Week 6: “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – Structure & Theme

Week 6 of the 52-Script Challenge is one that is near and dear to my heart.

This week we’ll be reading, watching, and writing about RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, written by Lawrence Kasdan.

You can download the script here, or you can find it on our Master List along with all of the others that we’ll be working with over the course of the 52-Script Challenge.

(NOTE: These scripts are for educational purposes only)

On Tuesday, I gave my First Impressions of the script. You can read those here.

On Wednesday, I talked about Character. You can read that here.

In this post, we’ll be looking at Structure & Theme.Structurally, RAIDERS is a near perfect movie. Every scene not only moves the plot forward, but serves a second purpose as well. Take a look at the scene right after Indy and Marion arrive in Cairo.

They’re walking through the market streets talking about their past relationship. It’s pure exposition – though needed because it helps deepen our understanding of their relationship to one another – but something else is also going on. While they’re talking, the script cuts away several times to show how they are being watched. The bad guys are getting ready to spring their trap. So, we have exposition – added tension as Indy & Marion don’t know about their danger like we do – and the story is being moved forward. It’s a thing of beauty.

Kasdan also utilizes media en res to great effect in RAIDERS. With a few rare exceptions – you never see the beginning or end of a scene in this script – only the middle, most-juicy, parts are left on page. There is even one instance where the scene in the script starts mid-sentence. It’s a textbook example of getting there late and leaving early.

There are also a few themes in RAIDERS that I’d like to touch on. First is the concept of greed. It’s the driving force of pretty much every character in the script (with the exception of Sallah – more on that in a moment). Indy does what he does, especially in the script – it is toned down a little in the film – for money. It supplements his teacher’s salary. Marion agrees to help initially because of a desire for money. And the Nazis are dealing with a greed for power.

As the script progresses, this greed destroys everything it touches – from Marion’s bar to, eventually, the Nazis themselves. It’s a need to overcome this greed that helps drive the characters towards change and salvation, and intermingles nicely with another theme – the concept of Value.

What we value as human beings will define us and, as I just mentioned, at the beginning of the script, all of the major characters are defined by an unquenchable greed for money, power, knowledge, or some combination of the three. Abner Ravenwood died because he was more interested in gaining knowledge than in taking care of his own daughter. And that’s Indy’s fate too if he doesn’t change. For most of the film, it doesn’t look good for him either. We know from their discussions, that Indy chose his work over Marion once before. He does so again later in the film when he discovers that she isn’t dead. He leaves her captive in order to continue hunting for the Ark – and it almost gets them both killed.

Finally, he has a third opportunity – he has a bazooka trained on the ARK and threatens to blow it up if they don’t return Marion to him. Of course, he finds out that he CAN’T pull the trigger – and that is when Indy has his revelation.

In the final scene, we see Indy torn between Marion and work once more. She is trying to comfort him – to put her arm around him – while he is upset at the government for taking the Ark away. But, finally, he chooses the girl. He chooses a real relationship and lets the Ark go.

He might not have his treasure, but his journey is complete.

A quick note on Sallah. He is the one shows Indy how good life can be when you change your priorities. Dressed all in white, Sallah is content with the world and instead focuses on his wife and children, and he’s the only truly content character in the film.

Finally, no look at a Spielberg film would be complete without noting the theme of not trusting the government and those in power. Obviously, the script spends the majority of its time showing the abuses of power coming from the Nazis – not exactly a shock. But right at the very end, we get that little jab of distrust. Indy has done everything he was supposed to do, and the government agents that he trusted – who promised that the Ark would go to a museum – are betraying that trust and cutting him out.

So, that’s it for Structure & Theme. Let me know what you think in the Comments!


Read. Watch. Write.

3 thoughts on “Week 6: “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – Structure & Theme”

  1. I’m a little confused. Maybe I didn’t follow it right. I thought that it was taken away by the government? I don’t recall the moment where he chose Marion. Did the movie differ from the screenplay at the end?

    1. Linder, it’s more of a non-verbalized choice. The government is taking away the Ark – Indy has been betrayed. He stands on the steps fuming, and Marion attempts to lure him into being happy with her “Well I know what I’ve got here”. At that moment Indy does have a choice. Will he choose happiness w/ Marion – finally deciding that a relationship with a real person is worth more than his historical pursuits…or will he choose to continue the fight (whether that’s physical, legal action, etc. isn’t important) to get the Ark to the museum where it belongs?

      He chooses to let it go. To be happy. It’s the culmination of his inner journey (imo).

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