Raiders of the Lost Ark (1979 Third Draft/1981 Film)

by Julian Singleton

One of the many reasons why I love Raiders of the Lost Ark is because it’s an action film with an emotional range as wide as its scope: in pursuing the Lost Ark, the audience is confronted with themes of greed vs. selflessness and the price of knowledge while at the same time fighting gun-toting Nazis in an epic worldwide chase. It’s through imbuing these themes in each scene and character of Raiders that makes the film such a rich and satisfying experience–one that as a result warrants a closer analysis of Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay.

Through comparing Raiders’ August 1979 third draft to the 1981 finished film, I hope to show how this screenplay and Spielberg’s subsequent film successfully work through their narrative economy as well as how the film’s story is augmented through character development as a result of subplots that are explicitly tied to the main action of the film.


1. PAGE ONE: 1937. Intrepid archaeologist INDIANA JONES searches in the jungles of Peru for the lost golden idol of the Hovitos. His search leads him to a massive Mayan temple, where he braves several perilous obstacles in order to retrieve the idol. After narrowly escaping the temple with his life, Indy’s idol is stolen by his rival, French archaeologist RENE BELLOQ.

The first ten pages of a screenplay are its most crucial: within these brief pages, a writer is responsible for introducing us to a dynamic, interesting protagonist in a series of situations that sets up their film’s main conflict. The tone of the film is also quickly established, and remains consistent throughout the picture.

In developing the beginning of a sweeping action film like Raiders, Spielberg referred to these opening moments as “creating a ride at Disneyland.”

In Raiders’ opening sequence, Kasdan adeptly illustrates Indiana Jones’ capability as an action hero: armed with his trusty bullwhip and fedora, Indy calmly navigates the perils of the jungles where his Quechuan guides either flee in terror or foolishly try to foil Jones’ pursuits. Indy also proves that his intellect can also be an effective weapon as he successfully navigates the temple where his rival Forrestal was killed almost instantly upon arrival. The sole surviving guide, Satipo, also provides an effective straight man to Indy’s dashing hero as they go, with his cowardice effectively playing against Indy’s bravado and know-how.

However, Indy isn’t just a bastion of bravery–through Indy’s fear of snakes, his setting off the temple’s security system, how he escapes the Hovitos by the skin of his teeth, and his ultimate failure at the hands of Belloq, Kasdan also illustrates Indy’s imperfections. Like all mortals, Indy has his weaknesses: in his case, overconfidence and (as we’ll later see) an obsessive aversion to failure. Kasdan establishes Indy as a successful protagonist through his willingness to showcase Indy’s flaws as well as his strengths–for both are important qualities of every human being.

With Peru’s exotic locale and the grim dangers of the Mayan temple amidst 1937’s period setting, Kasdan also establishes the tone of Raiders as a globetrotting action-adventure. The resulting chase sequence through the temple as Indy retrieves the idol, however, also represents the film’s exciting and humorous sensibilities.

What’s crucial is how Kasdan establishes Raiders’ central conflict through Indy’s relationship with his rival, Belloq. With his theft of the idol through the manipulation of the Hovitos, Kasdan quickly establishes Belloq’s personality and morality as drastically opposed to Indy’s. Where Indy is willing to brave mortal danger on his own in order to preserve treasured artifacts, Belloq takes the coward’s way out, manipulating others to satisfy his greed without getting his hands dirty. Because we’ve gone through Indy’s ordeal in the temple, Belloq’s sudden appearance strikes a deep chord with the reader and effectively solidifies his position as the antagonist. The central conflict of the film arises from this relationship as both characters pursue the Ark through radically different means.

Belloq’s appearance and theft of the Idol also sets up the film’s predominant theme–that of the greed that treasured artifacts can inspire. As we’ll later find out, it’s this pursuit of treasure that will evolve into Indy’s internal conflict: the events of Raiders will force Indy to choose between succumbing to greed like Belloq or continuing to take the moral high road and pursuing an important human relationship instead.

