In Defense of 'Raiders'11 Oct, 2013 By: John Latchem
The Oct. 10 episode of “The Big Bang Theory” featured an intriguing premise. Primary geek Sheldon (Jim Parsons) treated his girlfriend, Amy (Mayim Bialik) to her first-ever viewing of Raiders of the Lost Ark, she suggested the film suffered from a major plot flaw, that Indiana Jones was ultimately irrelevant to the outcome of events.
She’s not altogether wrong. Even with Indiana Jones there, the Nazis found the Ark of the Covenant, took it to their secret island lair, opened it and died. And all of this would have happened if Indiana Jones had never showed up. And this little news sent Sheldon and his friends into a funk when obsessing over the detail, thinking it ruined the movie, and ultimately the franchise (aside from the fourth movie, which Sheldon said was bad on its own).
To their credit, the guys did try to punch holes in Amy’s theory. First, the suggestion that the Nazis were digging in the wrong spot, and only found the Ark because of Indy; this was countered by the assumption that without Indy, the Nazis would have gotten the medallion from Marion when they first tried, and would have found the right spot to dig. Then there was the idea that Indy’s presence at the opening ritual was how the U.S. government ended up with the Ark at the end; but then it was pointed out (somewhat incorrectly) that Indy actually failed because he wanted the Ark to go to a museum.
Surprisingly, they couldn’t figure out that Amy had missed the point. Amy’s primary mistake is that Indy’s so-called non-role is a “story problem.”
Remember that the movie is called Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s not Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, despite whatever promotional materials the Lucasfilm marketing department has put out over the years.
The title raiders are the Nazis, and the film’s story is their attempt to find the Ark, only to be hampered by a pesky archeologist and the mysterious forces surrounding the title artifact. One could argue that Indy failing to actually stop the Nazis from doing anything (or at least making them work harder to do it) wasn't a problem with the movie, it was, in its ironic charm, actually the whole point. He was also the audience surrogate, there to explain why the Nazis were ultimately destroyed by the Ark.
As for Indiana Jones not being essential to the story, that depends on your point of view. True, he didn't stop the Nazis from doing what they were trying to do. But so what? It's not a plot hole, by any means. Even so, to say that Indiana Jones had no impact on the story is like saying the losing team in a football game had no impact on the outcome.
Or, to use another sports analogy, take a look at Bobby Thomson’s home run in the 1951 playoffs. It’s often listed as the most famous home run in history. Is it ultimately inessential because the Giants didn’t go on to win the World Series?
Of course not. Try telling that to Ralph Branca.
The whole point of the movie is to accompany Indiana Jones on an adventure. Our liking of the character is based more on his demeanor and daring-do, not whether he actually succeeds at his goal. This tone is established almost immediately, as Indiana escapes the temple in the opening scene with the idol and then loses it to Belloq, only to escape with his life with nothing to show for it. The rest of the story is just an excuse for Indy to engage in a series of spectacular action setpieces, and that's why the movie is so fun.
Then again, without Indy there, the Nazis probably would have killed Marion as a loose end. Because of Indy, she’s still alive. That has to count for something, especially if you like watching the film for its love story.
What I will say about the plot structure is something I noticed when rewatching the films when the Blu-rays came out last year. In both Raiders and the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy only joins the quest after the real heavy lifting has been accomplished. The key clue in Raiders is the map room, and the Nazis already discovered that, and the headpiece of Ra, previously uncovered by Marion’s father, Abner. In Last Crusade, most of the major clues have already been revealed by Henry Sr. Indy kind of swoops in to be a disruptive force, hired not to go on a quest, but to pick up the pieces.
Speaking of the Blu-ray, I was a little disappointed to see that Sheldon only had the DVD version. Any Raiders fan worth his salt would have picked up the Blu-ray boxed set of the trilogy.