List – all lifeless). He was a director for hire.

    Fifth, your dismissal of the eye thing for Elsa doesn’t work for reasons mentioned above by others: when he director tells the actress to give a certain look, the actress does it. And this doesn’t even fit what Bill James was talking about in his book: killer’s eyes versus normal eyes. Not whether a person can convey a certain emotion with a look.

    Conclusion: the obvious interpretation of Elsa’s actions are the correct ones.

    • Daniel Louden says:

      “just look at the movies he did between Empire of the Sun and Schindler’s List – all lifeless”

      You’re calling Jurassic Park lifeless? The whole thing was about life! Life finds a way!

    • forsch31 says:

      One…It’s Joe. You’re surprised? And the movie took 3 years to development. Your own personal dissatisfaction with the film isn’t evidence of a lack of thought or effort on the part of the filmmakers.

      Two…I rebutted this above. She’s actually an extraordinarily well-written character.

      Three…Hey, it’s your friend’s opinion. Which is about as worth as everybody else’s around here (read: absolutely zero without any kind of substance beyond snark).

      Four…You’re confusing Last Crusade with Temple of Doom. Spielberg has been pretty open that Temple was a half-hearted effort on his part; in fact, most of the action sequences were leftovers from Raiders. He threw himself into Last Crusade BECA– USE of how bad he thought Temple was, and worked extra long on the film’s development, which forced him to drop out of other projects. He was the one who pushed to have Indy’s father in the movie, because he wanted to explore where Indiana Jones came from as a bit of a character study. Also, all three Indy movies were a personal project between him and George Lucas, and as such, both had complete creative control. Spielberg was not “a director for hire”.

      Five: Point, and I’ve got an extra point I outline above that should cinch it.

      Conclusion; Only your fifth point has anything to do with your conclusion. Weird.

  50. Robert says:

    Fun fact: Sean Connery is less than 11 years older than Harrison Ford…. pretty young to be having kids.

  51. AIS says:

    Pixifood: Friendly’s Strawberry Fribble. Loved them when I was a kid, and then had one again at age 33. Probably a twenty-year gap between Fribbles. It was awful. It tasted like “pink flavor,” if that makes any sense.

  52. Paul White says:

    I was all set to say, “Nope, sorry, not buying your theory. I have always thought she chose the wrong chalice on purpose.” But then I went hunting for the clip on YouTube, and while I didn’t find the official version, the version I did find ( was awesome in two ways: 1) It showed a red Solo cup with “Jesus” on the side of it as the cup Indy said belonged to a carpenter, and 2) It does have the full audio, including Elsa’s line about it being made of gold. And sure enough, now I hear the damn question mark. I’m not sure it’s conclusive evidence, but I’m now questioning my entire outlook on Elsa. So thanks for that, Joe.

  53. armchairarchaeologist says:

    When I watched it, I chose to respect Elsa’s academic abilities, and it wouldn’t take much of a scholar/archaeologist to be able to differentiate between the different eras and geographic regions represented by the chalice designs arrayed out over the shelves. Most of the designs were Northern European and medieval, with very few bronze age artifacts in the collection and even fewer of Roman or Levantine origin.

    So the short version is, she did it on purpose.

  54. Another pixi food: spaghetti o’s. Tastes like drinking watered down tomato sauce with floaties mixed in.

  55. MCD says:

    My two cents.

    “He chose poorly” meant agreeing with Elsa’s choice, even if Donavan did not made actual the selection. I have difficulty accepting that the knight would know that Elsa picked wrong on purpose.

    I interpreted “it would not be made of gold” as a question and it seemed to coincide with Elsa noticing which cup Indy was eying. Had her line coming noticeably before that moment, that would lend a lot more credence to the “choosing the wrong one on purpose” camp.

    I suppose one could still argue that Elsa merely recognized her mistake. Even a scholar can make an mistake, and she still seemed pretty apprehensive after Indy took the drink.

  56. Jonah Falcon says:

    Elsa deliberately took he wrong cup. Look at the sour glance she gives Indy, and the. She has the look of a woman scorned when Donovan starts choking. She most definitely picked the wrong cup.

    When the Grail Knight says he chose poorly, he meant HIS CHOICE OF ALLIES. Remember, he didn’t chooses the cup.

  57. Jaremy says:

    Pixifood: Spaghetti-O’s

  58. Chris H says:

    I have no opinion on Indiana Jones movies, which have all disappointed me including the first one. (The first one disappointed me because I had been in a long car ride to Cedar Point with three friends who had all seen it, and they spoiled Every Single Scene of the movie, so that I spent the entire movie thinking, “I bet that would have been great if I didn’t know it was coming.” This was before spoilers had even been invented.)

    Anyway: Pixifood: Vanilla wafers. I devoured them as a kid; now, they taste like sawdust only slightly more dry. They exist as proof that kids would eat sand dollars if you labeled them “cookies” (h/t Lewis Black).

    PixiTV: Scooby Doo.