This is the most important thing about Indy and Belloq in this sequence–their strikingly different reactions towards the same situations. By giving your protagonist and antagonist a strong enough situation that puts them in an immediate conflict with one another, you set up the entire moral credo of your picture–and your theme, by extension. Give us someone to root for by also giving us someone to root against–and above all things, make it active. It’s through developing an active, organic conflict for an opening scene that a writer effectively introduces his or her audience to their protagonist as well as the world they inhabit.

2. INCITING INCIDENT: Indy is approached by the U.S. Government at his day job as a Professor of Archaeology at Marshall College. An intercepted Nazi telegram has revealed that an archaeological expedition in Cairo has unearthed the lost city of Tanis, rumored to be the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Because the Ark is rumored to possess unlimited power, The Government tasks Indy with the mission of finding the Ark before the Nazis do.

Contrary to what the climax of the temple sequence will have you believe, this is the moment where Raiders gets the ball rolling. The chief responsibility of the inciting incident of a screenplay is to establish the story purpose: a major action undertaken by the protagonist which will either be achieved or lost by the story’s end. The story purpose inspires the dramatic question of the film; why the protagonist is pursuing their story purpose inspires the stakes. Both aspects of the story purpose are key to the film’s action. The stakes provide dramatic urgency as well as establishing the general timeframe of the picture–why we’re watching these events in Indy’s life as opposed to what happened the week previous, as well as when the film should end. The dramatic question, in which the story purpose and stakes work in tandem with each other, draws attention to the thematic material of the story.

Indy’s story purpose is simple: find the Ark of the Covenant. The stakes: the Nazis are well on their way to finding the Ark, which could grant them unlimited power. The dramatic question–of whether Indy will find the Ark before the Nazis–is connected to the already established dominant theme of Greed and the pursuit of knowledge, as well as the development of Indy’s character. The Nazis are pursuing the Ark because of its legendary power, while Indy initially pursues the Ark for selfless reasons–the Ark is promised to go to the Museum after its retrieval (a publicly beneficial reason). However, Greed has the ability to worm its way into the hearts of any man–even Indiana Jones.

Also important is the establishment of Indy’s character as a public-serving man–a teacher willing to aid the U.S. Government. With colleague Marcus Brody’s interruption of Indy’s night with a “Harlow-type” woman, Indy is also established as a playboy, one who doesn’t care about his relationships with women. These aspects of Indy’s character will come into play as he’s forced to choose between his quest for the Ark and another, more personal quest–the restoration of his relationship with Marion Ravenwood.

Raiders’ stakes–to find the Ark before the Nazis can wield it–also successfully works due to their relation to the story’s setting as well as their presupposed relationship with the audience. The Nazis, with their infamous reputation as history’s ultimate villains, provide a daunting antagonistic force to Indy’s larger-than-life action hero; with its relationship to Christianity,  the Ark of the Covenant is also a large enough cultural touchstone of a macguffin to do away with any unnecessary and overlong expository sequences. One doesn’t need a whole scene devoted to knowing why the Ark is important–it’s the Lost Ark.

But there’s still this.

While Kasdan does provide some exposition about the Ark through Indy and Brody’s meeting with the Government officials, he doesn’t just explain why the Ark is important: he also sets up and foreshadows the main action of the picture as well as its explosive climax. Kasdan isn’t just telling you about the Ark–he’s subconsciously telling you everything that’s about to happen in the movie.

Doing so signposts the major turning points of the main action of Raiders, allowing the reader to fully understand the worth of our hero’s future accomplishments without requiring him to explain their significance in medias res. And we don’t even know it’s happening because the scene is fueled by something else entirely–the Government’s desperate plea for help against Hitler. The inciting incident of Raiders not only provides information we need to know about the story, but it does so in an interesting way–masking crucial information through an organic conflict that directly involves those in the scene. That’s screenwriting.

