The Big Bang Theory Is a Big Dud (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

 “All I want is the girl.” —Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark

 

A couple of weeks ago, I receive a call from my friend, Graham, who asks me if I caught the latest episode of the The Big Bang Theory.  I have watched the show maybe a dozen times—I am not a fan and I had not seen the latest episode.  He tells me that Amy, Sheldon’s girlfriend, leveled a devastating criticism at Raiders of the Lost Ark and goes on to repeat her point almost verbatim:

Indiana Jones plays no role in the outcome of the story. If he weren’t in the film, it would turn out exactly the same.

It is an interesting criticism at face value, but an exceptionally flawed one.

To demonstrate how flawed this criticism is, ask yourself: “Do Marion and Indy have the same relationship at the beginning of the film as they do at the end of the film?”

The answer is “No.”  And I would argue that like the statue in The Maltese Falcon, The Ark is a MacGuffin and as such, not the real goal of Indiana Jones.  What the hell is a MacGuffin?   It is the object or goal the hero pursues—simply put, it is a device the author uses to set the plot in motion.  Now the MacGuffin is important to the story, but it does not necessarily mean that the MacGuffin is at the crux in the plot.

In The Maltese Falcon for instance, whether The Falcon is fake or not is inconsequential to the crux of the plot.  It is inconsequential because Sam Spade is really searching for the murderer of his partner, Miles Archer.  The problem for Spade is that the killer is Miss O’Shaughnessy, a woman he has fallen for in his pursuit of both the murderer and The Falcon.  It is Spade’s agonizing decision between the woman he loves and his loyalty to his dead partner that is at the heart of The Maltese Falcon.  And Bogart, being an astute actor, plays this scene as if it is the hardest decision he has ever had to make, covering up his vulnerability with cynicism and gallows humor.  Without the Spade’s conflict, The Maltese Falcon is a flimsy detective story about a counterfeit statue.

Similarly the conflict between Marion and Indy and the hero’s search for redemption is the crux of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  If Indy is to find The Ark, he must find Abner Ravenwood first.  And with the mention of Abner, Marion enters the picture.  Consider the blocking in the scene when Marion and Indy meet in her bar.  Indy flanks Marion on one side and his shadow flanks her on the other.  And Indy’s shadow looms over them both.  In that one shot, the cinematographer shows everything we need to know about their present relationship and their troubled past.  And while we may not be totally convinced by Indy’s apology – he does leave Marion tied up in the tent to pursue The Ark after all – by the conclusion of the film we have little doubt she has forgiven him.  When Indy tries parlaying for safe passage of the island, he tells the Nazis, “All I want is the girl.”  And he surrenders only because he knows chances of escaping are slim to none.

In any case, Indy does redeem himself for how he has treated Marion.  So Indiana Jones does play a role in outcome of the film.  If I am correct and if Indiana Jones wants redemption and Marion’s forgiveness more than he wants The Ark, then he succeeds as a hero.

It is fitting that fictional characters having a low, collective emotional I.Q. like the characters in The Big Bang Theory would miss the importance of the relationship at the center of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  What I find disconcerting is that so many real people would overlook the obvious.

 

Postscript.

Indy also saves Marion from torture at the hands of Major Toht.  And it takes very little imagination to think Toht would have killed Marion to cover the trail of the headpiece.  Of course in the film, Toht follows Indy to Marion, but I doubt the Nazis needed to follow Indy to find the Ravenwoods.  It is absurd to think the Nazis know they need the headpiece and know Ravenwood has the headpiece, but the lack the resources to find him.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is riddled with consistency and plot problems.

Why does Indy need two guides, two donkeys, and a map to find the temple that houses the golden idol, but when the native population gives chase he is in running distance of a airplane?  And naturally he knows exactly where the airplane is in relation to the temple.

How is it that he switches between a Colt 1911 and an English revolver in the middle of a gunfight inside a bar?  Easy—they didn’t have enough coverage because the film was shot so quickly.

And then there’s the ridiculous problem of how he remains on the U-boat.

None of these problems really hurt the film, because the substance of the film is the character development between Marion and Indy.  Without that conflict and resolution, Raiders of the Lost Ark would have been yet another hollow adventure film.

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