The Big Bang Theory Gets It Wrong

This last episode of The Big Bang Theory, there’s a moment of nerd dismay when Amy “ruins” Raiders of the Lost Ark for Sheldon.  After she watches the movie for the first time, at Sheldon’s insistence, she says:

“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… If he weren’t in the movie, the Nazis would still have found the Ark, taken it to the island, opened it up, and all died, just like they did.”

The rest of the episode, the four main characters try to resolve this apparent narrative dilemma, trying to figure out how Indy plays a role in the outcome of the story.  At the end, one of them says, “Wait a minute, if Indy doesn’t show up, the Ark doesn’t wind up in the warehouse at the end of the movie”, and Leonard’s response is, “But even that is a failure, because it’s not in a museum being studied, which is what Indy wants” and they all go, “Argh!”

A few people on the Internet have commented on this episode and how correctly it nails the narrative problem with Raiders.

Except the episode gets it entirely wrong, and misses the whole point of Raiders.

Early in the movie, Marcus Brody issues a warning to Indy, “It’s not something to be taken lightly.  Nobody knows its secrets.  It’s like… nothing you’ve ever gone after before.”  Later, Sallah echos Brody’s sentiment, when says something disturbs him about Indy’s search.  Indy asks him what, and Sallah replies, “The Ark.  If it is there… buried at Tanis… then it is something man was not meant to disturb.  Death has always surrounded it.  It is not of this Earth.”

They were right!  The damn road map to the Ark, the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra, has half of its inscription dedicated to a warning not to disturb the Ark!

And towards the end, we see the change in Brody.  In the interview with the two government agents, wherein Brody and Indy are arguing about the circumstances of the end of the adventure, Brody says, “The Ark is a source of unspeakable power, and it has to be researched!”

And there’s the rub.  Even the most well-meaning men of scholarship cannot abide hiding things away.  They must study, tho the artifact be a Thing Man Was Not Meant To Know.  They can’t help themselves.

Once it becomes inevitable that the Ark should be removed from its resting place, the only suitable ending is for it to wind up in another resting place where it will never again be disturbed.  And it never would have made it to the unnamed warehouse without the efforts of the redoubtable Dr. Jones.

Here endeth the lesson.

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43 thoughts on “The Big Bang Theory Gets It Wrong

  1. They actually specifically discussed the possibility of Indy being responsible for it ending up in a warehouse at the end. And discarded that because his job was to get it to somewhere for study and so he failed at that.

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  2. First of all, Aristotle wasn’t right about everything. Whether the main character had an impact on the outcome of the ark doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good story. But even Aristotle could be satisfied. Jones had a huge impact on his own and Marion’s stories. You could see it as the story of Moby Dick, if you will. They were chasing something that oughtn’t be chased, and learned something in the process.

    So Patrick, you are right in that regard. Yet, I’ve always found the warehouse-as-tragedy thing weird. Why would even the evil U.S. government a) try to cover up (or be indifferent to) something of enormous historical interest, and b) try to cover up (or be indifferent to) a weapon of enormous power?

    It would make a bit more sense if Indy successfully encouraged them to warehouse it. But he is unhappy about it. Maybe (a la Moby Dick) part of the lesson is that he hasn’t fully learned his lesson. Marion is different. But that still leaves mysterious the actions of the U.S. government, and why they apparently have a warehouse full of important and/or powerful historical artifacts.

    Penultimate scenes of the end of screenplay, which support Patrick’s version, at least insofar as perhaps the ark should not be disturbed. But what doesn’t support it is that apparently Indy, although not Marion, wants the ark to be disturbed. However, Marion’s reasons don’t seem to be Patrick’s reasons. Rather, it’s more the attitude that chicks aren’t into scholarship, they’re into luuuuuvvvvvvv:

    158 INT. THE PENTAGON – DAY

    Indy, Brody and Marion, looking very stylish, are seated in Colonel Musgrove’s huge office. Sun pours in a window, through which Washington can be seen sparkling across the Potomac. Everything is neat and clean and regular. Including the three men who are arrayed around the office. Two we know — Col. Musgrove and Maj. Eaton. The third is an unnamed Bureaucrat. He hangs back, smiling and genial, his features obscured by the glare of the window. He doesn’t say anything, yet you have a sense that the others defer to him in the matter at hand. He is the essence of all that is Byzantine and inscrutable in our scrubbed government machine.