An aside: if set in any other timeframe with another, less-important object, Raiders just wouldn’t be as good–which is why Raiders and Lost Crusade are arguably much better Indiana Jones films than Temple of Doom or Crystal Skull. Nazis pursuing The Ark and the Holy Grail are just more interesting than less-intriguing “sacred stones” and evil lords or crystal skulls and Commies.

3. ACT ONE: Indy searches for the Medallion of the Staff of Ra, which he discovers is divided in two parts. One half belongs to General TANGTU HOK in Shanghai; the other half belongs to ABNER RAVENWOOD, Indy’s old mentor and the father of MARION RAVENWOOD, his old flame.

The division of the medallion fuels another globe-trotting quest, this time much more epic in scale; this ain’t no Mayan temple. The trek to Shanghai, another exotic locale, gives Indy an opportunity to show us that he can hold his own against Nazis–as well as solidify the fact that the Nazis are looking for the Ark. With its explosive museum heist, the Shanghai sequence gives the reader a bang-up taste of the action to come.

The quest, however, is only half-complete: Indy must travel to Nepal where he faces his greatest challenge–owning up to a past love, and past mistakes.

4. ACT ONE TURNING POINT: That night, Marion is almost tortured by Nazi interrogator BELZIG, who demands the medallion. Indy rescues her, accidentally burning down Marion’s bar in the process. Belzig flees after he burns his hands with the medallion. Since Indy owes her for her bar, Marion becomes Indy’s partner.

With the Act One Turning Point, the protagonist becomes wholeheartedly committed to the journey at hand; at this point, the reader is also introduced to pretty much everything they need to know about the story–who the main characters are, what needs to be done, and also a general idea of what kind of picture this is.

With most of the main plot already in motion, the Act One Turning Point also becomes the point in which the film’s major subplot comes into play. Here, we’re introduced to Indy’s troubled relationship with Marion Ravenwood. Owner of the Raven Bar, she’s first shown forcefully breaking up a bar fight–as the bar patrons cower under her reprimanding, Marion proves she can hold her own against tough adventurers like Indy. Her heated dialogue when she’s reunited with Indy also quickly reveals all we need to know about her character. Marion has been the victim of others’ archaeological greed all her life–her father “dragged her all over this rotten earth” in search of relics until his death, and Indy’s earlier abandonment further corrupted her ability to care for men, leaving her as cold as the Himalayan snows outside her bar.

Marion’s character reveals several things about Indy, notably the idea that his actions–particularly those brought about by his flaws–have dire consequences. She compromises the reader’s idea of Indy’s heroic figure, further highlighting the qualities that Indy lacks–in this case, the ability to sustain key human relationships as a result of his relentless pursuit of adventure and artifacts. As a result of her possession of the other half of the medallion, Marion will complicate Indy’s quest for the Ark by becoming his better half throughout the journey. In terms of the film’s themes, Marion is also representative of the consequences of Greed–a victim of her father’s relentless quests, she illustrates the effects that a journey like Raiders’ can have on innocent bystanders like her.

The key aspect of this subplot is how Marion and Indy’s relationship is inexorably connected to the quest for the Ark. Indy needs something from Marion–the headpiece. Belzig and the Nazis attack Marion in their equal pursuit of the Ark–confirming once again that the Nazis are after the sacred object. The resulting fight between Marion, Indy, and the Nazis shows us how the two can work together in tandem to get what they want. With Indy’s accidental destruction of the bar, the once cool Marion now needs something of equal worth from Indy–if he finds the Ark, she’ll have a ticket back to the U.S. Not only do both of their wants rely on the retrieval of the Ark, but they now need each other if they have any hope of finding it before the Nazis. The depiction of Indy’s restoration of a human relationship is a prime example of a good subplot, for the action of this story affects and is affected by the main plot: while Indy and Marion are driven by their goal to find the Ark, the relationship that blossoms will eventually become a crucial deciding factor for Indy in whether he should continue his quest.

