Pandora's Ark: Indiana Jones Did The Right Thing

Today, we’re going to be looking at what my high school band teacher would have called a “chestnut:” an oldie but a goodie. Indiana Jones and The Raiders of The Lost Ark is an absolute classic, a rip-roaring adventure that kicked so much ass I can still remember the sheer thrill of first watching it. It’s at times thrilling, eerie, suspenseful, and downright wild, and a joy from start to finish. It’s also, if the internet is to be believed, home to one utterly awful plot hole. Specifically, if the Ark of The Covenant was going to melt anyone that opened it, as we saw at the end of the film, why did Indi even bother trying to keep it out of the Nazis’ hands? Why didn’t he just peace out and let it melt off Hitler’s face in Berlin? As I’m sure is a surprise to none of you, however, I think this is a ridiculous, and it’s time to talk about why.

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The obvious answer as to why this isn’t a plot hole is blindingly simple, so much so that I’m almost angry I have to talk about it: Indiana Jones had no idea the Ark of The Covenant was going to melt more face than the average rock band. All he really knew for sure about the Ark was that it was an artifact of massive value and, in some way, massive power. Of course, the bible (and other people in the film), are pretty explicit that looking inside the ark of the covenant being the last thing you’ll do with your life, but even that doesn’t mean Indi knew the ark would melt the nazis for one simple reason: he didn’t believe in any of that. Indiana Jones is, at the start of the film, a deeply cynical man, a man who sees ancient traditions and powerful artifacts as nothing more than a way to get some quick grave-robbing cash. Indiana Jones in the beginning of Raiders of The Lost Ark is the equivalent of a teenage stereotype: pics or it didn’t happen. And there are, of course, no pics of the Ark of The Covenant melting faces.

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This, of course, ties in thematically to the broader arc that Indiana Jones undergoes throughout the movie. From a cynical man who views the spiritual as nothing more than a reason other people create riches he can steal to a wide-eyed believer who can only watch the power of the divine accomplish something he couldn’t, Indiana Jones’s arc throughout the film reinforces the film’s central message: the the universe is more vast and wonderful than we can possibly understand, and that there’s room in all of us for wonder. Witnessing the biblical power of the Ark of the covenant firsthand, our protagonist comes to realize there are things he can’t understand or profit off of that nonetheless exist. And in doing so, Jones allows the movie to speak directly to us. If even this hard-bitten, grave-robbing asshole of a cynic can experience wonder and awe at the hands of something he can’t possibly fathom, why can’t we? Jones transforms, and in transforming teaches us that perhaps we should, too. And that transformation is only possible because Indiana Jones decides to try keeping the Ark of The Covenant away from the Nazis.

Oh, and by the way, it’s worth noting here that if Indiana Jones just swanned off and let the Ark do its thing, WE WOULND’T HAVE A MOVIE TO WATCH, unless you really expected Spielberg to direct a series of scenes in which Harrison Ford drinks a different cocktail on a different beach over and over. Indiana Jones’ decision to pursue the Ark instead of just allowing it to make its way to Berlin and destroy the Nazis there not only gives us a movie to watch, it ties into the film’s broader themes and makes the character arc of Jones himself resonate with us. And for anyone who thinks that’s a plot hole, then this is all I’ve got for you:

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Next week, we wrap this series up!

With excitement and optimism,

Alex