04 April 2008 @ 01:11 am
Spielberg: Raiders of the Lost Ark part 3  






During my internet travels the other day I was reminded that Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1981. It didn't win. Can anyone name the winner without looking it up? I couldn't for the life of me. It was Chariots of Fire, a movie I don't think anyone has thought of since the moment it won the Oscar. Goes to show you.

Act II of Raiders ends on a major cliffhanger -- the Well of Souls is open and we're about to find out what's inside. Indiana Jones's soul is in danger, the sky is roiling with what I've come to call "Spielberg clouds," Marion is tied up in the bad guy's tent, the narrative is at its highest point of tension. Then, just as the beginning of Act I, tension is replaced by comedy as we find that the Well of Souls is filled with snakes. We remember the snake on the plane (snake on the plane!) as the low-comedy climax to Chapter 1, and now we have thousands of snakes. The roiling sky disappears and Indy's mania is replaced with weary chagrin as his mystical quest becomes merely physically dangerous.

So -- let's do this.


ACT III (59:00 - 1:30:00) involves a simple (simple!) series of pursuits and thefts, escapes and chases. Indy steals the Ark from the Well of Souls, Belloq steals the Ark from Indy, Indy steals the Ark back from Belloq. Belloq steals the Ark from Indy and "in exchange" gives him Marion, underlining Marion's significance in the story -- Indy can pursue the Ark (that is, power) or he can take care of Marion (that is, be a "good man"), but he cannot do both.

CHAPTER 1 (59:00 - 1:10:00): Indy descends into the Well of Souls as Marion uses her mutant drinking power to try to escape Belloq. The interesting thing about Belloq giving Marion the flouncy white dress and the gourmet meal is that he is, perhaps unintentionally, being the "good suitor" that Indy never was and still isn't. Belloq provides her with dinner, a nice dress and a bottle of wine from his family's private vineyard. He's got money, power and social standing. He's polite, gracious and generous. We know that Marion isn't going to fall for it, and yet she actually says at one point to him that she'd like to see him "under different circumstances." So on some level we see that Marion could go for a version of Belloq, that she isn't necessarily at home in a Nepalese bar drinking locals under the table. This both suggests a poorly-developed narrative tension for Marion and a further example of Belloq and Indy being two sides of the same coin.

Marion, of course, tries to escape and runs into Toht. Toht walks in, they do the gag with the coat hanger, and then Toht sits down and, in a creepy, giggling Nazi voice to rival Peter Lorre, suggests that a long night of torture is about to occur.

The next time we see Marion, she shows no signs of being tortured or even strongly questioned. So what happened with her and Toht? I puzzled about this for a long time, and then, while watching the "making of" documentary of 1941 the answer was presented. The coat-hanger gag, it turns out, was originally part of the sequence on Cmdr Mitamura's submarine. In the earlier movie, it was Nazi Christopher Lee threatening Slim Pickens with the coat hanger. The gag in 1941 is poorly staged and the gag didn't get the laugh Spielberg wanted, so he insisted that he was going to work the gag into every movie he made until it got a laugh. That movie turned out to be Raiders, and here it is, and it works like gangbusters. And what I realized is that Toht doesn't torture Marion, or even question her -- the scene is there only to include the coat-hanger gag. Once Marion reveals that she is not falling for Belloq, that she has gotten him drunk (shades of Judith of Bethulia) in order to escape, the scene is done -- Belloq is betrayed, Marion is caught and Belloq throws her away.

This is, perhaps, the "lesson" Marion needs to learn -- the "nice guy" may have power, wealth and influence, but the rough-hewn rogue will give you independence, freedom and adventure -- when he's not causing you to be kidnapped and murdered, anyway.

Indy and Sallah descend into the Well of Souls (imagine my shock to learn there is such a thing!), nab the Ark (I always cringe when, after lifting up the stone lid of the sarcophagus, Indy and Sallah just chuck it to the floor, where it shatters into dust -- what the hell kind of archaeologist is this? Some history lover!) and head back, just in time for Belloq to show up to throw Marion down with Indy.

Here's a question. Belloq has the Ark, Indy knows Belloq's got the Ark, we know Belloq has the Ark, but does Belloq know he has the Ark? The narrative says yes, absolutely, but after watching the movie oh, approximately fifty million times, I suddenly found myself asking "Hey wait, Belloq doesn't even open the crate to check to make sure that the Ark of the Covenant is inside. How does he know for sure that he has it?" And, more to the point, why does he seal the Well of Souls with Indy and Marion inside? The moustache-twirling villain answer is obvious enough, but again I have to ask, what kind of brilliant archaeologists are these guys? Indy routinely demolishes sacred temples and Belloq seals the Well of Souls without even taking a look inside. Isn't he even curious about what sort of things might be found in a super-secret chamber called the Well of Souls? What other treasures might be squirreled away in such a super-secret chamber? There are mummies-aplenty down there, and thousands of snakes, but Belloq doesn't even seem to care that there might be some cool statuary or illuminative artwork on the walls. He doesn't even remark on the giant jackal statues holding up the roof. If I was a world-renowned brilliant archaeologist, and I had my nemesis on the ropes, and a million Nazis at my disposal, I'd send a few guys with machine-guns down into the Well of Souls to kill Indy and Marion, drop in some poison gas to kill the snakes, and spend a substantial amount of time quantifying all the mysteries of this room that hasn't been seen in, you know, four thousand years. But no, Belloq has his crate, he's perfectly happy to seal up the Well of Souls and head back to Berlin (well, by way of Anonymous Mediterranean Island, to be sure, but still).