Also, Belzig. You can’t have a Nazi film without showcasing some of the worst they have to offer. It’s just plain fun to do it. Villains are a joy to write because it allows both the writer and the reader to briefly indulge in what happens when they allow their moral beliefs to be violated or torn asunder. Where Belloq refuses to get his hands dirty, Belzig almost revels in his pathological violence–gleefully ready to burn Marion with a fire poker despite her insistence that she’ll tell him everything. That’s why Belzig is such an effective villain: he’s more than willing to indulge in sadistic acts despite the lack of a reason to engage in them.

5. ACT TWO-A: In which Indy and Marion travel to Cairo, where their relationship blossoms while they get closer to retrieving the Ark; meanwhile, the Nazis are hot on their trail through Belloq’s assistance. Indy briefly believes Marion to be killed after they’re separated by Nazis and Arab thugs. Through the help of his old friend, Sallah, Indy discovers the location of the Well of Souls as well as Marion–who he leaves in the hands of the Nazis in favor of unearthing the Ark.

One of my main reasons in choosing Raiders for Tales’ inaugural analysis is because I hold it to be a perfect example of why screenplays should be divided into four acts rather than three. Regardless of one’s professional or amateur status as a screenwriter, the second act is usually seen as the most difficult to write–a festering mire where the best ideas can fall victim to poor plotting or shoddy character work. But instead of viewing this section as the abyssal middle of a script, perhaps the second act can be better understood as a two-part journey separated at the midpoint of the film. These two halves contain radically different courses of action, with the midpoint of the story serving as the point in which the story must take a dramatic and almost unexpected turn.

The first half, Act Two-A, depicts the protagonist’s initial attempts to fulfill their story purpose–while simultaneously deepening their understanding of the world around them as well as their understanding of their inner nature. As the protagonist gets ever closer to accomplishing their dreams, they hesitantly realize why they’re on this quest in the first place.

Kasdan fittingly characterizes the main action of Raiders’ Two-A with that of discovery. All of the major players–Indy, Belloq, Marion, the ally digger Sallah, and the “boss Nazi” Shliemann–are dedicated to unearthing the Well of Souls, the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Marion and Indy must piece together the medallion and use the crystal inside to uncover the precise location of the Well–which becomes all the more urgent when Indy and Sallah realize that the Nazis, with their imprecise knowledge of the medallion, are in fact digging in the wrong place. This action of constant searching concludes with the final discovery of the Well–and the unearthing of the Ark.

While this search for the Ark comprises the main action of the Act, this external plot is once again fueled by character development and inner realization, in addition to a further elaboration on the already-established theme of Greed and Obsession vs. Selfless Human Relationships.


Kasdan begins this new act with a majestic introduction to Cairo–and to Sallah, whom Indy believes to be the best digger in Egypt. With his nine children and his matriarchal wife to complement his equally buoyant nature, Sallah appears to have everything and want for nothing. Sallah is also characterized by his superstitious, reverent nature; out of everyone in the film, Sallah is the first to propose that the Ark is something not worth finding. Indy naturally presses on his quest to find the Ark, which Sallah aids in–because he’s Indy’s friend. He knows and trusts Indy, conscious of the fact that he’s anything but a Nazi. Where Indy’s motivated to find the Ark for public benefit (“It belongs in a museum!”), Sallah’s sole concern is to keep the Ark out of the Nazis’ hands–like Indy, he wants to benefit those around him, but Sallah doesn’t seek to gain anything himself. He’s uniquely selfless–something Indy has yet to learn.

