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Screenplay Analysis

Raiders of the Lost Ark: An Analysis
Screenplay by: Lawrence Kasdan
Story by: George Lucas and Philip Kaufman

By Glenn Bossik

Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" ( ) uses a hybrid form of storytelling that combines the cliffhanger style of serial adventure films with the primary storytelling component of Greek mythology, the curse.

Serial films are composed of several parts, each part shown on a separate day and ending in a cliffhanger, a dangerous situation that could kill the hero if he can't escape. In the beginning of the next part of the serial, he escapes.

In Greek mythology, the hero is doomed to repeat a dangerous pattern of behavior as a result of a curse invoked by the gods.

In "Raiders," the hero, Archaeologist Indiana Jones, gets into numerous cliffhanger-style escape and rescue situations while fighting with Nazi soldiers for possession of the Ark of the Covenant, an ancient chest that contains the Ten Commandments and is said to be cursed with deadly, God-like powers.

The cliffhangers Indy must endure result from a curse that fills men with greed, making them fight with each other to possess the power of the Ark. For example, in Act I, Indy and his colleague, Marcus, meet with two Army Intelligence officers and tell them that in ancient times, the Egyptians invaded Jerusalem and took the Ark from the Hebrews. Indy re-enacts this same dangerous, greedy pattern of behavior by fighting Hitler's Nazi soldiers for the Ark.

Each time Indy fights with the Nazis during his quest for the Ark, he is forced to escape from death at their hands and rescue his lover, Marion, daughter of his mentor, Archaeologist Abner Ravenwood.

The fights resemble serial adventure films and help develop the character of Indy and Marion.

Every time Indy endangers himself to save Marion, we get to re-experience those adventure films and learn more about Indy's turbulent relationship with her.

When he travels to Marion's saloon in Nepal, she is angry that he ended their relationship because of her father, Abner, the man who taught Indy about archaeology. Initially, she refuses to give him her father's artifact, the headpiece of the Staff of Ra, a medallion needed to find the location of the Lost Ark. But, when several Nazi soldiers grab her and threaten to kill her for it, Indy rescues her, putting himself in peril. He must then escape from the soldiers, who hold him at gunpoint.

When he succeeds, Marion agrees to give him the headpiece and become his partner in the search for the Ark.


This partnership results in Marion constantly being put in harm's way and Indy constantly having to risk his life to rescue her. So, each time they must perform another task that will help them find the Ark, they encounter obstacles that are depicted as serial adventures.

In "Raiders," the dialogue supplements the visuals in these adventures and maintains the fast pace of the story, quickly providing us with information that would take too long to show visually. For instance, after leaving Marion's saloon in Nepal, Indy and Marion travel to Cairo, Egypt, and meet with Indy's friend, Sallah.

The ensuing discussion between Indy and Sallah reveals that the Nazis have been excavating a nearby location in Egypt and have found the map room, an underground chamber where the headpiece of the Staff of Ra is used to find the location of the Ark.

So, we aren't shown the discovery of the map room. We are told about it instead. For that reason, the fast pace of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is maintained and the plot moves forward effortlessly.

The plot of "Raiders" shows that in a well-written screenplay, character and story structure can be combined. In Act III, this combination is exemplified by a scene in which Indy threatens to blow up the Ark if Marion is not set free by Belloq, a French archaeologist who helped the Nazis find the Ark and took her as his hostage.

At the end of the scene, Indy surrenders to the Nazis rather than destroy an archaeological treasure he has wanted to find for his entire career. This surrender reveals his primary character flaw--greed--and results in Indy and Marion being captured by the Nazis and being tied to a pole facing Belloq, who is about to open the deadly Ark.

Once again, Indy must escape certain death and bring Marion to safety. He is involved in yet another cliffhanger, an element of story structure linked to his character flaw, greed.

The cliffhanger becomes part of the climax of the story, a climax in which Indy saves Marion from death by telling her to close her eyes when Belloq opens the Ark for the Nazi soldiers standing in front of him. The Angel of Death flies out of the open Ark and destroys Belloq and the soldiers with fire and bolts of lightening.

The resolution of "Raiders" defines the theme of the story. The theme is that greedy men won't be allowed to possess the Ark, an object cursed by the deadly power of God and much too powerful for any man to possess indefinitely.

Indiana Jones's quest for the Ark is resolved when two Army Intelligence officers who sent him on that quest inform him that he will no longer have access to the Ark. They have sent the Ark to a huge U.S. Government warehouse in a nondescript crate and buried that crate amongst thousands of other similar crates.

Example of screenplay coverage for Raiders of the Lost Ark

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