In returning to this series of posts, I wanted to focus on one of my all-time favorite films – a truly iconic movie that contains some truly iconic shots. However, I’d wager if I polled people who love this film to pick their one favorite shot, this wouldn’t be the one.

Images of Dr. Henry Jones Jr. tend to lean towards him staring at a golden idol…or a king cobra…or his lean silhouette against the setting Cairo sun. But for me, this image might be the most emblematic of the LOST ARK narrative, and it all goes back to that minor storytelling hiccup that was first pointed out to me seven years ago.

The hitch in the construction of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is that our hero never really saves the day. Throughout the film, he only ever manages to tie the score – never truly take the lead. By and large, most of what Indy does throughout this adventure is slow The Nazis down a little, and cause a whole lot of property damage in his wake. This would be a problem if it wasn’t just so much fun to witness.

To that end though, this might be the shot I feel best represents the flawed adventure.

At a glance, it would appear as though this is a warrior on the brink of a major strike. His body language is calm, his aim appears true. The high perch he has over his enemies gives him a drastic advantage. The only way his shot could seem more like a fait accompli would be if those red Swastika banners flanked the ark itself. As it is, they could well guide his aim to Belloq and Colonel Dietrich…if only he had more than one round to fire.

Instead, this image embodies the mild fruitlessness that is Indy’s quest within this film. He has a decided advantage, and yet none at all. He’s not going to risk Marion’s life, nor is he truly prepared to destroy the loot he’s been chasing for the whole story. It seems like a great bluff, and he’s giving his opponents no tells that might prompt them to fold. And yet, it is ultimately fruitless. He’s no more prepared to risk destroying the Ark than he is risking Marion’s life – and just to underline how at-risk she is in this moment, we realize that it’s her flanked by those red Swastika banners.

She is almost dead-centre in the gunsight…precisely in harm’s way. If one didn’t know better, they could even conceive that she is the target our man is aiming at in this image. But, of course, we know better.

This is the glorious flaw of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. It’s the undermining of a hero that by his own admission is making things up as he goes. He never stops trying to turn the tide. Where so many of us might turtle or throw up our hands, Indiana Jones gets on the horse, or picks up the rocket launcher. He does things, he tries things. He may never get ahead on points, but he keeps running plays in attempts to tie the game. He never quits – overmatched as he may be – and that’s why cheer for him.

That’s what makes him iconic.


Three more from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK for the road…






This series of posts is inspired by the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series at The Film Experience. Do check out all of the awesome entires in their series so far