Again, another 180-degree character reversal for the protagonist -- he begins the chapter as the most powerful man in the world, and ends it locked in a death chamber, powerless (but with his beloved).

CHAPTER 2 (1:10:00 - 1:20:00) :
Belloq's disregard for history is soon topped by Indy, who at least has desperation on his side as he topples one of the jackal statues in order to demolish a wall and get him and Marion out of there.

(Another stupid question: where do the snakes come from, and how do they live down in the Well of Souls? The narrative indicates that they come from outside, and apparently come and go as they please, but there are thousands of them -- what are they eating all this time? And when the army of Nazis are looking for the Well of Souls, how come no one notices the hole in the ground where the thousands of snakes slither out every night looking for food?)

The Escape from the Well of Souls is followed directly by the Fight on the Plane, back-to-back blockbuster scenes, beautifully staged, choreographed and executed. The character beat I note in the Fight is that the Big Guy With Moustache easily bests Indy with one punch, and it isn't until Indy realizes that Marion's life is at stake that he gets up and takes him on. Again, the twin pursuits of Marion and Indy butt against each other -- Indy, faced with BGWM, thinks twice about pursuing the Ark, but when the potential prize is Marion he finds the strength to fight on.

(At this juncture of the narrative, my five-year-old daughter Kit announced "there aren't very many women in this movie." Well, she's got a point.)

Indy and Marion blow up the plane, causing the Nazis to load it onto a truck instead (which Sallah conveniently stops by to announce).

CHAPTER 3 (1:20:00 - 1:30:00) But the Ark isn't on the plane, it's been loaded instead onto a truck. Thus follows a ten-minute truck chase sequence, the longest in the movie, and another tour-de-force masterpiece of action, pace and choreography, ending with Indy getting away with the Ark.

ACT IV involves Belloq re-stealing the Ark from Indy and spiriting it away to the Unnamed Mediterranean Island (with the Secret Nazi Submarine Base), with Indy in pursuit. There is very little character left to be explored in the narrative at this point, just pursuit, capture and spectacle.

CHAPTER 1 (1:30:00-1:39:00) The Ark is loaded onto Capt Katanga's vessel. Capt Katanga is presented as a red herring -- a dark, mysterious, threatening character who turns out to be not only a good guy, but a wily manipulator of others' perceptions. I'd like to see a movie about Capt Katanga and his adventures carrying risky cargo around the Mediterranean in the 1930s. His name is close enough to Kananga's in Live and Let Die that I think it's safe to assume the similarity is intentional (especially when you consider that Indiana Jones was George Lucas's answer to Spielberg's desire to direct a James Bond movie).

Belloq gives Marion a white dress and then throws her into the Well of Souls, then Katanga gives her another white dress (this one nicer than Belloq's, but what do I know). Are we to infer that Marion just doesn't get it, that men who give her white dresses don't necessarily have her best interests at heart?

In any case, Marion appears in her white silk dress and Indy takes off his shirt and Marion and Indy have their almost-love-scene. And I find myself wondering about Indy's relationship with Marion from "ten years ago -- " what did he do to her that was so abominable that it destroyed his relationship with Abner? Here, he's such a thoughtless lover that he doesn't even make it through sex -- he falls asleep in the middle of the first kiss. And I can see Marion sighing and thinking "geez, at least with Belloq I'd get a decent wardrobe and some good food."

Moments later, of course, Belloq turns up in a U-boat to grab the Ark and Marion. I can barely watch the deck scene where Belloq and Katanga barter for possession of Marion -- not because of the sexual barbarism on display, but because the actress playing Marion is quite obviously freezing to death in her flimsy white dress.

CHAPTER 2 (1:39:00 - 1:44:00): Belloq takes off with the Ark and Marion and heads to Secret Submarine Base Island, with Indy secretly piggy-backing on the deck of the U-boat. Head Nazi Dietrich announces that he's uncomfortable with "this Jewish ceremony" of opening the Ark, which made me wonder -- is Belloq Jewish? He's already a Frenchman collaborating with the Nazis, but is he also a Jew? The narrative does not say so explicitly, but Belloq dons the Jewish Priest robes and chants in Hebrew -- is he "putting on a show" for God, or is he actually a Jew, with his own agenda against the Nazis he moves among? Think of that! If Belloq is a Jew, manipulating not only Indy and Marion, but also the Nazis, into getting him the Ark, planning to screw them all and become ruler of the world, just think of how much more interesting a character that makes him -- he's almost a better protagonist than Indy!

