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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Theory: The Grail Knight Doesn't Exist

I hadn’t watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) in quite a while. But the other morning, out of nowhere, a theory came to me that I felt compelled to write about.

The grail knight, as seen in the grail chamber during the film’s climax, does not exist. I believe the grail knight is a projection of Indy’s belief and purity of quest. He has read the stories of the grail knights, but within his own mind, needs the support and affirmation of the grail knight. 

I use the script and the direction of the actors as my supporting evidence. Allow me to explain.

Indy successfully navigates the three challenges, as laid out in Henry’s book about the grail. He crawls into a candlelit chamber with chalices scattered about and a solitary figure genuflecting away from him. They have a brief conversation in which Indy says the grail knight has guarded the grail for more than 700 years. “A long time to wait,” the knight agrees.

Also note how differently the knight is lit within the scene compared to Indy, Elsa and Donovan. The knight is lit with a very soft white light while the other characters are more reflective of the lighting and chalices in place within the room. The knight has an ethereal glow about him, which is entirely inconsistent with the lighting scheme present throughout the room.

Elsa and Donovan scan the room with their eyes, the silence broken by Donovan asking “Which one is it?” The grail knight appears to reply “You must choose. But choose wisely. For the true grail will bring you life. The false grail will take it from you.” While it appears the grail knight replies directly to Donovan, Donovan’s response is more general in nature, and he does not make direct eye contact with the knight.

“I’m not an historian. I have no idea what it looks like. Which one is it?” He is seemingly wanting to place the responsibility for his choice outside of himself. When Elsa volunteers to choose which chalice the grail is, only then does Donovan directly respond, saying “Thank you doctor.”

As Elsa makes her choice and hands the golden chalice to Donovan, she makes eye contact with both Indy and Donovan, appearing confident in her choice. Of course Donovan drinks from the golden chalice, then proceeds to age thousands of years in a matter of seconds before dissolving into dust.

Elsa then tells Indy “It would not be made out of gold,” Again, no interaction with the grail knight. Indy drinks from the proper grail and receives affirmation from the knight. “You have chosen wisely.” The knight then warns Indy to not carry the grail beyond the great seal of the temple. It is advice that, in theory, both he and Elsa should have heard.

A couple minutes later, after Indy has healed Henry with the supernatural powers of the water contained in the grail, Elsa grabs the grail and attempts to leave the chamber, seemingly ignorant of the knight’s warning. She is ignorant of it because she never heard or saw the knight in the first place. Elsa then falls to her death as the temple destroys itself.

One possible gap in my theory now comes up, but it’s one I can explain. As the heroes are escaping the temple, Henry hesitates, noting the grail knight in the entrance way to the three challenges. Indy sees the knight too before imploring upon Henry that they have to leave. The knight salutes them both as they exit the crumbling temple.

Earlier in the film’s climax, a wounded Henry speaks (to Indy) “You must believe, boy. You must…believe.” This is right before Indy crosses the invisible bridge, the third of the three challenges.

In this moment, Indiana Jones is at the absolute peak of his powers. All of his experience, education, strength of mind, body and spirit are dialed up to 100 as he embarks on his challenging journey to save his father. He takes one step, having fully given himself over to believing a path exists where he sees none. Like Henry, Indy has studied the lore of the grail. He believes in its power and in his own quest. He believes, just as his father believes.

Elsa and Donovan are not believers. Donovan seeks power through eternal life. Elsa seeks a prize. This makes them non-believers. The purity of Indy’s search allows him to believe. Note that this belief embeds itself in him before he enters the grail chamber.

If you watch the entire scene again, you won’t see any verbal or vocal interaction between Elsa, Donovan directed towards the grail knight. The eye contact from Elsa and Donovan is general, while the knight, as he exists through Indy’s spiritual projection, can see and hear what Elsa and Donovan are doing. Neither Elsa nor Donovan acknowledge the mysterious knight in any way.

So, who is the grail knight? Is he just a spiritual projection from Indy’s mind and heart? Is he representative of Jesus Christ?