The Basket Chase

It’s at Sallah’s that we first get a taste of how wholesome a couple like Indy and Marion could be, as shown when Marion humorously adopts a precocious stray monkey as their new child, much to Indy’s chagrin. This effect of this small, tender moment is magnified as a result of the subsequent chase scene.Marion and Indy are separated by Nazis and “Bad Arabs,” which culminates in Marion’s apparent death via explosive munitions truck. With its back-alley chases and an amusingly complicated basket version of three-card-shuffle, Kasdan’s chase sequence provides an exciting adrenaline rush that keeps the story moving. The unexpected climax of Marion’s death, however, forces a sudden and large amount of character development upon Indy: with her death, Indy and the reader realize how large an emotional void Marion leaves in her wake–a void, we quickly realize, that Indy’s tried to fill with his search for rare treasures.

Much like the subtle signposting with Raiders’ inciting incident, Kasdan cleverly disguises a major emotional development for the protagonist within the creation of a major action setpiece. While Marion’s death does provide a major obstacle for Indy, this isn’t Kasdan’s sole goal for this first portion of the Cairo sequences; the true goal is to make Indy discover (ah? ah?) how much Marion matters to him.

Indy’s Confrontation with Belloq

Marion’s death is quickly followed by a barside confrontation with Belloq–where Indy’s rival plans to kill him. What’s most striking about the scene is the amount of clarity Belloq bestows upon Indy regarding their rivalry. So quickly after Marion’s death, Indy is forced to confront the truth that he’s not so different from his rival, as well as the  possibility that continuing his pursuit of the Ark could push him towards adopting Belloq’s morality.

It’s always difficult to parcel out such character insights in a script like Raiders–when your film is driven by the spectacle of an exciting action sequence, it becomes that much harder to develop your characters in a coherent fashion without having the scene stick out like a sore thumb. This sequence with Belloq (though slightly overlong in this draft) successfully plays because Kasdan not only uses such an insight to fuel Indy’s inner drive to find the Ark, but makes this piece of information an active element in an already active scene.

The scene is already driven by the suspense generated by having Indy surrounded by thugs who’re waiting to kill him. Knowing this is the last time he’ll talk with his rival, Belloq takes his last opportunity to gloat–which explains the Nazis’ progress in finding the Ark (external plot) while forcing Indy to confront his own shortcomings (inner plot). Belloq’s cool demeanor about Marion’s death infuriates Indy while reminding him that he is also to blame for Marion’s involvement with the Ark. The revelation of Belloq’s plans for the Ark–to talk to God–also gives Belloq his own story purpose, one that is wholly antithetical to Indy’s in terms of action and belief. Considering the film’s themes, Belloq’s story purpose brings to light another form of Greed–that of an insatiable hunger for knowledge. Indy retaliates by reminding Belloq of his own dangerous situation–he hasn’t been able to deliver anything to the Nazis. This gives Belloq a set of stakes external to the scene, placing him under as much constraint as Indy.

As a result of this brief confrontation with Belloq:

  • Indy has discovered a new, more personal motivation to defeat the Nazis: to avenge Marion’s death.
  • Belloq’s story purpose is revealed–one that completely clashes with Indy’s (researching the Ark vs. using it for one’s own maniacal purposes).
  • The reader now has an idea of how the film will end: with the triumph of one story purpose (Indy’s or Belloq’s) over another, established by an action that may or may not happen (the opening of the Ark).

A valuable lesson for developing a powerful antagonist can be found in this brief scene: not only is the antagonist wholly contrary to the protagonist’s beliefs and actions (Indy possesses bravery and skepticism while Belloq is cowardly and superstitious), but that the two are so similar that it’s wholly possible for them to switch places in terms of morality. This is augmented by the fact that Belloq has a story purpose of his own, so that Indy becomes the antagonist in his eyes. In short, a good antagonist is the protagonist of their own story–and is equally threatened by the protagonist.

Indy discovers the Location of the Well of Souls

What makes Indy’s discovery of the Well of Souls so effective is the amount of setup that has gone into this moment. Having been signposted for us earlier by Kasdan, the arrival of the Map Room sequence becomes the fulfillment of a promise proposed to us at the film’s beginning, a promise made all the more difficult to achieve as the obstacles against Indy continue to mount.