On the way to the Place Where They Open The Ark (how did they decide on this location, I wonder? Why can't they open it in the submarine dock? Why do they have to shlep across the island to this non-descript grotto?) Indy catches up to them and, disguised as a Nazi (his second disguise of the movie) threatens to blow up the Ark. Belloq calls his bluff and Indy backs down -- he cannot destroy the artifact, even though it means that Belloq (and maybe Hitler) might rule the world. And so he is bound, literally, to his other prize, Marion.

(Belloq, of course, goes to The Place Where They Open The Ark because it makes for better drama cinematically, the exact same reason why the aliens land at Devil's Tower in Close Encounters.)

CHAPTER 3 (1:44:00 - 1:51:00): A chapter of pure spectacle as the Ark is opened and fireworks ensue. My daughter was terrified at this scene -- she was perfectly okay with the movie up to this point, but the angel/demons and the Wrath of God freaked her out plenty. My wife has some problems with this scene herself, and I have my own issues, although mine are not the same as my wife's.

My wife's problem with the scene is that she feels it's tacky. The movie has been building up to this moment of what is going to happen when they open the Ark? and then when it's opened and the Wrath of God is presented, it's all rather Technicolor and scary and gory, with melting faces and exploding heads, which to her seems like an inconsistency. Myself, I think Spielberg has no higher aspiration here than presenting the Power of God in images that will match those in Cecil B. Demille's The Ten Commandments, and in this he succeeds well enough.

My problem with the scene is that, after dozens of viewings, I'm still not sure what happens in it. Belloq says some magic words, the Ark is opened, and is revealed to contain sand. What does this mean? The first time I saw the movie I thought "well, that's the remains of the stone tablets -- over the years they've been pulverized into sand." But subsequent viewings make me doubt this reading -- we're clearly meant, I believe, to think Belloq has picked a dud Ark, that it's just full of the same sand that was sitting around the Well of Souls, or perhaps somewhere in history the tablet fragments have been swiped and replaced with sand to give the Ark some heft.

But then, in spite of the Ark being filled with sand, the magic happens and everyone gets zapped. Why? What does the Ark actually contain? Is it, as Belloq suggests earlier, not the container of the stone tablets at all, but rather "a radio for talking to God?" which would mean that, strictly speaking, there is nothing in the Ark, but the Ark itself is the artifact? But that makes no sense -- the Ark was built by whomever to house the remains of the stone tablets, it shouldn't necessarily have any powers unto itself.

It is, of course, called "The Ark of the Covenant," which in one way suggests that it's built to house the Ten Commandments, but in another sense it suggests that it houses an agreement with God, a kind of "hot-line" to God. Although it seems like God is cranky about getting unsolicited calls on this particular hot-line, which makes me wonder what the point of the Ark is in the first place. The New Testament God wouldn't zap anyone who tried to open his hot-line, he'd ask them to pull up a chair and have some bread and wine while you chat about your troubles. Or maybe he'd have you whipped and tortured in the public square, you never can tell with the New Testament God.

A literal "pillar of fire" rises into the heavens, makes a u-turn and heads back down into the Ark -- what is this? Is this some divine energy reaching into Heaven? If so, why does it stop short with the ionosphere and head back, to get locked back in the Ark?

More to the point, why are Indy and Marion spared? Because they "don't look?" Does that mean that if Toht had had something in his eye when Belloq opened the Ark and turned away at the proper moment he would have been spared too?

(Dramatically, of course, this makes perfect sense. Indy is, essentially, a scientist, a skeptical inquirer obsessed with knowledge. He survives the Ark incident because he makes the decision to remain ignorant of whatever is inside the box. Shades of Pandora.)

Indy reluctantly turns the Ark over to the folks in Washington (getting screwed by the government, who had previously promised to turn the Ark over to the museum). He loses everything -- he always does -- but gains Marion. "They don't know what they've got there," grouses Indy, answered by Marion's "Well I know what I've got here," and Indy makes one small gesture of gentlemanliness by offering her his arm as they stroll down the steps of the government building.

Indiana Jones, of course, begins every movie cynical and jaded and ends every movie enlightened and humble, then starts the whole cycle over the next time. He never learns a thing, which is one of the things that makes him lovable.

A few posts back, one of my readers asked me if there is a Disney reference in all of Spielberg's movies. I can't find an overt one in Raiders (unless you want to call the roiling clouds a reference to the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in Fantasia), but the closing reference to Welles is unmistakable.



hitcounter
 
 
( 45 comments — Leave a comment )
Curtis Holmancurt_holman on April 4th, 2008 11:31 am (UTC)
"But subsequent viewings make me doubt this reading -- we're clearly meant, I believe, to think Belloq has picked a dud Ark..."