    Indy and Brody are dissatisfied with the way the meeting has gone. Marion, on the other hand, is very happy and eager to get out of there. Eaton’s manner is irritatingly cheery.

    MUSGROVE
    You’ve done your country a great service.

    EATON
    –And we trust you found the settlement satisfactory?

    MARION
    Quite.

    EATON
    Good, good. (glances around at the others) Then I guess that about does it.

    BRODY
    When can we have the Ark?

    Eaton’s glance flicks over to the mysterious Bureaucrat, then back to Brody.

    EATON
    I thought we answered that. It’s someplace very safe–

    INDY
    (heated) That’s a powerful force. Research should be done–

    EATON
    Oh, it will be, Dr. Jones, I assure you. We have top men working on it right now.

    INDY
    Who?

    EATON
    Top men.

    Indy exchanges a look with Brody.

    INDY
    We may be able to help.

    EATON
    We appreciate that. And we won’t hesitate to call on you.

    MUSGROVE
    (dismissing them) Thank you all. Thank you again.

    Indy looks them over coldly. He gets up, sullen.

    159 EXT. PENTAGON STEPS – DAY

    Indy, Brody and Marion emerge from the building. Brody bids them farewell and moves off in another direction.

    Marion clings to Indy’s arm in an energetic, very feminine way, scolding him.

    MARION
    –Well they aren’t going to tell you, so why don’t you just forget it. I’d think you’d had enough of that damn Ark. Just put your mind on something else.

    Indy stops, looking across the river, his mind occupied.

    INDY
    Yeah, like what?

    Marion makes a face, then puts her arms around his neck and plants a humdinger of a a kiss on his mouth. It goes on a while. Finally they break.

    INDY

    It’s not the Ark…but it’ll have to do.

    They move down the steps, smiling.

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    • Why would even the evil U.S. government a) try to cover up (or be indifferent to) something of enormous historical interest, and b) try to cover up (or be indifferent to) a weapon of enormous power?

      I might be reading too much into the movie, but I can imagine a few reasons. First, there seems to be a sense that the government does know that the Ark is a potentially powerful weapon whose energies can be harnessed. Why advertise that the government has it? One of the subtexts to the movie (again, after reading a lot into it) is that the US will soon be called on to confront an evil power (the Nazis, whose insignia is early burned away from the crate that carries the Ark), and it will need all the help it can get. But in confronting and defeating that evil power, the U.S. is destined for a sort of comeuppance.

      Or, we can take a bureaucratic route: it’s an artifact acquired in foreign lands, probably illegally from its rightful owner, and whoever the rightful owner was (Egypt, UK, or Germany) it wasn’t the US. (I’m not sure what the status of Egypt was in the 1930s, whether it was independent or still under British domination, but the point is that the artifact, whatever political entity had claim to it by whatever rationale (Egypt, UK, or Germany), the US essentially stole it.) There’s a procedure for cataloguing and studying artifacts, and the procedure probably states they be studied on a first come, first served basis, and the Ark is a recent acquisition, so it’s at the back of the line.

      I’m making most of this up about bureaucratic procedures for studying artifacts (I’m not claiming that’s how the government actually does things). But I think it’s reasonable.

      And as an aside, I work in an archives, and we have some really cool unprocessed stuff that we’ve had for more than 35 years. It’s unprocessed mostly because it doesn’t fit into our processing priorities. About a week ago, my supervisor gave me the choice to process any collection I wanted, and I chose one that to most people sounds very arcane and trivial, but that I find VERY interesting. I also think researchers will find it interesting too, but it’s outside of the topics this archives considers its strength, so it hasn’t been given a lot of attention. I’m eager to get started on it.

