This one comes from Mockingbird friend, Jared (Indy) Jones. 


For my birthday a few weeks ago I got an amazing gift: the complete Blu-Ray set of all four Indiana Jones films. (Yes, there are four of them; no you cannot just pretend the fourth one was never made.) Indy has been in the news lately since Spielberg and Ford agreed to take a shot at a fifth installment in the franchise, which is as yet untitled (though some pretty amazing titles are already being thrown around). Indiana Jones 5 will almost certainly be… Actually, I have no idea if it will be good or not.

These movies hold a special place in my heart. After seeing them for the first time as a kid, Indiana Jones quickly became my hero above any and all other heroes. He was a boring college professor of archeology by day, and a treasure hunter-but-not-for-the-money-but-because-“It-belongs-in-a-museum” by night. He was Batman, John Wayne, and James Bond all rolled into one. My childhood was spent humming the iconic John Williams score to myself like Peyton Manning humming the Nationwide jingle.

However, as I recently re-watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, I found myself watching what seemed to be a very different movie from what I remembered. I couldn’t help but notice some of its obvious faults. The plot seems to just repeat itself throughout the film (spoiler: they find the ark, they lose the ark, they find the ark, they lose the ark, etc, etc…). And as for realism, my 29 year-old self kept asking my 9 year-old self the questions that only adults could ask, “How did the snakes survive for thousands of years? How come they didn’t just remove that one stone block right by the airstrip to get into the tomb where the Ark was kept? How did Indiana Jones travel from the Mediterranean near Egypt up to Greece holding on to the back of a submarine?”

Nostalgia sucks.

I’m not the only one to be a little disappointed with a re-watch of Raiders. In 2013, the sitcom Big Bang Theory had a whole episode devoted to, in their mind, a glaring story problem in Raiders. In their words: “Without Indiana Jones, the Nazi’s would have found the Ark and all died anyways.” This has been circled around the Internet as the theory that “ruined Raiders of the Lost Ark forever.” In a movie genre that is supposed to be about heroes conquering bad guys and foiling their plans, Indiana Jones simply doesn’t do anything to affect the outcome of the plot.

This inaction of Jones is ultimately on display in the ending of the film when the Ark is finally opened. What kind of action movie has the main character do absolutely nothing at end the movie? He just stands there and closes his eyes. All the antagonists of the movie are done away with in one scene where the main character is tied to a post. This is horrible storytelling to a world obsessed with the super-hero genre. This is not the hero we want. We want a final fight between good an evil. We want our hero to act; we want them to do something.

Normally, I would completely agree with a critique of the lack of agency of the protagonist in a movie (This was one of the big problems for me with last year’s Sicario. Also, rewatch the 2012 Bond flick Skyfall and tell me if Bond actually influences the plot at all…) But, as I watched Raiders again, I started thinking that maybe there’s something deeper going on than just poor storytelling. Maybe there’s something more to the inaction of Indiana Jones.

Throughout the movie, there are three parties looking for the Ark: the Nazis, Belloq, and Indy. The Nazis are hoping to find the ark and possess incredible power. They think the Ark could contain something mysterious and powerful, but they are confident that it can be controlled and used for their own gain. Belloq is in league with the Nazis but is has his own reasons for finding the Ark, he tells Indiana at one point, “Jones, do you realize what the Ark is? It’s a transmitter. It’s a radio for speaking to God. And it is within my reach!” In Belloq’s and the Nazi’s minds, the Ark is something to give them ultimate power and control.

Indiana Jones isn’t much better. He is a man of science, a man of reason. He and his rival Belloq are cut from the same cloth, but Jones is just more devoted to the cause of science than his adversary.  He’s enlisted initially to stop the Nazi’s from acquiring the Ark, but he signs up because it represents a chance to be a part of a new scientific discovery. In the beginning of the film, he describes the Ark as “the chest the Hebrews used to carry around the Ten Commandments …  the actual Ten Commandments, the original stone tablets that Moses brought down out of Mount Horeb and smashed—if you believe in that sort of thing.”  It’s clear: you may believe that sort of thing, but he does not.