Also, how are we to interpret Indy's expressions during this? When they open the Ark and find the sand, we see Indy's face and he's not surprised. Then, when the magic starts happening, he clearly IS surprised.

And does this tie into that scene when the Nazis are on Katanga's boat, and Indy goes to the hold to see the Ark? We don't know what he does with the Ark, if anything, but he probably noticed that the swastika has been burned off. (Or does Indy go to the Ark when the Nazis get on the boat? I remember him going belowdecks and then a shot of someone opening a door and seeing the Ark, which I always assumed was Indy, but it could be the shadow of some Nazi.)

I remember having two competing theories about this:
1. That Indy replaced the contents of the Ark with sand at some point (although it's unlikely he would've left the fragments of the 10 Commandments just lying around a boat somewhere); or
2. Noticing that the Ark doesn't like the swastika on the crate made him realize that the Ark would bring the wrath of God down on the Nazis.

Has anyone ever explained how Indy survived clinging to the outside of a U-boat? Did it just never submerge for however long it took to get to the island? Is that plausible U-boat operating procedure? I think Mad Magazine suggested that God parted the sea while Indy was on top of the boat.
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on April 4th, 2008 11:36 am (UTC)
Indy does go somewhere on Katanga's boat during the night, it never occurred to me that he goes to the hold to fiddle with the Ark. If he goes to the hold and fills the Ark up with sand, that would bring us all the way around back to the beginning of the movie where he tries the same trick with the Peruvian idol, with similar results.

I don't think it's impossible that a U-Boat would sail on the surface from Cairo to Secret Submarine Base Island -- the Germans, after all, are not at war with anyone when the movie takes place.
Curtis Holmancurt_holman on April 4th, 2008 08:23 pm (UTC)
Maybe Indy's first look conveys that he suspected that the ark would be a dud, because of his atheism/skepticism, and his second look is the dawning awareness that if the ark is real, the hammer's about to come down. I guess we should assume that he never opened the ark or anything like that.

Don't Indy and Marion's ropes turn into smoke at the end?

This discussion has given me the idea for a post-colonial, 'reverse Indiana Jones' who travels the Western world breaking into museums and private collections to rescue artifacts plundered from third world countries and returns them to their rightful places. I see Naveen Andrews in the role.
planettomplanettom on April 4th, 2008 12:07 pm (UTC)
The U-Boat not submerging is pretty plausible; once you submerge a U-Boat you're running on battery rather than diesel and your submerge time (and speed) is pretty limited. So they'd travel on the surface most of the time.

But then, you have to wonder why the deck crew doesn't notice him.

I have heard that there's actually a deleted scene or a scene in the original script where Indy lashes himself to the periscope with his whip, and then the U-Boat does submerge, or partially submerges, or something. Of course, this doesn't really make sense either; submerged U-Boats don't travel with their periscopes constantly raised. Which is probably why the scene didn't survive.
buzzmo on April 23rd, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
I swear there's a scene where we see that Indy simply hid *inside* the sub. He grabs a pea coat and cap and everything. I know I've seen it.
planettomplanettom on April 23rd, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
There's the scene where, after he gets to the island and is in the sub pen, he steals the first guy's uniform, discovers it's too small, and then, when an officer is berating him for his sloppy uniform, knocks him out and steals his uniform and cap. But I don't think the scene you describe exists.

As long as I'm mentioning the sub pen, that scene where the sub seems to use an underwater tunnel to gain egress to the island, that to me always seemed a likely homage to both the Disney 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA with a similar scene on Captain Nemo's secret island, and also from the 1975 Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT where a U-Boat goes through an underwater tunnel to get to the interior of an island full of dinosaurs.
buzzmo on April 23rd, 2008 05:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm not talking about that scene.
planettomplanettom on April 23rd, 2008 09:24 pm (UTC)
I can see how you got that idea, but you're mistaken; there's a guy who looks rather like Harrison Ford in pea coat and white turtleneck and cap, but it's not him. In a later scene it's clearly not him.

Also, right after we see that guy in the sub, we then see Indy crawl onto the U-Boat from the ocean, and Katanga's crew cheers.
planettomplanettom on April 4th, 2008 12:14 pm (UTC)
RE: taking the ark to the interior of the island to the natural amphitheater, or the same thing happening behind Devil's Tower in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: It seems that both Belloq and the aliens like to give things a sense of occasion.

Something that always gets me in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is when they're setting up and the guy over the P.A. system is saying, "Isn't it a beautiful evening? I don't think we could have asked for weather more beautiful."