  59. Andy says:

    I didn’t read all of the comments, but one quick correction, in case no one else did it: the three guys in Raiders who died after the grail was opened died three different deaths. One’s face melted, as you said; one’s head shriveled up; one’s head exploded.

  60. I L says:

    Recall that after Indy drank from the Grail, the knight said “You have chosen wisely.” Since Indy had chosen the same ally as Donovan at this point, it doesn’t seem like the knight was referring to Elsa when he told Donovan that he chose poorly.

  61. Django says:

    Piximovie: Star Wars. I realize this is heresy, but I saw the remastered version 10 years ago and I was shocked at how stiff it was. Some of the acting is just terrible.

    I think when I was a kid and the effects were so surprising it really was great, but now the effects are pedestrian and the bad acting and so-so plot make this a bland film.

    • Agreed. “Star Wars” falls into the same trap that many science fiction films do: It’s really just a vehicle for cool-looking special effects, which always look dated later on.

    • Anon says:

      I don’t think Star Wars qualifies as a piximovie but I absolutely agree and have been saying it for a number of years now that Star Wars is not the WOWWOWOWOWOWOW movie I thought it was as a kid. It’s good, I’d watch it again no problem but it’s not a great movie.

  62. Justin says:

    Elsa? Short for Eleanor. As in Roosevelt. That was actually Eleanor Roosevelt and of COURSE she selected the wrong grail to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis (I hate those guys). Have any of you ever even WATCHED the movie? Duh.

    The Elsa flip-flop(s) could be intentional, and they could be the result of a poor script. “Raiders” someone could argue being the tightest, best-made action movie of all time. No matter whether you say there are two or three Indy movies that follow, they just are not “Raiders.” “Raiders” and “Empire” are the best scripts, by far, in the respective sagas (Thanks, Larry).

    To argue for intentional: the only way Elsa was going to leave that room alive was if Donovan was dead, and she knew it.

    Now, who wants to talk about the BS of making Marcus Brody the butt of jokes and why doing so makes me want to punch “Last Crusade?”

  63. Huskergut says:

    Not sure if anybody else mentioned this as a Piximovie, and judging from my friends’ opinions I might get killed on here for saying this, but my first entry would be The Goonies. That movie may have strong emotional ties for people who grew up in the 80’s, but I watched it with my kids a couple of months ago and they hated it. The main reason they hated it was because it really kind of sucks. It was kind of hard to accept this fact, but it’s true. That’s not a good movie.

    • PhilM says:

      Same experience here! I actually never saw it as kid in the 80s, and my wife hailed it as a “classic,” so we watched in on TV one evening. Classic claptrap, I’d say. . . .

  64. Arrgh Type says:

    I think we’re probably overthinking things here. I’ve probably seen the movie 20 times since I was a kid, and I’ve never had an interpretation other than she intentionally chose the wrong cup.

    Anyways, remember what Donovan told Indy earlier in the movie? “Don’t trust anyone”? I think this is more proof that we should just stick with the original interpretation. It’s poetic justice. He didn’t follow his own advice.

  65. Jason Lawson says:

    I hear the footsteps, but I don’t hear the question mark.

  66. BadHand says:

    Favorite quote of an Indy movie is from ToD:

    “Hey, Dr. Jones, no time for love. We’ve got company.”

    It’s funny that a kid is thinking Dr. Jones wants some action in the middle of a chase. My wife and I use the “no time for love” line on occassion.

    Pixiefood –

    I used to love american cheese and mustard sandwiches on white bread (not toasted or grilled). Blechh.

    Even worse, microwaved barbeque sauce and sour cream quesadillas (but no cheese). This was when my parents first bought a microwave in the late 70s or early 80s. I would eat these non-stop. Made one 30+ years later and nearly died.

  67. BozemanKidd says:

    I always interpreted the scene as that she knew she gave Donovan the wrong cup. I agree with the commentator above who said, “this is a pulp action movie, so you CAN tell from the eyes.” Real life need not apply, and I think it’s logically inconsistent with the movie for you to discount that look. You are imposing on the movie a reality that it does not partake of. Also, I have seen this movie probably ten times, and do not remember a question in her voice when she talks about a wood cup. But it has been years since I have seen it. So congratulations, at the very least you have inspired me to go back and watch it again.

  68. KB says:

    Sheldon’s girlfriend in The Big Bang Theory ruined it all for me anyways when she pointed out the the existance of Indiana Jones was completely irrelevant in RotLA. Had he not been involved or never born the Nazis still would have found the Ark, they still would have killed themselves with it, and it still would have wound up in some big government warehouse.

  69. Tampa Mike says:

    I always took it as Elsa picked it on purpose, but it does make more sense for her character to have been clueless about the correct cup. I will have to listen for that question mark.

    I’m not much of a Temple of Doom fan. It’s very different from the other two and doesn’t really fit. It creeped me out as a kid, so many it’s residual effects.