A few scenes later, when his friend Marcus Brody warns him not to take the Ark lightly, he condescendingly replies, “I don’t believe in magic, a lot of superstitious hocus pocus. I’m going after a find of incredible historical significance, you’re talking about the boogie man.”

At the end of this journey, all Indiana Jones expects to find is an artifact that belongs in a museum where it can be studied and yield new historical insights.

Jones’ lack of belief is on display even in his (albeit silly) stand-off with Belloq and the Germans near the end of the movie: he threatens to blow the Ark up if they don’t give him Marion, but Belloq talks him down by appealing to Jones’ strong desire to see the contents of the Ark. Jones ends up tied to a post with Marion because he wants to be there to see the Ark opened as much as the Nazis and Belloq do.

In this way, all three of these parties are in the same boat, so to speak. Indy, Belloq, and the Nazis all see the Ark as something to possess, something to control, and something to further their own ends. None of them see in the Ark something Sacred, Other, or Holy.

But we all know (probably…if not, spoiler alert?) the ending of the movie. When they finally do open the Ark, the Nazi’s and Belloq are completely and utterly destroyed. Those who hoped to use God’s power for themselves; those who hoped to use religion (as exemplified in the Ark) to help themselves be one with God or rule the world were wiped out.

And who was left standing there, with their bonds broken and now freed? Our hero: Indiana Jones, the hero who did nothing but at the last possible moment close his eyes.

Why do we hate this ending? Robert Capon adequately sums up what I think is at root with people’s disdain for the “story problem” of Raiders:

“You would think, given the routinely low level of our performances at the higher reaches of our being, that we would, in our fantasies at least, welcome a respite from these inexorable audits – that we would imagine for ourselves romances in which the celestial bookkeeping department was given a long and well-deserved vacation. But no, we put it on overtime instead; however much we hate the law, we are more afraid of grace.”

We need our stories and fantasies to show a hero achieving salvation on his own merits. We relish the opportunity to sit back and watch the triumphs of law over grace. Why? Probably because it’s nice to think that someone still could do it, even if it’s a mythical superhero. We want to watch heroes do what we know deep down we can’t do.


We don’t like the passivity of Indiana Jones because we desperately want to have agency in our own salvation. After all, being a passive member of the salvation process doesn’t really allow us to stand in the spotlight after it’s all said and done. There is no, “I did it! I protected the Ark!” at the end of Raiders. Once the Ark is finished with its judgment, it seals itself up and decides it’s had enough. The Ark is the character in control, not the hero.

And this simply will not do. We must have control over our lives and our salvation. We thrive on it. We tell stories about it. We hate the notion of a hero who doesn’t do anything.

The reality is, though, that we are no different from Indiana Jones. Who, despite the fact that he was right there with Belloq and the Nazi’s, despite the fact that he was on this journey ultimately for his own gain, and despite the fact that he was tied to a post specifically because he wanted to see what was in the Ark just as much as they did, at the end of the movie, Jones is saved. And only because in the face of his judgment, in the face of God’s divine wrath, he showed deference to Something bigger than him. He responded in faith to the overwhelming presence of the Holy. He gave the blind “Yes” to God. Jones recognized that he was dealing with something far beyond himself, and he simply did the only thing he could do to show recognition to this: he closed his eyes.

In this way, Jones is not much different than the Israelites who painted his doorpost with the blood of a lamb. Regardless of whether they were a good Israelite or a bad one, or of how sure they were that this painting business would work or not, nevertheless on that one night, in the face of God’s judgment, they found that their blind, doubting, paper-thin faith was deemed to be “enough.”

We want to be the hero who accomplishes our own salvation, but yet find that we are saved from judgment by merely standing there and closing our eyes. Giving the “yes” to the finished work of Jesus. It’s the only thing God could need to save someone, and in his economy, it’s always been enough.

And for that reason, I think the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a pretty fine piece of work. And why, after all these years, I still hope to be just like Indiana Jones.