I'm always half-expecting him to say, "Hello Wyoming! Are you ready to ROCK?!! Are you ready for FIRST CONTACT?!"
nat: hexleymr_effulgence on April 4th, 2008 12:44 pm (UTC)
we're clearly meant, I believe, to think Belloq has picked a dud Ark

But, because of the burning swastika scene, aren't we also meant to think that this ark is the real thing?

Another thing, which I've always wondered, is, Why are the Nazis filming this? Are they doing it because Hitler can't be there but wants to see the opening? Are they just making a li'l Nazi home movie? And would everyone who watched the movie get zapped, too?
Antonius Blockchronoso on April 6th, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC)
the nazi have a history of filming, um, pretty much a lot of their we-are-awesome spectacles. up to a certain point, they were let's-document-this crazy. i figure they'd edit into some sort of leni riefenstahl propaganda flick for film students in the future to ooze over.
Loki Carbislokicarbis on April 4th, 2008 01:04 pm (UTC)
More to the point, why are Indy and Marion spared? Because they "don't look?" Does that mean that if Toht had had something in his eye when Belloq opened the Ark and turned away at the proper moment he would have been spared too?

(Dramatically, of course, this makes perfect sense. Indy is, essentially, a scientist, a skeptical inquirer obsessed with knowledge. He survives the Ark incident because he makes the decision to remain ignorant of whatever is inside the box. Shades of Pandora.)


I think you're off with the Pandora analogy - looking or not looking makes no difference in that story. I always thought that was more a Sodom and Gomorrah thing - no one's supposed to look upon the Wrath of God, lest they be turned into a pillar of salt. Or melt.
(Deleted comment)
Chris Pierschrispiers on April 4th, 2008 01:46 pm (UTC)
I was about to type up my interpretation, but it mirrors Mr. O'Malley's.
emimitabu on April 4th, 2008 10:23 pm (UTC)
i've always taken the ending as a humility vs pride thing. anyone trying to open the ark to become God is going to meet a tower of babel type end. indy and marion are spared because they avert their eyes in a gesture of humility. they know their place enough not even to look at God/God's power, and thus are of course not trying to become God.

...which makes indy's atheism very interesting. he's too humble to aspire to the divine, because he doesn't believe there is anything higher to begin with. but that's not the kind of humility that God is supposed to reward, is it? yet, the ark scene.

by the way, on my childhood/teen/adulthood reading of the last scene where the ark/God has a mind of its own, it turns out that the movie's action comes to nothing, insofar as the central conflict is concerned. you just can't blow up the world with the ark. i actually like how that fits in with the broader idea that the big picture doesn't matter, just the immediate tension of events themselves. i don't think that's some Meaning meant to be conveyed by the film, but it's a nice parallel for me.
(Deleted comment)
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on April 5th, 2008 09:39 am (UTC)
Re: We were playing D&D when this came out...
Your D&D remark will lead us nicely into the discussion of E.T..
Schwa Loveschwa242 on April 4th, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC)
My problem with the scene is that, after dozens of viewings, I'm still not sure what happens in it. Belloq says some magic words, the Ark is opened, and is revealed to contain sand. What does this mean? The first time I saw the movie I thought "well, that's the remains of the stone tablets -- over the years they've been pulverized into sand." But subsequent viewings make me doubt this reading -- we're clearly meant, I believe, to think Belloq has picked a dud Ark, that it's just full of the same sand that was sitting around the Well of Souls, or perhaps somewhere in history the tablet fragments have been swiped and replaced with sand to give the Ark some heft.

So, do you think this was intentionally foreshadowed in the beginning of the movie when Indy replaces an artifact with a bag of sand?
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on April 4th, 2008 07:26 pm (UTC)
This did not occur to me until just now, but it's certainly cool.
Zohoemaleficone on April 30th, 2008 08:13 pm (UTC)
This is an interesting thought and one that also had never occurred to me either. Is it possible that Indy replaces the tablets with sand while still in the Well of Souls before Belloq and the Nazis show up to swipe it? It would seem the most logical place. It would also explain Indy's knowing smirk at their discovery at the altar that the ark contains nothing of value. This would also seem to be a worthy and ironic comeuppance to Belloq after Indy loses the Peruvian Idol to him in the opening sequence. But this still does not explain the supernatural powers exhibited by the ark after it is opened by the Nazis. And where would the tablets be? Still down in the Well of the Souls (which, as mentioned, Belloq fails to explore)? Some interesting thoughts...

As a side note, I must say I am glad I have stumbled onto your blog. You offer some interesting commentary and insight into some of my favorite films. I look forward to more of them...
The 14th Windiest State: What? (Bilko)rjwhite on April 4th, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC)
This is a ridiculous, out-there kind of thing, but in the first trailer for the new film, it seems as though they're in some sort of huge government warehouse, possibly the same one in which the ark is housed. Is it possible that the ark is somehow involved in the new film? Also, there's been hints that the plot has something to do with 50s sci-fi... maybe the ark wasn't communicating with god, but rather something/one else in an upward direction who would have appeared as gods to folks in biblical times.
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on April 4th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC)
I do have the suspicion that the new movie involves an aliens/gods confusion, yes.
(Anonymous) on May 2nd, 2008 07:50 pm (UTC)
Crystal Skull
> Is it possible that the ark is somehow involved
> in the new film?

