It would be an easy task to compile a list of on-screen idiots. Movies need morons, otherwise things would always go according to plan – and where’s the fun in that? We need goons and dimwits in films in order to keep things unpredictable. Imagine if the kidnapping in Fargo went as intended; it’s the idiocy of the villains in that Coen classic that makes their bungled, horrific crime so compelling (and funny).
But what about the times when you’ve got a character who seems solid enough, only for you to find out down the line that actually, he or she is an idiot.
We’ve all seen it. By way of action or intent, something happens or is said and suddenly your jaw drops. ‘What were they thinking?’ You cry. ‘What the hell were you doing?!’
What follows are seven examples of on-screen idiots and why they qualify. I’ve avoided anything remotely romantic (the genre almost requires a high degree of idiocy), as well as any of the Twilight movies, as far too much has already been written about Bella’s many reveals of knuckle-dragging stupidity.
7. Indy in Raiders of the Lost Ark
I’m starting off with a Steven Spielberg flick, and there’s no better start to a list than his classic throwback to cliffhanger storytelling. In the audacious opening sequence, we see intrepid archeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) entering a South American temple ruin, where he deftly avoids the myriad traps and pitfalls in order to find the prize – a glittering gold idol statuette. By that time, he’s already established his macho credentials, knocking his mutinous underlings into line, out-smarting ingenious hazards, even showinging off his skills with a big whip. Gently switching the idol for a bag of sand, Indy even gives a self-satisfied smile, because he’s so smart.
Only, he’s not put the right amount of sand in the bag, which in turn triggers and elaborate giant boulder trap. Seconds later, Indy is running for his life, his features slackened into a ridiculous look of terror as he runs back the route he came, triggering every trap and torture device along the way. The tense, perilous adventure swings into frenzied slapstick (so misjudged thirty years later in the fourth Indiana Jones installment) that would not be out of place in a Buster Keaton movie.
It establishes early on quite a sophisticated idea – that the hero of a film can sometimes be a bit of a dick. Indy’s fallibility lies in his ego, his pride. It drives his belligerent, impulsive nature, helping to make Raiders one of the most thrilling adventures ever filmed. Part of what makes Indy so beloved is the fact that deep down, he’s a bit of an idiot.
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