by Paul Sadowski
In 1988, I was an ill-adjusted Polish kid who moved with his mother and our two dogs to a rough Boston neighborhood — Dorchester. My English was OK. A year later, I saw my favorite movie, and although I don’t remember every detail of that day, I do remember it changed my life.
All the cinemas in Dorchester sucked, so my best friend (another skinny Paul with a Polish last name) and I traveled 45 minutes to our favorite theatre, probably skipping class in the process. We weren’t bad students, but sometimes felt we needed an extra day off from the pressures of seventh grade Catholic school.
After seeing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I remember feeling exhilarated; I wanted to kill some Nazis, crash some boats, flip some motorcycles, fly a biplane and destroy a tank using only a horse, my wits and a rock. The film’s music was running through my mind on repeat. But it wasn’t until years later I realized that beyond the grand adventure, playful tone and extraordinary score, there was something else about the film that truly touched me. It dawned on me in the place where most great revelations in my life occur: the shower.
What is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade about? A quest for the grail? No. Like all great films, this one is about a relationship — a relationship between a father and a son. Two people, virtually estranged at the beginning of the movie, pick up right where they left off (for better or worse) and embark on a quest for a common goal — one they could not attain without each other. Two men iron out their issues, while narrowly evading hordes of Nazis trained to kill them.
Can you think of a better way to reconnect with someone? I can’t!
As a product of a single-parent household, I couldn’t imagine a more awesome way to introduce the father I never had into my life than during a quest for something fantastic. Much better than a sit-down on neutral turf and an awkward explanation for why he wasn’t there for the past 18 years.
I never actually met my dad. I have zero memories of him. So naturally, the relationship between Indy (Harrison Ford) and Henry (Sean Connery) resonated with me. It was exactly what I wanted. Beneath their ostensible differences was a plethora of similarities: focused, charismatic, obsessive. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I wondered how far from the tree I fell? Would I ever find out?
Until then, I chose to live in a fantasy world, hoping one day my dad and I would reconnect, just like in the movie. I ran through the scenarios a million times. Indy had to rescue Henry from Castle Brunwald. What better way to prove your worth to someone who thought you were worthless (I think all teenagers with one missing parent feel this way) than to save his life? That isn’t awkward or gut wrenching; it’s fun and galvanizing!
Naturally, there are a few moments when my dad and I would have to actually discuss our feelings just like the Joneses — all justifiable, understandable, no one was purposely neglectful, no one abandoned, etc.; it was life that drove us apart. And now, life was bringing us back together, under preposterously spectacular circumstances.
But life doesn’t imitate art. Not to that extent.
Years later, I found out that my dad was actually in show business. He was a master of ceremonies in the vastly popular Polish variety shows of the 1970s. He was regarded as unflappable, quick, off-the-cuff and the best in his class. I’m getting this from newspaper clippings, not family folklore. By the time I found this out, it was too late for the great adventure or the awkward sit-down; he’d already passed away.
Now, 20-some years later, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is still my favorite movie. I enjoy it the same way I did when I was a kid. And the fantasy? Thanks to my mom having the will and courage to give us a better life, I got to live in three countries, move to Los Angeles, work in show business and travel the world. She traversed continents to give us opportunity, even bringing our dogs (none of which were named Indiana)!
My mother, grandmother and aunt were three independent women who were there for me, always. My grandmother, a doctor, lived in Africa, tending to sick children. My aunt treks the globe incessantly, my mom her partner in crime. How’s that for role models? They are the ones who raised me.
Great movies let you live the fantasy. But now, firmly back in reality, I look at these three women knowing that I did not fall far from the tree.