Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark ★★★★½

First of all, let me debunk that whole "If Indiana Jones just hadn't done anything, the Nazis would have still died!" post-modern faux critique. I grow weary of this idea that Indy is a passive character who doesn't affect the plot. The truth is, all the Nazi stuff is the external dressing of the plot. The real internal conflict in Raiders is about a cynic coming to terms with respecting a higher power he doesn't understand. Hence why he shuts his eyes when the Ark is opened. That's the real character arc (no pun intended) in the film.

Next is the ending. We all know what a typical Spielbergian ending looks like - everything is sappy, sentimental, all in a neatly wrapped bow. We get to see the people on Schindler's List grow into posterity; Private Ryan is saved and he lives to be old; slavery was defeated in Amistad and Lincoln. Even Spielberg’s darker blockbusters like Minority Report and War of the Worlds end on an uplifting note. With the exception of Munich, Spielberg rarely leaves his story bleak or ambiguous. So the final scene in Raiders stands out for its cynicism. Indy and Marion finally recover the Ark and hand it over to the U.S. government. Officials assure Indy that the Ark will be handled with care by "Top Men" - but there's something ominous about this "assurance" even as we see Indy and Marion walk off together. And then Spielberg pans his camera wide in a large warehouse where the "Top Secret" crate that houses the Ark is being placed, revealing an endless array of other identical "Top Secret" crates. The subtext is clear: Indy finds treasure he learns to revere - the US government buries treasure as another piece of inventory. Alas, Kindom of the Crystal Skull would undo this mystery by opening right in the warehouse, ruining this strangely nuanced commentary on big government.

But yeah, this is still a kickass, groundbreaking action-adventure. There are obviously dated parts that just won't fly today, but I love seeing this younger, visceral Spielberg with an edge. Harrison Ford was such a man's man! Karen Allen plays the greatest Bond girl that isn't in a Bond movie. Paul Freeman as Belloq is such a brilliant antithesis to our archeologist protagonist. Ronald Lacey as the Gestapo agent might be the actual villain in the movie - at least Belloq isn't doing this for a fascist ideology. Also, Satipo was a young Alfred Molina?! The guy who plays Gimli was Sallah?! How did I miss this as a kid!

John Williams, of course, master - I don't need to tell you he made something iconic! You're probably humming the theme right now!

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