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      • Rose,

        Maybe. I certainly think that’s a plausible influence from the final scene of the Ark being moved on a skid to its warehouse resting place, a tomb in its own right just like the one in Egypt where it was unearthed.

        That said, I do think there’s a correlative implication that the US is destined, perhaps as jbold1 suggests below, to succeed in the approaching world war, and beknownst or unbeknownst to it, it has the backing of God and the Ark. I don’t think that implication necessarily contradicts the meme that the Ark was forgotten. Egypt, too, was once a great power and presumably forgot it possessed the Ark.

        (Come to think of it, it’s a bit confusing that the Ark would be in Egypt. Wasn’t it taken to Israel? But I confess, my history is pretty poor on anything before the Sherman Antitrust Act, so there might be a well-known and accepted explanation that I’m simply ignorant of. And maybe the movie itself provides an explanation that I’ve forgotten.)

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      • Scattered thoughts: It’s funny to me that anyone would be talking about a “narrative problem” in what I consider a nearly perfect narrative; speaking of, my uncle saw this movie before my family did (this despite being a preacher who at that time delivered sermons deploring the evils of movies, but that’s another story), and regaled us kids with the ENTIRE PLOT, scene-by-scene, immediately after he saw it, he was so excited.

        “Spoiler Alerts” just weren’t a thing in 1981, apparently.

        But to Pierre and jbold1’s (and Rose and Jaybird’s) points, yes – and to make all that sub-text into text, the weapon/Pandora’s box that we were racing against the Nazis to obtain in WWII did in fact ultimately burn flesh off faces (and send a pillar of fire up into the sky over an island), though they ended up being Japanese rather than German ones.

        Regarding the end, I also tend to subscribe the idea that while the Ark may have ULTIMATELY been forgotten/buried again, that wasn’t the original intent of those who put it there – it really was a matter of, as Pierre says, bureaucratic prioritization; not to mention, they may have been trying to figure out how to open it without burning their own faces off (that is, to whatever extent they believed the reports of Indy and Marion – remember, their faces were averted, so any reports they’d made to officials would be taken with a grain of salt.)

        But as narrative resolution, it’s perfect; not only “burying” it again, but bringing us back around to the dichotomy introduced in the early scene of Indy teaching at University – the popular perception of archaeology as dry, dusty academic cataloging and study, when we’ve just seen that it’s REALLY full of excitement! Adventure! Snakes! Planes! Booby traps! Ancient artifacts of unimaginable power! Whips! Swords! Bare-knuckle brawling against Nazis! Chases!

        This sense that there’s a secret world behind the one we see everyday is the beauty of pulp, right? And that huge pulp world is also indicated by that warehouse; after all, the Ark is in just one of those boxes…BUT WHAT’S IN ALL THE OTHER BOXES?

        There’s a story, just like the one we just saw, behind every one of them!

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      • Another possibility is that the authorities don’t quite believe Indy about what happened. They take his story as somewhat embellished or BS so they understand what they have. They think its just some fancy old artifact that might be worth something and the Nazi’s want it, so they store it to keep away from the bad guys.

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      • Right, as I said their faces were averted, so their story would be suspect. Like alien abductees who say that they couldn’t see into the blinding light, or were frozen in place. The govt. might assume SOMETHING had happened, and better safe than sorry, but still might be assuming that it’s some sort of exaggeration or misperception.

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      • I’ve always interpreted the ending as a statement about America being essentially a good country at heart. (Agree or disagree on the merits of that statement.) The Nazis tried to find the Ark to exploit it. The people ultimately in charge of deciding what to do with it in the end made a wise and righteous decision to bury it without trying to exploit it themselves.

        I always took it as an endorsement of American goodness.

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      • Lot no. 110535-331: Perpetual motion machinery
        Lot no. 110532-338: Unadorned clay goblet (rec’vd. fr. Jones, Ph.D & Jones, Ph.D.)
        Lot no. 119553-113: “Philosopher’s stone,” store in plastic only
        Lot no. 121193-381: Water-burning internal combustion engine
        Lot no. 137332-110: Nondeteriorative incandescent bulb filaments
        Lot no. 140773-991: One gold ring, with unknown filigree writing illuminated by heat
        Lot no. 141183-194: Cold fusion reactor prototype
        Lot no. 141843-341: Three scaled egg-shaped rocks (cold storage only)
        Lot no. 142553-251: Portable hole

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    • They were chasing something that oughtn’t be chased, and learned something in the process.