Very possible. If you watch the trailer closely, you can catch a quick glimpse of the crate with the same "U.S. Army Intel" number stenciled on the side.
pjharveypjamesharvey on April 4th, 2008 02:15 pm (UTC)
If I was a world-renowned brilliant archaeologist, and I had my nemesis on the ropes, and a million Nazis at my disposal, I'd send a few guys with machine-guns down into the Well of Souls to kill Indy and Marion, drop in some poison gas to kill the snakes, and spend a substantial amount of time quantifying all the mysteries of this room that hasn't been seen in, you know, four thousand years.

And if you had Hitler on your back demanding the quick recovery of an artefact you may decide to hot-foot it out of there right away, to return in a few weeks' time, rather than offending the Führer.
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on April 4th, 2008 07:30 pm (UTC)
But he doesn't say to Indy "Well, I must be off -- I'll be back in a few weeks to get rid of your bodies." He says "Now you're about to become part of history -- who knows, in a few thousand years maybe you, too will be worth something." Which, admittedly is just rhetoric, but still -- what an asshole.

It also occurs to me that, if a few weeks earlier he was in Peru swiping an idol, no sooner will he get back to Berlin than Hitler will say "Great -- now go get me the Spear of Destiny." (Or the Holy Grail.)
johnnybacardi: Super-Hip!jbacardi on April 4th, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC)
Regarding the whole "Jewish Ceremony" thing, I don't think Belloc was necessarily Jewish, nor did Spielberg mean to imply it- it just seems obvious that if you're going to have a mystical ceremony to open a supernatural Hebrew artifact, then what other sort of ceremony would be fitting? And donning the robes, etc. would just be a necessary part of the ritual.
(Anonymous) on April 4th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
I always had a problem with the Well of Souls scene. Indy and Sallah were doing all this fancy mumbo jumbo trying to find this place and then they had to dig for what seemed hours to uncover it. But then, when Indy knocks the statue down and escapes out the side, he walks out a clear as day stone door almost right into the Nazi camp. No one noticed this stone structure and thought, "Hey, that might be the well of souls?" We're to believe that he and Marion are going to be sealed up underground forever but then it's just a matter of walking out the side of the building? That was always a little iffy for me.
(Anonymous) on April 4th, 2008 05:52 pm (UTC)
Well, the Nazis obviously knew that they were over the ruins of entire ancient city. The whole point of the staff and map room was to show where exactly in the city the Ark was located. They probably found other building entrances throughout the area, but it would've been pointless to search them all because they weren't the location of the Ark (as far as they knew).
planettom: nighthawksplanettom on April 4th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
Indy doesn't really walk out of a stone door, he pushes a block out of the antechamber. But rather than split hairs on that, I'd like to mention something much more mysterious.
The Mystery Guy At The Well Of Souls Backdoor!
Who the heck is THIS guy? When Indy and Marion clamber out through the hole, there's this guy either asleep or unconscious or dead just to the left.
mr_noymr_noy on April 4th, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC)
I don't think there's ever any doubt that the ark is 'real', at least within the context of the movie. As for the sand, I think that's a brilliant misdirect. After spending all that time in the desert searching for the ark what could be more disappointing than finding a boxful of the most ubiquitous (therefore worthless) substance in the desert; sand? After all that, we expect more, and sure enough, Spielberg gives it to us.

There's a common belief that to gaze directly at god is to invite death and destruction; that the sacred is too beautiful and too terrible to withstand. That's ultimately an impossible concept to illustrate (in fact, the divine always looks lame in movies, the demonic almost always fares better). Still, Spielberg and ILM have to give you your ticket's worth and they do. The Nazi's pay the price for not respectfully diverting their gaze and for even touching the sacred remnants within the ark. They not only think themselves equal to God, but are foolish enough to think that they can harness God's powers for their own evil needs. I think Belloq's motivation is far simpler; like Indy he wants to know, to see for himself, to witness history and, if possible, have a little tete a tete with old Yahweh, Himself. It's a compulsion, and Indy, as you pointed out, fights his instinct to know the truth so he and Marion are both spared.

Here's what always bugged me though, even as a child: at that moment in the movie, our POV isn't Indy's or Marion's, it's the Nazi's. We see what they see so, given the logic of the film, we too should be damned and destroyed. I've always wondered how this scene would play if the screen went black as Indy and Marion shut their eyes. Would the scene be more frightening if we only heard what was happening? Once things quieted down Indy and Marion would open their eyes again and we would see the aftermath. I think that would better convey the sense of the sacred and terrible but, let's face it, it's not visually exciting and besides, who doesn't love melting Nazi heads?
(Anonymous) on April 4th, 2008 05:57 pm (UTC)
"Would the scene be more frightening if we only heard what was happening? Once things quieted down Indy and Marion would open their eyes again and we would see the aftermath. I think that would better convey the sense of the sacred and terrible but, let's face it, it's not visually exciting and besides, who doesn't love melting Nazi heads?"

