Raiders of the Lost Ark is considered an inspiration for so many action films yet there’s a very odd aspect to the film that’s rather unique and rarely noticed by its critics and fans. It’s an element that, once spotted, is difficult to forget, and is perhaps inspiring for times like the one in which we currently live, when there are so many challenges to get through.
Typically in action films, the hero faces an array of obstacles and setbacks, but largely solves one problem after another, completes one quest after another, defeats one villain after another, and enjoys one victory after another.
The structure of Raiders is different. A quick reminder:
In the opening sequence, Indy (Harrison Ford) obtains the temple idol only to lose it to his rival René Belloq (Paul Freeman).
In the streets of Cairo, Indy fails to protect his love, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), from being captured (killed, he assumes).
In the desert, he finds the long-lost Ark of the Covenant, only to have it taken away by Belloq.
Indy then recovers the ark only to have it stolen a second time by Belloq, this time at sea.
On an island, Indy tries to bluff Belloq into thinking he’ll blow up the ark. His bluff fails. Indy is captured.
The climax of the film literally has its hero tied to a post the entire time. He’s completely ineffectual and helpless at a point in the movie where every other action hero is having their greatest moment of struggle and, typically, triumph.
If Indiana Jones had done absolutely nothing, if the famed archeologist had simply stayed home, the Nazis would have met the same fate — losing their lives to ark’s wrath. It’s pretty rare in action films for the evil arch-villains to have the same outcome as if the hero had done nothing at all.
Indy does succeed in getting the ark back to America, of course, which is crucial. But then Indy loses the ark, once again, when government agents send it to a warehouse and refuse to let him study the object he chased the whole film.
In other words: Indiana Jones spends Raiders failing, getting beat up, and losing every artifact that he risks his life to acquire.
And yet, Indiana Jones is considered a great hero.
The reason Indiana Jones is a hero isn’t because he wins. It’s because he never stops trying.