      Excellent point.

      The preface to Kurt Busiek’s Astro City was written by Neil Gaiman and it talks about how he moved from thinking that there were, really, only two stories (“Boy Meets Girl” and “Brave Little Tailor” (and their variants “girl meets boy”, “boy fails to meet girl”, etc)) to figuring out that there were three (“man learns a lesson”).

      Assuming he’s right (he’s Neil Gaiman, after all), we’ve got a Boy Meets Girl Again and they both play Brave Little Tailors (to the Nazi Giant) and, at the end of the day, Indy fails to learn a lesson… but he does get the girl.

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    • Also, to beat a dead horse, I think Raiders can be conceived as a tragedy. The hubristic scholar finally runs against something that’s beyond him and he’s humbled. When he and Marian are tied to the stake, he declines to indulge his curiosity and instead doesn’t look at the Ark when it’s opened. After theoretically getting what he wants, he must live with the knowledge that the thing is out of his reach.

      Perhaps his anger at its being warehoused is a sign that he really didn’t learn his lesson, because really, how can someone go about researching something that’s gonna visit the angel of death upon you and melt your face? (I suppose they’d have to use a lot graduate research assistants, enticed by a tuition and fee waiver and monthly stipend/death benefits.) But at any rate, he’s going to have to live with the knowledge that there’s something unknowable and he isn’t even allowed to try to know it. Warehousing the Ark is a limitation placed upon him.

      On the other hand, maybe it’s just an adventure story.

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  3. As Indy points the Nazis to the resting place of the Ark it’s unproven that he doesn’t have a vital influence on the story line. Without him you could easily think that the Nazis, failing to find the Ark when promised, get ordered back to Berlin for an exiting tour of Dachau, never to be seen again. Leaving the Ark in Tannis for another 3000 years.

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    • Well the Nazi’s were digging in the wrong place only because of Indy’s interference. Had he not been involved they would have had the actual medallion and thus would have been able to dig in the correct location.

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  4. I’ve always thought of the warehousing of the ark and other artifacts as a tacit explanation for American exceptionalism…you know, God’s on our side, Americans the new chosen ones, city on the hill stuff.

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  5. The Biblical Ark behaved differently, depending on the circumstances. Moses put things into the Ark, the stone tablets, two books of the law, Aaron’s staff which budded, a jar of miraculous manna. It couldn’t have been a complete Torah of course, the death of Moses is recorded in the Torah — but the Aron Habrit was opened. We see echoes of the Ark in the Aron Kodesh, the Ark of Holiness in every synagogue, where the Sefer Torah is kept.

    The people were warned not to touch the Ark, insulating themselves from it with two carrying staves. Nonetheless, it was moved and even taken into battle. We are told Philistines captured it and several disasters befell them. They returned it, sick of the bad luck and disease it brought them, putting in several golden artifacts representing the mice and boils with which they’d been afflicted. The Ark caused more trouble, killing several unwary Jews who had the temerity to even look at it.

    When the Ark was moved again, it was placed on a cart, against the sacred protocols. Sliding around in the cart, the unfortunate Uzzah tried to right it and was struck down.

    The Ark was always a symbol of invasion. It led Joshua’s procession across the Jordan. It had knocked down the walls of Jericho. King Saul had taken it to war, thinking the power of the Ark lay in the thing itself.

    The power was not in the Ark itself but in the Lord himself. The word kodesh, sacred, carries with it a sense of separation from the profane. Beyond a certain point, to enter is to trespass upon the sacred space. We don’t see much of that in the world today. You see it in Shinto, the shimenawa rope surrounding a sacred tree, with white lightning bolts dangling from it.