Will Indy’s search prove fruitful, allowing him to triumph over Belloq and avenge Marion’s death? Will he get that much closer to the Ark than the Nazis–or the 3,000 years worth of people who’ve died trying to find it?

Conscious of the scene’s dramatic significance, Kasdan divvies up the sequence by cutting back to the desert outside, where Sallah tries to fend off some belligerent and overly curious Nazis. Kasdan ups the suspense by incorporating this small action–at this major turning point in the plot, it would be just the worst to have the whole plan fall to pieces at the hands of some unnamed extras.

However, Indy’s tireless efforts are graciously rewarded as the light catches the crystal and reveals the location of the Ark. While undoubtedly important to the external plot, this scene provides an equal emotional development in terms of Indy’s character growth. With Marion’s death and Belloq’s constant power over him, Indy’s lost as much as he’s gained in his search for the Ark. And, as evidenced by the Inciting Incident and his conversations with Sallah, Indy’s also written off the Ark’s power to mere folklore.

With the appearance of the golden light in the Map room, Indy finally has a major victory–and he knows for sure that this object is unlike anything he’s sought before. In locating the Ark, Indy must believe not just in the Ark’s existence, but it’s power. And that’s what he does: in order to find the Ark, Indy must believe.

Indy is reunited with Marion

Oh, dramatic irony.

Kasdan’s taken the time to establish Marion and the Ark as the two things vying for Indy’s devotion–with Marion’s death, Indy’s realized how important she can be, and Indy’s finally started to believe in the power of the Ark. With the sudden revelation that Marion is alive, Indy is suddenly forced to choose between what should take priority–treasure or love?

Gordon Farrell, who teaches Forms of Drama and Film Story Analysis at NYU, once related to our class an ethical hierarchy proposed by Aristotle and Seneca. It goes something like this: humans operate on an organized system of priorities. The lowest level involves basic human necessities like food, sex, and shelter. Once these base priorities are fulfilled, humans must then strive to achieve social priorities–excess wealth, romantic love, reputation, self-respect, living with others, and knowledge–in that order. However, Seneca proposed that the highest value of all is that of human life; to place any lower priority over this is one of the greatest errors any man can make.

  • A. Value of Human Life (added by Seneca)
  1. Knowledge – learning, experience, or skill
  2. Community- city, family, social group (need to learn to live well with others in order to be happy)
  3. Self-respect
  4. To be Well-Regarded by others
  5. Romantic Love
  6. Excess Wealth
  7. Sufficient Wealth
  8. Shelter
  9. Sex
  10. Food

This same system of ethics, Gordon proposed, can be equally applied to movie morality–and Raiders is no different. It’s the same system at the heart of Belloq and Indy’s rivalry, and even our hatred of the Nazis. It’s what inspires the flaws in our favorite characters and what lies at the root of our vices. It’s why we love those who pet the dog instead of kick it. It’s all ‘bout ethics.

After Indy realizes that the Nazis are using Marion to uncover his plans, Indy regrettably chooses to leave her behind in favor of finding the Ark. A portion of Indy’s decision can be considered morally acceptable as Indy’s pursuit of the Ark is motivated by the desire to increase personal and public knowledge, which are placed far above that of romantic love. In leaving Marion behind, however, Indy does violate the highest priority–Marion’s life could be in danger as a result of Indy’s rash decision. The decision to pursue Knowledge and Community over Romantic Love is also predicated on already possessing Romantic Love, which Indy squanders when he chooses to leave Marion tied up instead of freeing her.

The Indy/Marion subplot rests on Indy’s ability to make a change in his priorities. Indy’s made a step forward in grieving for Marion, as well as letting her death motivate finding the Ark–almost as a divine reward for this, Indy’s found the Well of Souls. Leaving Marion behind, though based in logic, is a step backward for Indy–although he’s got his reasons, he’s still choosing to pursue treasure instead of a human relationship.