It would've been interesting, but yeah, it's not the blockbustery choice.
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on April 4th, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
the divine always looks lame in movies, the demonic almost always fares better

I myself think the "film jumping the gate" bit at the end of Last Temptation is the best example of the divine-on-film idea we've gotten in our times.
emimitabu on April 4th, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
"Here's what always bugged me though, even as a child: at that moment in the movie, our POV isn't Indy's or Marion's, it's the Nazi's. We see what they see so, given the logic of the film, we too should be damned and destroyed. I've always wondered how this scene would play if the screen went black as Indy and Marion shut their eyes. Would the scene be more frightening if we only heard what was happening? Once things quieted down Indy and Marion would open their eyes again and we would see the aftermath. I think that would better convey the sense of the sacred and terrible but, let's face it, it's not visually exciting and besides, who doesn't love melting Nazi heads?"

as commented above, i agree (and have always agreed) with your reading of what's going on regarding pride/humility and divine punishment.

but taking that to be what's going on, i think it's GENIUS that our point of view is the nazis' in this scene. you're following this (when you get down to it) wholly good soul, indiana jones, throughout the movie. you see his temptations, but you know he's the Good Guy. all's right with the world, for the most part, tense action sequences or otherwise. then for this built up thing, suddenly you're not with that guy anymore. you're getting a real taste of indy's temptation, the full meaning of it. you're a nazi committing a sin apparently great enough that God comes down and smites people for it himself. it's really terrifying and jarring.

i actually think a lot of people scared at this scene (like i was as a child) aren't scared by the light show, but because now they're identifying with something very bad, and coming face to face with implacable punishment, as people get burned up and such. i love it.
adam-0ooadam_0oo on April 4th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
Marion uses her mutant drinking power to try to escape Belloq

Hurray!

One other thing I really always liked about Indiana Jones is that in fights, he gets HURT. You can see it especially in the airplane and then truck fight scenes. He gets shot, pummeled, pulled behind a truck, and even when he is punching other guys, you see his knuckles bleeding. So many movies have these fight scenes that resemble professional wrestleing in that no one ever gets hurt, or at most, spits out a little blood. I often thought of this movie when watching Tomb Raider, which owes a great deal to Indiana, never once in that movie do you think Jolie is in one seconds worth of danger. She never even gets dirty.
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on April 4th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
It's true -- few stars in our time get beat up better, or more often, than Harrison Ford.
adam-0ooadam_0oo on April 4th, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC)
Yeah, thats why I dont feel bad when he falls asleep on the boat with Marion, dude has had a LONG day.
(Anonymous) on April 4th, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)
The new Indy IS about Aliens (and probably Origins of Life). I was suspecting this as soon as it was officially announced there was going to be a fourth installment. At that time the prevalent speculation on the Internet was "Indiana Jones and the [insert artifact] of Atlantis". But for some reason I've always thought it was gonna take place in South America dealing with ancient indian civilizations and Alien artifacts.

-Dob
Duncan Shea: vincentserizawa3000 on April 4th, 2008 10:58 pm (UTC)
There's one thing that always sticks with me near the end of the film, right after the Nazis have been "wiped clean by the Wrath of God."

When Marion and Indy open their eyes and see that they're free of their bonds... you can hear a single cricket chirping in the darkness. Like our heroes, its life was spared...
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on April 5th, 2008 12:06 am (UTC)
You think maybe there were other crickets, Nazi crickets perhaps, who gazed upon the Ark and were smited?
Doug Orleansdougo on April 8th, 2008 12:03 am (UTC)
It was Jiminy! There's the Disney reference!
(Anonymous) on April 5th, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)
On your point in Part II that both Indy and Belloq are piss-poor archaeologists, as evinced by their lack of interest in the stuff that surrounds the artifacts they've been seeking -- well, that was a hallmark of archeology up until fairly recently. Besides, these guys aren't really archaeologists, they're treasure hunters. And adventurers.

Marion uses her mutant drinking power
This is the main reason she's always been a role model for me.

poorly-developed narrative tension for Marion
You could say that about most of Spielberg's women.

If Belloq is a Jew, manipulating not only Indy and Marion, but also the Nazis, into getting him the Ark, planning to screw them all and become ruler of the world, just think of how much more interesting a character that makes him -- he's almost a better protagonist than Indy!
You mean he isn't a Jew?

fireworks ensue
You and your lovely wife are both correct. The end of this movie is tacky and it makes no sense. It's a big mess, and I find it nigh on unwatchable.