    See, we think ourselves so modern and all. These are just sacred symbols, not sacred things. But to understand the roots of Judaism is to come to terms with kedushah, this creation of the sacred thing.

    The Ark of Holiness was made of wood and gold. It was carried away into Babylon. But something far richer and stranger returned from Babylon, not a sacred thing but a sacred book, the Torah as we know it today. Judaism made the jump from sacred things to the abstraction of holiness itself. Christianity understood its mother Judaism well enough to say, in the book of Corinthians: For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

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    • I know this isn’t your point, and it’s pretty Fortean Times (I have a weakness for some of that stuff – a good friend collected that whole Time-Life series “Mysteries of the Unexplained” or whatever), but I’ve always enjoyed the theories of “Ark as massive static electricity capacitor” – wouldn’t explain plagues and such, but might explain things like someone touching it & dropping dead, or people coming into its presence feeling strange sensations they interpreted as “God” – if I were a nomad a few thousand years ago, and all my hair stood up when I entered the room where the object was, I might assume God was in there.

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      • Myths and legends are strange enough without trying to Forte-ise them into some explainable phenomena. The Bible and other ancient documents should be taken straight, no chaser. People wrote these accounts and we read them now, down the centuries. Isn’t that enough, really?

        People are credulous. They entertain the hope of miracles. Every day, the busses unload hundreds of sick people at Lourdes. It doesn’t matter if there’s any healing power in those waters, they go. That’s important. People make offerings in temples, they go on pilgrimage, they pray, they dream. They bow before Shinto shrines, ring the bell and clap twice. They pray for good husbands, for good wives, for children, for good test results, for good fortune. At the end of their lives, they pray for release and a good death. That’s okay. It’s hope made manifest in their lives.

        There’s a difference between the petty frauds of seances and miracle workers — and the deeper truths contained in the darkness of the aron kodesh, the Sacred Space. There’s no reduction of that mystery to mere physical phenomena. Hope arises from expectation, the enduring of the present, the waiting. Dum spiro spero == while I yet breathe, I hope.

        The troubling part of the Indiana Jones movies, for me, was the dumbing-down of the myths. Raiders of the Lost Ark is just stupid. I found Temple of Doom embarrassing, all that “Kali Ma!” crap. I’m no Hindu, mind you, but all that reduction of Kali worship to cartoon villainy was cringeworthy. Surprised more Hindus didn’t make a stink about it. As for my own faith, Christianity, I’m used to every sort of hateful thing and stupid thing imaginable said of it. That’s okay, too. Only stupid and ignorant people say such things of others’ faiths. Even stupider are the things said of atheists.

        But Raiders of the Lost Ark had a powerful myth in its hands and completely blew it, turning it into Pandora’s Box. Every myth George Lucas has ever touched has turned to shit.

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      • I was a special on Discovery or History or one of those channels that looked for natural explanations for the various plagues. They (theoretically) demonstrated how a couple odd but not impossible events could set off various chain reactions leading to the various plagues. For instance, some sort of algae could have turned the Nile a reddish hue; this would have driven frogs out of the river and up onto land; the resulting dearth of frogs allows pest to proliferate. Etc.

        I added “theoretically” there in parentheses because I didn’t bother to fact check the episode and those “specials” are always geared towards sensationalism. But I always find it interesting when we apply the scientific method to supposedly supernatural occurrences and learn that they might not be so supernatural afterall.

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      • – yeah, I think I saw that same one.
        – I haven’t seen Temple in a long, long time (and I also don’t think it’s as bad as its rep; these two facts may be related) – but IIRC, it wasn’t just standard Hindu/Kali-worshippers, but a Thuggee cult remnant (who did trace their origins to Kali or worship Kali).

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thuggee

        Even though in recent years there has been some skepticism or revisionism re: Thugs, saying the colonial Brits exaggerated and/or misunderstood/misrepresented the Thuggee, you gotta admit the concept makes for a pretty juicy (and long-used, if you look at the “Popular Culture” header under the wiki link) pulp villain.

        Fringe religious cults who are willing to mass murder pop up all over in movies – from horror movies, to Zero Dark Thirty.

