(Credit: Elena Ternovaja)
Only someone with the courage of legendary director Steven Spielberg would have the gall to include one of his most infamous moments. It’s a scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark contains a Nazi monkey, a strange milestone in the world of cinema that only Spielberg himself might have decided to take on.
The moment sees the iconic adventuring archaeologist Indiana Jones come face-to-face with a Nazi convoy when making his way through the oppressively hot and humid jungles of South America. Eventually, a little monkey pops out of the undergrowth, a capuchin oddly dressed in the ultra-recognisable dress of the Third Reich.
Somehow, Spielberg managed to weave a Nazi monkey into his film when it might have been perceived as incredibly distasteful. The reason behind the direction’s inclusion was that he wanted to include a sense of levity, bringing an element of humour to proceedings whilst still dealing with a serious and sensitive matter.
The little monkey also squeaks out a “Sieg Heil”, with Spielberg always getting close to the bone of what’s acceptable. George Lucas had reportedly come up with the idea, which ended up becoming Spielberg’s favourite scene in Indiana Jones. Still, the scene actually took more than 50 takes in order to get the monkey to do something resembling a Nazi salute.
There’s certainly a sense of Spielberg reminding us of the banality of evil with his Nazi monkey moment in Indiana Jones and that the Nazi party committed such evil deeds that their actions transcended the very nature of malice and entered the realm of absurdity, where the only response is often to try and humour it, sick on the surface as it may seem.
Naturally, there was a delicate tightrope that Spielberg was walking on when he decided to dress his little furry friend up in Nazi regalia and have him Heil Hitler, but equally, it shows once again that the cinematic medium is one that can have the audience face the unexpected and deal with themes that they are not entirely comfortable with.
There’s an outright disdain for Nazis in Raider of the Lost Ark, so it’s not like Spielberg justified them in any way throughout his film. If anything, his Nazi monkey scene ridicules the party more than glorifies them, and his ability to tread the line between entertainment and historical examination is just another facet making the director one of the all-time greats.