As I said earlier, this Aristotelian system of Ethics can be found and applied to most films. Characters who follow the system are rewarded, and those who don’t–even protagonists–are swiftly punished. Indy’s decision, which will bring him closer than ever to the Ark, will soon come back to haunt him.

6. MIDPOINT: Indy and Sallah lower themselves into the Well of Souls and uncover the ARK OF THE COVENANT. The dig is ambushed by Belloq, Shliemann, and the Nazis. They steal the ark and imprison Indy and Marion in the Well of Souls.

The midpoint of a screenplay is typically characterized by a major development in the story that upends everything we’ve experienced so far. If the first half of a screenplay has been an introduction or setup to the characters and the world we know, then it’s  after this significant plot twist that all of those elements will be put to the test. Characters are suddenly confronted with their major flaw, with which they then must come to terms.  Afterwards, they pursue a new course of action to fulfill the story purpose.

Which brings us to Raiders’ Well of Souls. When writing a screenplay, you can’t hesitate to think of the worst, the worst possible situations for your characters to be in–it makes for great drama to see them pass or fail the obstacles you put in front of them. With Raiders’ midpoint, Indy is immediately confronted with one of his flaws–the Ark is guarded by hundreds poisonous snakes. Naturally, the famous Indiana Jones blanches at the task. It’s godawful. It’s dangerous. But he’s that close. The only thing he can do is push past his fears. And he does!

At this point, Kasdan also takes the opportunity to confirm the Ark’s power, establishing how the snakes recoil from its presence (nice Biblical symbolism there, Larry) as well as referring to how the Ark makes the air “vibrate.” Sallah also establishes a rule: in respect for its divinity, never touch the Ark or look into it when it’s opened.

In true midpoint-shift fashion, Indy’s great victory is undercut by a great failure: having caught wise to Indy’s plan, the dig is raided by Belloq, Belzig, Shliemann, and a cadre of Nazi thugs. The Nazis steal the Ark and toss Marion into the pit to Belloq’s shocked surprise.

Much like how Belzig is the epitome of Nazi cruelty, Shliemann is a fitting poster child for Nazi devotion to Hitler; to him, only the mission to the Fuhrer matters, making him a character of certain moral absolutes. Shliemann serves as a “barometer character” to Belloq much like how Sallah serves the same purpose with Indy: with their unwavering moral fortitude, barometer characters are a nice way to gauge the ever-shifting moral compasses of main characters. Our view of Belloq’s already compromised as a result of his earlier barside confrontation with Indy. In this scene, Shliemann takes note of Belloq’s surprise at Marion’s fate–in turn causing us to question if Belloq is truely as evil as we first thought.

After his devotion is harshly questioned and with the Ark finally in his clutches, Belloq resigns himself to his enemies’ fate–which, like his manipulation of the Hovitos, places personal gain above the lives of others. Strike two for Belloq.

With Indy and Marion trapped in the Well and the Ark in the clutches of the Nazis, we’re ready to go into a new course of action: with it’s successful recovery and unforeseen capture, Indy’s story purpose shifts from finding the Ark to protecting it from the Nazis.

7. ACT TWO-B: In which Indy and Marion must protect the Ark from the Nazis. After breaking free from the Well of Souls, Indy and Marion derail the Nazi’s plans to airlift the Ark to Berlin. Indy steals the Ark back from the Nazis during a chase sequence and escapes via pirate steamer with Marion and the Ark on board.

With the main action shifted and the bulk of the setup for the picture completed, Act Two-B is distinctively faster-paced and action-driven than its other half. Now wholly conscious of their flaws, Two-B is driven by the protagonists’ new attempt to achieve their story purpose. Raiders’ Two-B is surprisingly brief, worth 14 pages out of the 105-page third draft. However, it still manages to accomplish a great deal within a short amount of time.