  70. JL says:

    PixiMovie: Willow. It has not aged well at all. I saw it again over the weekend and could not believe 1) how terrible it was, and 2) that there was a time that I enjoyed it.

  71. Ben says:

    Pixifood: Handi-Snacks – crackers and fake cheese wrapped in plastic…and Easy Cheese for that matter.

  72. Ben says:

    I agree Temple is the worst of the three*, but it has my favorite quote…

    “Doctor Jones! Doctor Jones! NO MORE PARACHUTES!!!”

  73. Ben says:

    100% agree with the conclusion here, by the way. That was always my interpretation too… but I’ll add that I think Elsa’s personality switches and general ambivalence of her character eroded any authority she could have in grail-choosing, despite her professor status. My assumption at the end was that she was impulsive and reactionary, and by no means calculated or diabolical. That’s why the false-grail-choosing likely wasn’t intentional.

  74. Jeff says:

    The real issue I had/have with this scene is…there are way too many cups for anyone to actually choose. Your chance of success is ridiculously small. I remember thinking this when I first saw the scene. This is just stupid, nobody would get it right. Plus…is the knight cleaning these things? He’s awfully decrepit to keep all this hardware clean. I put something in my 100 year old basement and it is covered in dust and cobwebs in about 20 minutes.

  75. […] recently read an article that analyzed the grail scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s here at Joe Blogs and you should check it out. I’m quite surprised that some people think that Elsa gave Donovan the wrong grail on […]

  76. Paul L says:

    OK, just watched it, after a long wait via Netflix (thanks, Joe).

    First, I think she gave him the wrong one on purpose, not because of the look to Indy, but because of the look on her face when Donovan was drinking from the cup. And it absolutely sounds like she’s framing things as a question to Indy later.

    That said, the first thing came to mind while watching this was “Wow, what a terrible actress”. Then I watched it several more times and came to the conclusion that it’s actually terrible editing, acting and line reading. I mean, seriously, the way that sequence is edited makes it impossible to know for sure. The look on Doody’s face from cut to cut change drastically, in multiple instances; nothing seems to match (George Lucas, editor (uncredited)). I can’t tell if it’s the fault of the actress, the direction, or the editing, but it’s nothing to be proud of, Rusty.

    It’s possible that Speilberg’s heart wasn’t in it, but I prefer to blame George Lucas for everything, because I don’t like George Lucas :).

  77. […] organizations have often chosen poorly when picking online publishing systems, so I had to accept a friend’s invitation to discuss […]

  78. Ivan says:

    Yes, in the movie, there is a question mark, but, in my opinion, that does not change the meaning.
    “It would not be made of gold.”, suggests she was sure it was not made of gold.
    “It would not be made of gold?”, with a question mark, simply suggests she was NOT SURE if it is made of gold or not, and that she is asking Indy for an opinion.
    The point is that she asked: “It would not be made of gold?” BEFORE Indy grabs the true Grail. If she had asked it AFTER, that would have meant that she was surprised because she thought it was of gold; but since she asked BEFORE, that simply means that she is not sure.
    Neither Indy is sure he had chosen the true grail, until he drinks. “There’s only one way to find out”, he said.
    So Elsa chose at random the cup for Donovan knowing it would 99% be false.

    • CKB says:

      Hello there,

      I realise this response is 3 years late but I just so happened to flick over to the denouement of Indy 3 half an hour ago,and blow me down with a feather (and I can’t believe it’s taken me nearly 30 years to notice ) but…..Elsa not only cuts an eye- she also SHAKES HER HEAD “NO” at Indy after recommending the poisoned chalice to our soon to be crispy Nazi bedfellow.
      I wouldn’t have agreed with the assertion that “It would not be made of gold” was a question regardless (even after adjusting for German accent) but surely this split second gesture settles it once and for all?

      Best Regards,

      Man with clearly too much time on his hands.

      • Ivan says:


        Your response is not 3 years late, since I posted my post only last year :-).
        I agree with you, there are many evidences that Elsa is not really a Nazi (I believe in the Grail not in the Swastika, she say) and she is horrified when Donovan shot Henry. Therefore, she purposely choose the wrong cup.
        Poor Elsa I really feel sad for her, when she fall in to the chasm. I hope she managed to get out in some way. She does not deserve to end that way.

  79. I enjoy this website – its so usefull and helpfull

  80. Indiana says:

    She knew what the cup looked like. She was bangin’ Ind’s dad.

  81. Jack says:

    I just watched this and there are two shots in which she is turning to Indiana after handing Donovan the golden cup. The first shot is focused on Donovan, but she is in the background on the right, seen turning to Indiana and slowly shaking her head. Which to me, says “Yeah, that’s not the correct cup.” but which I GUESS you could say the head shake to Indiana was a jerky “You picked the wrong friends, buster!”. I think it’s the latter. Also, I heard hear line as a declarative statement, not a question—thus re-enforcing that head shake meaning “I just gave him the total wrong cup” since the cup she gave him was all gold and jewel-covered.

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