Now, I don’t know for a fact that Steven Spielberg intended the knight to be a figment of Indy’s imagination. I don’t expect Frank Marshall to read this and say “Wow Brad cracked the code that remained hidden for 33 years! Wow!” 

This is just a fun fan theory that came to me for no reason outside of the pure love - and belief - I have for the Indiana Jones character and franchise. 

Brad Monastiere
Follow me on Twitter and Hive Social @bmonastiere
The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.


  1. I think the lighting on the knight was intentionally harsh. He was 700 years old and probably hadn’t been outside in all that time. He had to look pale and unhealthy.
    He did only interact directly with Indy… but Donovan was obsessed with the Grail and that’s all his focus was was Elsa.
    Now, they’ve entered and the knight warns them about choosing—-and Donovan’s first words were that he’s not an historian and doesn’t know which one is the correct one. Seems like if the knight wasn’t there…he would have asked Elsa or even Indy to choose, knowing that Henry’s life depended on it. But all he says is he doesn’t know which one. Elsa chooses…knowingly giving him the wrong one. She choose poorly. But Indy then picks out the cup of a carpenter. Don’t you think if he was asked by Donovan to pick it out…he would have done so to save his dad?
    Otherwise… who would have known that the wrong cup would be 100% deadly? If there was a doubt—wouldn’t Donovan had simply taken them all back out and had the remaining people test them…like the volunteers who didn’t solve the riddles? If there was no knight, then the cup would have passed the seal and no one would know that could be fatal too.
    I think it’s an interesting read, but since the grail (and the Ark and the Sankara stones) are based on lore and the Bible. If you’re going to believe all of it —then you would have to accept the fact that the knight drank from the cup, became immortal, fashioned false grails, and was there as part of the story—waiting for someone to vanquish him.
    Don’t forget, they heard not to cross the seal from the knight- Indy knew it and we suppose Elsa heard it too. If she didn’t, or didn’t care—-she still tried to walk out. Indy warned her. How would he have known that if not for the knight being there and telling him. And the look on both the Jones’ faces when the knight acknowledged them by raising his arm—-pretty obvious they saw him. What else would keep their attention? As they escaped… there was a huge cloud of dirt indicating that if they had stayed in…they might have been killed. Turning back for a look of an empty cavern that was caving in doesn’t fly.
    Don’t think Indy would have gotten all that from a figment of his imagination.

  2. Indy reminds Elsa what the Knight said about taking the grail out. She didn't seem to question his mentioning the Knight. Also when the Knight said Donovan chose poorly, both Indy and Elsa looked back at the Knight.

  3. Wow, there's so much to unpack here. You missed an entirely other analytic piece of fruit. The knight is Indy's conscience as well as his belief in the purity of the grail. He spent his whole life taking ancient relics away from countries and putting them in western museums, essentially robbing them of their cultural property. The grail is the first thing Indy does not steal. What happens when it is stolen by Elsa, a westerner??? The academic temple of archaeology (dare I say humanities) falls apart. Indy and his father both saw the knight because they both saw the importance of the grail and what it truly represented in it's purest form. We knkow for a fact Indy's dad does when he smacks indy earlier in the movie "for blasphemy". Wow, thanks to the author of this article for getting the wheels turning!

  4. Pretty simple. The knight is actually Indiana Jones himself. The fifth film wih it's time travel story line will tie into that.

  5. Geoffrey Wright3 July 2023 at 12:13

    Brad, I believe your theory is very much on the right track, perhaps the knight is less a 'figment' of Indiana's imagination and more of a spirit that Indiana (alone) has the moral worth or 'right' to commune with. In either case there's zero evidence that the other two characters - who are deeply flawed morally - are aware of the knight's presence. Thanks for clearing it up, I've always enjoyed the scene but never articulated to myself precisely why it works so well. And you have done that.

  6. Was just watching this great movie. At the very end Indy’s father sees the knight as welll.

    You could make an argument that since they both believe they see a knight… but at that point it would be a ghost that two people can see, and not an imagination of one person.

  7. Very intriguing theory but I’ll go one further what if the knight is actually a Jedi Force Ghost maybe even the last one from “ A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....” communicating with Indy (and Henry) because maybe “The force is strong with this one” (and his father)…?! ;-)


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