Raiders of the Lost Ark

I honestly can't remember the last time that I saw today's movie - Raiders of the Lost Ark, directed by Steven Spielberg in 1981. I think the last time that I saw this was probably the first time. I always seem to catch the more dopey sequels on TV, and I think those were in my head when I started to watch this movie today. I kept dreading watching this movie. "I don't like Indiana Jones," I continually said, thinking of movies like Temple of Doom. Everyone I mentioned this to reacted with displeasure, certain that I hated fun.

I tried to watch this movie again with an open mind, and it seemed to work. I found myself actually having fun watching the movie and enjoying myself. It was pretty enjoyable adventure movie, which is saying a lot, coming from me. I would have rather been watching Aguirre or something, but I still thought this was entertaining. What's cool about this film, though, is that there's actually a pretty neat story buried under the traditional adventure plot.

The movie, as I hope we all know, is about Indiana Jones, an archeology professor and an adventurer. He is hired by the US Government to go out and find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis get to it and deliver it to Hitler, who thinks it will give him great power. There's lots of daring chase scenes, fights, booby traps, and all sorts of stuff. It's everything you would want, and expect from, an adventure movie. It's fun and easy to watch, and really satisfying.

Harrison Ford is so well-cast in this role. I thought it was interesting that I read on Wikipedia (and a bit in Ebert's essay) that Ford wasn't the first choice. They at first wanted to cast a lesser-known actor for the role, but were impressed by Ford's performance in The Empire Strikes Back. He's a great combination of dashing, gruff, and skilled - he's attractive enough to be fun to look at, but also smart and awesome at his adventuring. He definitely is Indiana Jones - he's so synonymous with the character, at least for me. He had to be a perfect fit for the role if immediately connect the two names, you know?

As a kid, I liked this movie for the adventure and excitement. As an adult, I saw something else going on in the film. Ebert writes about it, so at least I'm not alone in this observation, although I do think it's a bit obvious.  The movie reminded me of Inglorious Basterds a little bit - it's sort of a revenge fantasy film! Ebert points out how obvious Spielberg's feelings about Nazis are, and how the movie feels like an excuse to show Nazis getting blown up. He points out a bunch of anti-Nazi images, writing, "Throughout the film, there is a parade of anti-Nazi symbolism and sly religious satire, as when a desperate Indy grabs the hood ornament of a Mercedes truck, and it snaps off. And when a Nazi torturer grabs a sacred relic and it burns a stigmata into his hand. When the ark is being transported in the hold of a Nazi ship, inside a stout lumber crate, the swastika and other Nazi markings spontaneously catch fire and are obliterated" (Great Movies II, 346).

I really agree with his thoughts here, and I noticed so much of this when I saw this movie this time. Maybe it's from revenge films like Basterds being more fresh in my head, but it was hard to ignore the symbolism and themes here. At the end of the film, I wondered if the Ark was just really powerful (like in Dogma (sorry) how when you hear the voice of God, you die) or if it hated Nazis. When you think about it, it's really important that the Ark is not just a religious artifact, but one carried around by the Israelites. I have a feeling it was intended to be Nazi-hating, and seemed like a pretty satisfactory revenge to me. I like that this theme is subtle enough to make it a fun family film (unlike Basterds which hopefully you wouldn't take your young children to), but still obvious enough to give the film a little more depth (and make it more personal, as well).

I had a lot of fun re-visiting this movie - it had been so long since I last saw it that it felt kind of new and interesting. It's not one of my favorite movies I've watched for this project, but it's really good, and it was fun to watch with my family and we had a really good time doing it. :)

Have any thoughts on Raiders of the Lost Ark? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Raiders of the Lost Ark
Buy it on Amazon

Raise the Red Lantern

The Producers