Friday, November 06, 2015

response to the "Raiders" put-down

I don't normally watch "The Big Bang Theory," but a random link took me to this YouTube clip of a couple scenes from one particular episode of TBBT. In the scene, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) have finished watching that old action-adventure classic, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and Amy proceeds to demolish the movie by noting that "Raiders" has a fundamental story problem: Indiana Jones himself is irrelevant to the entire plot because the Nazis, without Indy, would have found the Lost Ark, opened it, and died anyway. Sheldon, embittered, later spills this to his friends, who are also immediately gut-punched by this devastating critique of a much-beloved movie.

And it does seem hopeless for "Raiders" fans, doesn't it? It does seem as though Amy has delivered a mortal blow, castrating one of the manliest of '80s action movies. But I'm not sure that Amy's blow is really all that severe. Consider: what Amy is saying is rather nihilistic in tone. Indy's presence or absence has no consequence is a species of The movie's events have no consequence. If that's what Amy is saying, i.e., she's saying some form of "None of this matters," then I'd reply that Lucas and Spielberg anticipated this by giving us the warehouse scene at the tail-end of the story. The movie itself is already humorously nihilistic: the Ark gets shelved, and nothing more is going to be done with it, despite all of Indy's valiant efforts. Spielberg, never one for subtlety, drives that ironic point home with the wide shot of the Ark being carted down an aisle flanked by thousands upon thousands of similar—and similarly ignored—wooden crates.

So I really don't see the problem. In fact, I'd turn the question back at Amy: if Indy hadn't been there, would the story of Nazis being melted by ancient, marauding angels have been nearly as interesting?

Consider, too, that the no-consequence, nihilistic plot is something of a filmic subgenre. Look at "Burn After Reading," which is basically a film in which a couple people die—people whom no one will miss—and nothing significant happens. It's a dark, funny ride, but what has changed in the larger world? This is a far cry from movies that depict consequential events, such as the epic city-dropping that happens in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." By this reckoning, "Raiders" is an even more sophisticated movie than it's usually given credit for being.

Sorry, Amy, but the "Raiders" legacy is safe.



  1. It's more than that, though. Without Indy being there, the Ark would have just stayed on that island...where the Germans knew it was...and could send people to get it...and then march with it at the head of their army, since they'd likely figure out that opening it = bad.

    Because Indy was there, it didn't end up in bad hands.

  2. The "Big Bang" guys come to a similar conclusion in that video: Indy gets that crate stored away "like a hero." Because heroes store and catalog, dammit.

  3. As for this:

    "...where the Germans knew it was..."

    But did they?

    Sure, you could reply that, even if they didn't know where it was, they could find it after a search. But by the same token, other parties could, too.

  4. C'mon, of course they knew.

    "Ja, ve haf da ark und ve are going to open it, but we are not going to tell you where dat vill happen."

    "Trust us, High Command" is not a phrase I'm guessing was said much in regard to a potentially holy relic.

  5. I'm not so sure. Belloq the evil Frenchman seemed to have his own agenda, including opening the Ark before der Führer could see it.



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