--Ed.



(Anonymous) on April 5th, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC)
Why doesn't Belloq care about the Well of Souls? Why does Indiana just knock the lid off? Because it's the Ark of the Freakin' Covenant! It's hard to get really interested in anything else. Besides, Belloq can come back to the Well later- right now, he's trying to take over the world.
Antonius Block: earthworm jimchronoso on April 6th, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC)
strength of narrative carries us along so we don't start questioning these huge logical leaps (thousands of snakes, crumbling booby trapped Peruvian temples with crazy sophisticated weight sensors, invisible bridges over bottomless gorges, Nazi flying wing cargo plans with nowhere near enough internal storage room for a crate full of ark). it's only upon the 50th viewing that we think "Indy was going on about how bad destroyed ransacked temples are and here he is collapsing one in peru/toppling one in tanis/using the bones of the ancient dead as a torch under venice/etc" it's the difference between the indiana jones movies and its bad imitators. i'll even give the mummy and the mummy 2 the benefit, since they somehow still have that cliche "fun rollercoaster ride" aspect, but being carried by the narrative past logic flaws is a place where national treasure just falls flat on its face.

tangent: one of my favorite things about Last Crusade is how so much of it is just a retelling of Raiders but with a twist. (indy succeeds in bringing brody his prize from the stinger; he gets taken from his school to talk to people but instead of US army guys, it's a nazi stooge; and of course, he goes to cairo and gets sallah to help him in a cool hidden-truck-in-doorway sequence that the nazis replicate to steal brody) it makes it feel like much more of a natural sequel than Temple ever does, but then...Temple is a prequel. oi, prequels. lucas should stay away from those.

speaking of doc ock, i find it interesting that alfred molina is the only person to have two different lego figures made of him. (as doc ock and satipo). http://www.brickshelf.com/cgi-bin/gallery.cgi?m=chronoso
craigjclarkcraigjclark on April 6th, 2008 09:39 pm (UTC)
For the record...
I knew Chariots of Fire won Best Picture for that year. Can't say I've ever been compelled to watch it, though.
Avram Grumeragrumer on April 23rd, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC)
Some answers about the Ark:

First, while the Ark was a container for the stone tablets and various other holy artifacts, it was also considered a powerful holy object in itself. The lid of the Ark was the mercy seat, where God was said to manifest during Yom Kippur.

The book of First Samuel describes the Ark being captured by the Philistines, and the Ark cursing them until they gave it back voluntarily, along with offerings, a bit like O Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief". When they return the Ark to the Hebrew town of Beth Shemesh, seventy men of Beth Shemesh look into the Ark, and God strikes them dead.

When being carried, the Ark was always wrapped in a covering to conceal it from view. Even the people who carried it weren't allowed to look at it. Only the High Priest, and only under special circumstances.

Indy has read the Bible, of course, so he knows all this.
Jaye Stregyrjstregyr on June 13th, 2008 06:32 am (UTC)
AG writes: "the Ark was ... considered a powerful holy object in itself. The lid of the Ark was the mercy seat, where God was said to manifest during Yom Kippur... Even the people who carried it weren't allowed to look at it. Only the High Priest, and only under special circumstances."

The springtime Torah portion Acharei Mot ("After The Death") concerns the events after the deaths of High Priest Aaron's two sons (Moses' nephews), cohanim in their own right, who were nevertheless fried by G-d for offering the wrong kind of incense before the mercy seat. Fried... from the inside-out (their robes remained intact). Rather harsh.

On Yom Kippur, four things had to come together: time, place, person and utterance. Only during the afternoon avodah service, only in the Holy of Holies at the center of the Temple (or Tabernacle beforehand), only by the Kohain Ha-Gadol (the High Priest), could the true name of G-d be correctly uttered. They tied a red thread and rope to the Priest: if successful, the thread would turn snow-white, the Priest would walk out alive and the congregation would be forgiven of their sins that Day of Atonement; if not... well, guess what the rope was for.

From the point of view of Raiders, once Belloq states that that they're going to open the Ark during this "Jewish ritual"... well, at that point, I knew all involved were toast. It was slightly anti-climactic to see the denouement play out and how Indy/Marion would survive.
(Anonymous) on May 2nd, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
Pillar
> A literal "pillar of fire" rises into the
> heavens, makes a u-turn and heads back down
> into the Ark -- what is this? Is this some
> divine energy reaching into Heaven? If so,
> why does it stop short with the ionosphere
> and head back, to get locked back in the Ark?

If you notice, it wasn't just a pillar of fire rising into the sky. It first blossomed out of the Ark and whisked up all the bodies of the dead Nazis. I always figured that it was God scooping up the dead and bringing them up to Heaven to be judged. That explains why the fire did its U-turn thing-- it brought them all up, then ejected them into the sky/heaven/whatever, then returned to the Ark, it's job done.
( 45 comments — Leave a comment )