I must have seen some form of an Indiana Jones movie before I was five, because I remember being no older than six and trying to use a jump rope as a whip to swing from the tree in the yard. I realize now that the Indiana Jones trilogy has influenced me much more than normal people should be influenced by a film. Perhaps it was the reason I had that stage where I constantly wore a hat or became so interested in ancient history and mythology. There were a few Indy-inspired daring moments in my first car that I’ll never attempt again. My poor, well-loved leather jacket looks like it has been to hell and back, though it’s never seen a day quite as exciting as Indy’s. But I keep patching her up and recounting stories of the battle scars. The one thing I didn’t understand about Indy was his fear of snakes, I find them beautiful and their scales are soothing, but everyone needs their kryptonite. It’s no surprise that Raiders of the Lost Ark is my all time favorite film, and I seriously doubt that anything, new or otherwise will ever change that.
In case you’re the kind who has only caught Raiders in bits and pieces over the last thirty years, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is an archaeologist. He’s one of the fantastic lucky ones who travels the world looking for key pieces of ancient lore. His travels seem to take him to booby-trapped temples and leave him running from angry natives on a regular basis. Because of his extensive knowledge and daring reputation, he is asked by the US government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s band of Nazis do. That leads him to Nepal, to borrow an ancient relic from a colleague’s daughter and old flame, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). After an exciting gunfight that burns Marion’s bar to the snowy ground, they’re off to Cairo, to meet his old friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). But the Nazis are on their trail and kidnap Marion. The Nazi’s search for the Ark is lead by Indy’s old rival Dr. Belloq (Paul Freeman), but without the headpiece that Indy holds, they’re digging in the wrong place. But when the Ark is found, it’s important to remember that legend and religion say that it holds the wrath of God.
Frankly, Indy should be dead with all he’s been through. There are so many moments of sheer luck, but that amazed kid in us is hanging on that every moment, cheering him on so much that we completely buy into every close call and would be crushed if he were flattened by that rock. Or shot by those arrows. Or trapped in the Well of Souls. Or ran into that propeller blade. The list extends every few minutes.
Marion is a bad-ass girl that we can be proud to cheer on with Indy. Right away, she proves that she is tough, drinking that fat-faced Nepal guy under the table. She can throw a hell of a punch square on Indy’s jaw and stands her ground when Toht and his gang enter her bar. Best of all, she’s a modern 1930’s woman who has had to fend for herself, can wear the pants and does not need to get dolled up. She doesn’t complain about the desert and a monkey on her shoulder does not spoil her looks at all.
Raiders of the Lost Ark holds one of the greatest action scenes ever put on film. Spielberg is great at mixing action with suspense, but this is one of his crowning moments in directing. When Indy thinks that the Ark is being put on a plane, he and Marion set out to either hijack the plane or stop it from leaving. Throughout the scene, the obstacles just keep piling up in a matter of seconds: the propellers are going, there’s a giant bald Nazi to fight, Marion gets stuck in the cockpit making the plane spin, knocking over gasoline that is running toward fire. It is a crazy, pupil dilating, suspenseful action sequence that through flawless editing is shown in a sequence that perfectly escalates the tension up to the very last moment. And then everything explodes. In my lifetime, it’s safe to say I’ve watched that scene over 500 times, and I still get so excited that I cannot look away until everything has exploded.
But the film isn’t all brawn. There’s a good mix of history and mythology that helps Indy along the way and get ahead of Belloq. Honestly, a few things that I learned in this movie helped me out in Sunday School. Best of all, we’re also shown the scholarly side of Indy. He’s a professor, complete with glasses, using fancy words like neolithic. There was a connection in my mind as a kid saying that if I stayed in school, learned my mythology, history and religion, I could also become an adventuring archaeologist traveling the world discovering ancient treasures.
I may not be living that exact dream today, but what I’ve really taken away from my lifetime of idolizing Indiana Jones is that being an adventurer is a state of mind. You don’t have to wear a fedora to be daring and a leather jacket isn’t going to protect you from any crazy stunts. Lessons learned. But knowledge can only empower you and part of learning is new experiences. Simply stepping out of you comfort zone to try new things can be an adventure. If you get the chance, travel some place new, go out of your way to help someone or just try something you’ve been afraid to before. It can be anything from a new hair-do to sky diving. Or holding a snake for the first time. I promise, they’re not slimy.
“Yes, the actual Ten Commandments, the original stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Horeb and smashed, if you believe in that sort of thing… Didn’t any of you guys ever go to Sunday school?”