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      • Heh. The Hitler Channel. Or TLC, The Lunatic Channel. Though the Lunatic Channel puts in a strong showing with Honey Boo Boo, Hitler Channel wins the prize for Most Seriously Delusional. After about 9:00 PM it’s always the maniac-du-jour, some mad scientist type with a shock of Dr. Emmet Brown hair, a few stripped screws in the ol’ manifold, telling us the Easter Island statues are a race of aliens from the Belt of Orion or that the Walls of Jericho fell because the Israelites had a subwoofer system, featuring a chopped, fully ghetto-ised 82 Chevy Caprice to demonstrate.

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      • Joke about Giorgio’s hair at your own peril.You shall be probed in your sleep!

        Trivia fact: Giorgio’s hair has its own Facebook page. Never mind how I know that.

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      • The sad part? I watched that comment being written. And listened as she cackled.

        Folks, this Just Me ( aka Miss Thang ) puts her headphones into her Kindle and watches these damned old paranormal shows and Bigfoot extravanganzas and pseudo-scientific sideshows. In our bed. With the cats, who are proof enough of Ancient Aliens if ever any was needed.

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  6. As a trained archaeologist myself and Indy fan, that episode hurt in ways I can’t begin to explain. I’ve been pondering it for days and I can’t find any holes in Amy’s assessment. Unfortunately the same thing can probably be said for The Last Crusade. Without him the Nazis still wouldn’t have recovered the Grail so the outcome of that movie really doesn’t depend on him either.

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      • Nah, he’s clearly just writing some fun bits of pulp!
        Everyone’s thinking way too hard about them.

        If you had fun, the movie succeeded.

        E.T. , Lincoln, those are stories with MEANINGS.
        (though the only reason I’m confident in saying that about
        Lincoln is because I know a chap who was chatting up
        Spielberg about it.)

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  7. I can play Skyrim if all that matter is “get the dingus.” The point of Raiders was not “get the dingus.” Raiders is an exemplar myth, and Indiana Jones is the avatar. Getting the dingus — in this case the dingus is the Ark of the Covenant — is a vehicle for the test of the hero’s moral worth. Indy wins in the end because he’s an avatar of what we seek in a good man: he is brave, smart, loving, strong, honest, loyal, and humble.

    As others have noted above, humility is the most difficult thing for him, but he eventually masters his pride, acknowledges that he is less than history (by not blowing up the ark when he has the bazooka aimed at it), that he must tame his curiosity (by not looking at the ark when it opens), and that he must subsume his own desires to the needs of society as a whole (by not protesting when the government takes the ark from him).

    Indiana Jones is a modern-day Sir Percival — a True Knight exemplifying the best qualities of a man. In a dusty fedora.

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    • It strikes me that Raiders has quite a few noir elements too, most notably Maltese Falcon. Brief wiki’ing makes it all the more obvious:

      In 1539 the Knight Templars of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels——but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day——

      —Introductory text appearing after Maltese Falcon‘s opening credits

      The 42-year-old Bogart was delighted to play a highly ambiguous character who is both honorable and greedy.

      – Sound familiar? Sure, Indy’s not exactly interested in monetary gain for himself, but he’s definitely interested in getting the biggest and the best finds before anybody else can. When we first meet him he’s stealing a gold idol the size of a coconut.

      When I went to the wiki to find out the Nazi interrogator’s name (Toht), so as to remark that he was a very Peter Lorre-esque character (Lorre played Joel Cairo in Falcon), I found this:

      Ronald Lacey as Major Arnold Toht, an interrogator for the Gestapo, who tries to torture Marion Ravenwood for the headpiece of the Staff of Ra. He dies by the Ark’s supernatural powers. Lacey was cast as he reminded Spielberg of Peter Lorre.

      Like Indy, Spade gets beat up a lot, and he never gets the (real) Falcon either. Being pushed around by forces one can’t control, nor even understand, is standard noir fare; the best one can hope for is to be left bruised and alive.

      Forget it Indy, it’s the US Government.

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