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Raiders of the Lost Ark · 12:21am Mar 17th, 2013

The Scriptnotes podcast did an entire episode earlier this year analyzing Raiders of the Lost Ark. Click on this link to download the MP3 or the transcript.

John and Craig said that Raiders isn't, as I'd thought it was, the story of a hero retrieving the Lost Ark from the Nazis. No, Raiders is the story of a man who lacks faith and who is obsessed with things instead of people, gaining faith and learning to value people over things. Indy starts as the only person in the movie who doesn't believe the stories about the Lost Ark. He just wants the thing.

Belloc, one of Indy's main antagonists, is Indy's shadow. He is Indy, with the same strengths and flaws, but just a little farther along the trajectory of that character flaw. He shows what Indy will become if he doesn't change. Belloc wants the same things Indy wants, he's just more ruthless getting them.

I like that interpretation a lot, because I like stories with ideas and character arcs. I believe that Larry Kasdan (the writer) had that arc in mind. But did it matter? I bet less than 5% of the audience thought that Raiders was a story about Indy learning not to be so attached to things. They enjoyed it anyway.

Did having that character arc make them enjoy the movie more, even if they didn't know it was there?

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Comments ( 16 )

Well in my unprofessional analysis, SOMETHING made everyone sympathize with Indy as the protagonist. If it was just going up against the nazis, then what's keeping him from greedy anti-hero status?

I think that most people miss it, but without it the story is less compelling It's the hidden depths that draw us in even if we don't seem to register those depths.

We see the forest not the trees, yet without the trees there is no forest.

Well, if Indiana Jones is about Indy learning the power of belief and the strength of the unknown, I suppose Angels in America involves AIDS in some way, or Blade Runner is about Ridley Scott jerking off on a camera lens! I mean, egad! Such original thought!

Blade Runner is based off the book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" by Phillip K. Dick. And it's about souls, sentience and what constitutes life.

925148 Really? Because all I got from it is that Ridley Scott is the greatest director of all time. I dunno, next to Michael Bay or something, I guess. But even if I don't quite get it, it was still damn cool to look at!

The movie makes no sense without the narration in the original version. First time I watched it, it was one of those director's cut versions and I went :derpyderp2::derpyderp1: the entire time. Protip: Director's aren't the only people involved in the creation of movies, and that means sometimes the directors get it wrong.

925160 First time I watched it, final cut DVD, in bed with the flu, see if it makes any more sense.

It's really been too long since I've seen this movie, so my particular memories of how this all played out aren't very fresh, but I agree in principle with 925115 and 925134.

Whether or not people notice ideas and character arcs in stories, I think those things will almost always improve general enjoyment of the product. Why? Because just as we have a fundamental ability to recognize human faces (see: Jesus on Toast, relevant developmental psych literature), I think we have a fundamental ability to understand nuances of human interaction. Not all of us – this is one of the biggest differences between individuals diagnosed with autism and the general population – but most of us, I think.

So if Indy has, at its background, a story about characters and not just a glorified treasure hunt, I think that makes it more relatable material. It's not just cardboard cutouts acting against a painted backdrop. If you have a momentary hankering to think about motivations, however briefly, things still make sense. This is, perhaps, why the street fight scene remains so memorable, even if it was an ad lib. It's not played for the action beat, it's fundamental to Indy's character as we understand him. And it's little things like that which, I think, add up to make the whole experience all the more captivating.

Nobody cares what happens to your Mary Sue, but a well written OC? People can really get in for that.

There's a reason Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is considered an inferior film. If you think that's just because it all happens in a boring cave, then perhaps you enjoyed Indy 4?

I freely admit I'm terrible at this sort of analysis. I think I'm a fairly competent writer and story teller, but I'm not sure I'm a good reader. These analysis, these insights, they usually elude me.

How does one get better at that sort of thing?

Most analysis is actually the explanation, not the insight. Everyone has different insights on things, so if you want to improve spend a bunch of time thinking about your subject first and then take a look at what others say. (Then of course go back and re-evaluate yourself yak yak yak.) The rest is just the busywork of making your ideas understandable and supporting it with evidence and stuff.

I find that I'm usually content to just sit back and enjoy a story (written, filmed, or otherwise) without delving into all the particulars of why I like it, and I feel pretty much okay with that. But I think it's a useful skill, being able to see the artifice. One thing that's helped me, especially recently, is going out of my way to try to give long comments on good Fimfiction stories and analyze what I think works and doesn't. It winds up costing me a fair bit of time, but I figure most writers like good feedback anyway and it's good for developing my own sensibilities.

A part of me feels like there's something wrong with digging into the mechanics instead of just enjoying a story for what it's worth, like I'm going to lose some of the emotional impact if I do so. But when I think like that, I just remind myself of a story Richard Feynman once told:

I have a friend who's an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say, "Look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. Then he says, "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing," and I think that he's kind of nutty.

First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is ... I can appreciate the beauty of a flower.

At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it's not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there's also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.

It's not so much, did they enjoy it more without knowing, as it is, those who DO notice the arc, DO enjoy it more, while those who don't, STILL enjoy it.

I think arcs and themes in stories help even when the reader doesn't see them directly. They add depth to characters, and a depth to the story, too. And this depth makes both of them memorable.

It's the line between popular-but-forgotten (Transformers movies, for instance), and popular-and-iconic (like, say, Indiana Jones). It's popular to be cynical and say that the moviegoer just wants things blowing up and chases and nudity, but I don't think that's entirely true. Oh, your average moviegoer will be sated by this, distracted, certainly, but he or she won't remember it. Turns out, for that, you need a proper story and proper characters. And to have either of those, you need themes and character arcs. Then, the explosions and chases and such are just gravy.

You know, I can't be sure I can be of any help whatsoever, but here's a try: I used to think myself a remarkably poor reader. I gulped down books, sure, and I liked them, but subtleties just passed me by. Then, as a young lad, I read Milton for the first time, and while Milton in his own right is magnificent[1], there was another factor to be considered: English is not my first language, and Milton is written in a very dense style. It's poetry, for a start, and the language is very very obscure. So, I had to read it slower, and I had to look things up from time to time. And this slowing down was a crucial step for me -- I could finally see things like using variations in meter to express something, I could see subtle references woven in the narrative, and I found that, suddenly, I could see the whole thing not as a (beautiful) whole, but as a system of meshing parts. It's this revelation that's one of the reasons I like Milton so much.

Anyway. What I'm getting at is that you may be reading too fast. You are clearly very good with words[2] and, drawing on this, you may read really quickly and efficiently. And when you do this, you may lose out on just the sort of little thing that invites you to consider the story as a system.

Now I can't be certain that this will help you, but it did help me.

[1] Which is obvious, okay.
[2] Today is Obvious Day for me. Obviously.

Interesting. I generally like the idea of breaking a story apart and seeing what makes it tick. It's like an extra layer of enjoyment. Like magic tricks. The first layer is being astonished and mystified. The second is figuring out how it works (or having it shown to you). Without the second layer, the enjoyment isn't complete.

Isn't that basically the plot of The Last Crusade?

1680727 I don't even remember whether I saw The Last Crusade.

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