Friday, November 22, 2013

Alleged "story problem" in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

Fair warning: there are heavy spoilers for both last night's "Big Bang Theory" and also "Raiders of the Lost Ark" throughout. So, under no circumstances should you read this post.

Last night's episode of "The Big Bang Theory" centred around a story problem in "Raiders of the Lost Ark", specifically that Indiana Jones is actually entirely superfluous to the story - without Indy, the Nazis still find the Ark, still open the Ark, and still all die. Basically, he contributes nothing.

"Aha!" I immediately said, "but that's not right - the Nazis were digging in the wrong place!"

At this point, Lady Chocolat, who is wearily used to my heckling BBT, noted that they were only digging in the wrong place because they didn't have the medallion, but without Indy they would have gotten it first time out, and so would have been digging in the right place. Oh.

So, you can imagine my mirth and amusement when that exact conversation took place later in the show. In fact, the dialogue in the show was almost a word-for-word match of both what I said and LC's response.


The "story problem" only actually manifests if you posit that the film is about what happens to the Ark. But it's not. In fact, not only is it not, but the very title of the film makes that clear: it's not "The Lost Ark", it's "Raiders of the Lost Ark". The story is about Indiana Jones, and Marion, and Belloc, and the Nazis, and what happens to them - of which the face-melting covers only half of it.

As for the second half:

In the absence of Indiana Jones in the story, Marion's arc is rather different. As in the film, she is in her bar, and is approached by the Nazis about the medallion. As in the film, she refuses to give it to them. At which point, the Nazis torture her, kill her, and take the medallion.

Conversely, with Indiana Jones in the film, things play out as we see: Marion leaves her bar, deals with her alcohol problem, and is last seen happy and smiling. Realistic or not, that's the impact Indy has on her arc - she's alive and happy at the end of the film.

Likewise, Indy is changed by the film. At the start of the film, he's a hard-bitten scientist (as he says in "Last Crusade", archaelogy is the study of fact), but the climax of the film requires taking a leap of faith. And, like Marion, he has tackled at least some of his demons in the course of his adventure, not least the issue of his broken relationships with Prof. Ravenwood and Marion herself. (Not that that's really a good thing - the relationship between Indy and Marion is not entirely... appropriate, to put it mildly.)

Of course, without Indy in the film, none of that happens either.

(For what it's worth, the same is true in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", too. Again, he fails to get the treasure, but that's incidental to the real story, which is about the broken relationship between him and his dad.)

#55: "Pathfinder: Demon's Heresy", by Jim Groves

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