Wrap Up of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”

Hey, everybody, nice work with the discussion questions about “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I loved reading your answers. You’re all definitely starting to develop strong ideas about how the hero’s quest plays out in these movies we’ve been watching.

Indy’s Call to Adventure is when his Mentor figure Marcus Brody takes him to a meeting with some men from the US government. Our first clue about the quest is the title of the movie, but this scene confirms it. Yes, I see Marcus as Indy’s mentor, though some of you suggested other options. (More about this below.)

Some of you saw the headpiece of staff of Ra as Indy’s talisman. It does help him during his quest, but once he uses it to find the exact location of the ark, that headpiece doesn’t really have any further place in his quest. I’d suggest that Indy’s whip serves as his talisman instead. It’s the consistent object that comes in handy whenever he needs it. The whip (along with his fedora) also starts to symbolically represent Indiana Jones to us. Notice that his whip is prominently displayed on the movie poster.

Pro tip: Look how in the last two paragraphs, I’ve called out both the title of the movie and the poster. Don’t overlook these obvious pieces of evidence when you’re developing an interpretation of a movie or a book.

You all did really nice work examining the relationship between Indy and Marion. It’s a complex and “weird” relationship with a lot of history to it. Marion serves as both his sidekick and his love interest. Marion is a strong character. She can drink guys under the table and she knows how to throw a punch. As such, she prefigures the female heroes that start to come into their own during the 90s, but at times Marion still gets relegated to playing the “damsel in distress,” which is annoying and disappointing even if the movie is from 1981. Still, on balance, I’d say Marion is pretty badass, and that fact makes us like Indy more because he’s not threatened by having a strong female partner who challenges him and can keep up with his adventures.

The French archeologist, Dr. Belloq serves as the antagonist in this movie. I love that some of you even noticed the quote about him being a “shadowy reflection” of Indy. I had forgotten that quote, but it works nicely to emphasize Belloq as the evil twin to Indiana Jones. Belloq and Indy are both archeologists, though Indy has a better work ethic. He’s willing to pick up a shovel and dig with the rest of the crew; Belloq sips lemonade and watches others do the work for him. Aside from that, both Belloq and Indy behave pretty badly towards the cultures they study. They destroy historical evidence while acting as “treasure hunters.” That cultural myopia might be a product of their times, but it’s still worth calling out.

Both Belloq and Indy pride themselves as pursuing human knowledge, or at least the Western version of it, but they’re dismissive of the cultures and peoples they study. Recall how in the early scenes of the film, the two men smirk with superiority at the naked tribesmen who bow down before the golden idol, a “treasure” which Indy, tellingly, had just replaced with a bag of sand in the tomb. That’s a telling metaphor in this film.

During Indy’s Final Test of Worthiness, when the ark is being opened, he and Marion close their eyes. To me, this comes as a sort of a literalized test of Indy’s “worthiness” because he finally has to acknowledge that there are powers outside the scope of his intellectual control. As a scientist, he has to “close his eyes” because the ark can’t be explained by his system of knowledge. Belloq fails this test and dies for it. But Indy must act as if he believes, even if he doesn’t really believe. He does, and he lives. That’s a significant moment.

It also leads us to the Ultimate Boon, which Indy never would have expected. This boon is the gift of having the Ark of the Covenant taken away and hidden in a government warehouse where it will be lost and forgotten. Indy had wanted to study it, but now nobody will ever see it again. And that’s fine with Indy. He realizes that the ark can’t fit into the Western “rational” understanding of the universe, so it needs to go away.

So, what is the Major Dramatic Question in the movie? Well, at a superficial level, it would be something like “will Indy capture the ark first?” It connects to the title, and we want the answer to be “yes” even while the Trials and Tribulations make it seem like the answer will be “no.”

But at a deeper level, in the interpretation I’m proposing here, maybe the MDQ is “will Indy, as a rational man of science, acknowledge powers that his intellect cannot explain?” For the answer to be “yes,” Indy has to change during the course of this story. He can’t be the man you see in the picture above, the one who thinks a bag of sand can substitute for a religious artifact because they weight about the same.

Published by Chuck Caruso

writer of dark fiction (crime, horror & western noir), literary & textual scholar (american gothic, noir, po-co, sf), and cultural critic

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