It seems that Elsa smiles after Donovan drinks from the false grail implying that she knew it wasn't the right one.

Did she betray him?

7 Answers 7



She clearly says:

It would not be made out of gold.

So she clearly picked the wrong one on purpose.

  • For all of Elsa’s faults, she was a Grail scholar to the end and recognized Donovan to be the soulless ghoul that he is; also despite her own betrayal, she maintained some affection for her partner Henry Jones whom Donovan shoots to force Indy to participate. Upon realizing her own dream of finding the Grail and facing implications of its existence, she was likely having some second thoughts about her own life’s choices and was trying to make some amends in her own malignantly narcissistic sociopathic Nazi way. Jan 1, 2022 at 21:59

If we look at the script and the film's official novelisation (itself based on the script), we can see that Elsa clearly set him up to fail.

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 and Indy exchange looks. He thinks he is seeing her in her true colors.

Elsa chooses a cup -- a solid gold, emerald encrusted goblet.

Donovan instantly takes it from her.

DONOVAN: Oh, yes. It's more beautiful than I'd ever imagined. This certainly is the cup of the King of Kings.



Elsa removed her hat and carefully picked up a shiny cup encrusted with sparkling colored stones. Donovan instantly grabbed it from her and held it up to the light. “Oh, yes. It’s more beautiful than I had ever imagined. And it’s mine.”

Indy expected Elsa to protest, but she remained silent. The knight’s face was implacable, revealing nothing.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Official Novelisation

Since we already know that she's a competent grail scholar, her mistake was unforgiveable.

  • 1
    Also notice how she carefully does not SAY that she will choose the right one, or that the one she choose IS the right one.
    – Mary
    Aug 2, 2020 at 20:04
  • 1
    @Mary - It's pretty obvious that she wants to kill him. Literally on day one of "Holy Grail" school they're gonna point out that Jesus' cup wasn't made of gold and gems.
    – Valorum
    Aug 2, 2020 at 20:14

Watch closely after she hands the German the cup. As her face pans out of focus, she stares at Indy and shakes her head no. She clearly set up the German.

  • 1
    Interestingly (watching the clip in scifi.stackexchange.com/a/139111/22259), you can see her slight head shake (at about 1:45), but in the next camera angle, when the camera is directly on her as she turns to Indy, the edit cuts to Indy before the shake (1:46-1:48). It seems like in the fine edit, they were attempting to keep it ambiguous for a few moments longer.
    – chepner
    Aug 2, 2020 at 19:34
  • 1
    Donovan isn't German. He uses Hitler's obsession with the occult to get Germany to fund a globe hoping operation to find the Grail for himself. He wasn't planning on turning it over to Hitler, if the Grail stories were true, who was to stop him?
    – McFuu
    Aug 2, 2020 at 22:50

I thought there was a change in the movie to add a "?" after the part were Elsa says "it would not be made out of gold", but I'm not sure... But if you watch the movie on Netflix with CC on you can clearly see it's not a "?" after Elsa say "it would not be made out of gold." but a "." Elsa is making a statement, plus, when Donovan is about to drink from the false grail the screen quickly flashes to Elsa slowly smiling. I think she purposely chose the wrong Grail. Elsa also had motivations, 1 she wanted the grail for herself. 2, she liked Indiana a lot more then Donovan, and 3, she lost her allegiance to the Nazis when she saw them burning the books, you can clearly see her crying.


My first initial thought was that she had given him the wrong grail on purpose, but then at the same time if she had, why did she seem so surprised and horrified that he was killed by drinking from the grail she picked out? The knight stated very clearly that the wrong grail would "take it(life) from you." I'm sure it was on purpose but still, just a thought, perhaps she was just freaked out by HOW the wrong one kills you.

  • What led you to believe she did it on purpose?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Oct 2, 2018 at 22:25
  • 1
    Perhaps she didn't realize it would be that horrible a way to go.
    – Mary
    Aug 2, 2020 at 20:05
  • It's one thing to take a life by poison. It is completely another to take life by having somebody age a thousand years in a second until they turn to skeleton then the dust in front of your eyes. youtube.com/watch?v=wWQj8sSZCH0&t=5m14s
    – jo1storm
    Aug 3, 2020 at 5:54
  1. She was crying when the Nazis burned the book.
  2. She liked Indy and dad a lot more.
  3. She gives a look to Indy when she handed Donovan the Grail.
  4. The look she gave was horror at how he died. She knew he was done. Just wasn't sure how it would happen.
  • 1
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. So, your answer is "yes she betrayed Donovan" then?
    – DavidW
    Jan 1, 2022 at 19:13

I think she did purposely give Donovan wrong one. He sealed his fate when he stated he wanted the Grail for himself. Elsa's allegiance wasn't to him but to the Nazi's (thus also Hitler). There is no way they would allow Donovan to keep the Grail. Historically the very reason Hitler had real life artifact or relic hunts was to make himself and his forces more powerful. So why would they allow Donovan to keep the Grail?

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. You make a fairly good argument for why Elsa might betray Donovan, but can you provide any evidence that she actually intentionally gave him the wrong one? Please refer to the first two answers for examples of how to support your thesis. You should read How to Answer for more pointers, and you might want to take the tour.
    – DavidW
    Mar 30, 2020 at 2:11

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