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.