The Escape from the Well of Souls

The brief escape sequence from the Well further confirms Indy’s ability to overcome his fears in the face of danger. Having landed himself and Marion in such a mess out of his drive to pursue the Ark over her, one can consider this ordeal as Indy’s punishment and redemption for such an act. It’s a nice, entertaining way to have your characters suffer for their transgressions and reaffirm our attachment to them.

Kasdan also writes in a nice little moment for Marion–for all of her bravery, even she couldn’t stand the sight of a bunch of beetle-covered mummies. Little moments like this can do a great deal of good for your characters–you never want to hesitate from writing in their little contradictions. Like our flaws, they make us human.

Blowing up the Plane/Convoy Chase

The bulk of Act Two-B. Having confronted his fear of snakes, Indy faces a much more daunting task: get the Ark back. Much like the bar sequence at the end of Act One, Indy and Marion unite to take on a ragtag group of Germans and foil their plans for the Ark.

Note how dialogue is almost non-existent in this sequence. Writers are often told to steer clear of giant blocks of text in favor of putting words in the actors’ mouths. I love this sequence because Kasdan rejects that idea entirely: he’s already done the legwork needed to set up what characters are going after and why, eliminating the need for excessive monologuing to reestablish the stakes of the scene. The objective is clear:

  1. The Nazis want the Ark flown out to Berlin by any means possible–and that means getting it to Cairo.
  2. Indy and Co. need the Ark back: Indy for the Museum, Marion for her ticket to the States, and Sallah to rid his people of the Nazis.

If you don’t need dialogue, of course you’re going to end up with nothing but text. It’s making each action count that matters–it always speaks louder than words.

Another effective component of the scene: the contrast in vehicles. The Nazis again take the easy, soulless way out by carting the Ark away in a Jeep; Indy, however, races on horseback to save the Ark, putting himself and briefly another animal in danger to ensure the safety of others.

Belzig is killed! Including his death ups the stakes for the Nazis and lends the sequence another brief degree of realism–if you’re both dedicated to saving the Ark, surely someone’s gonna bite the bullet.

For his dedication, Indy successfully gets the Ark back and even manages to get Belloq and Co. off his trail. Action completed, story purpose satisfied–for now.

Love Scene between Indy and Marion

After all the action of the past couple pages, we get a break. It’s another moment for character development to shine, but this time without all the kerfuffle of the main plot. It’s just the beat that the two need: having overcome Nazis, Bad Arabs, and countless explosions together, they can finally consummate the relationship that’s been percolating for the whole film.

It’s interesting that Marion makes note of how some things you can’t recapture–which must strike at the heart of Indy’s obsessive desire to reclaim past objects for the present. Once again, Kasdan’s interweaves this romantic subplot with the main plot of the Ark: with Indy’s dilemma of choosing between the two, it’s fascinating that Marion should see herself as a lost treasure.

The brief scene with the Ark, however, serves as a reminder of this subplot’s place in the narrative: no matter how much Indy and Marion care each other, the Ark isn’t finished with them yet. Kasdan’s still got to fulfill one of his last promises–to see the Ark opened.

(also, of course Indy and Sallah would know pirates.)

7. ACT TWO TURNING POINT: The next morning, Indy’s ship is stopped by a U-Boat commanded by Shliemann. He takes the Ark and Belloq takes Marion. Indy swims onto the U-Boat and ties himself to the submarine’s periscope, taking him to the Nazis’ secret island base.

The second act turning point is the realization of the worst thing that could possibly happen to your protagonist. It’s rock bottom. It’s hell. The length of this sequence varies from script to script, depending on how much you want your protagonist to suffer before pushing them forward to the end of the movie. What matters is that you confirm what’s been established as your characters’ worst fears.

Indy’s already confronted one of his fears–snakes. He’s passed that test with flying colors. Now there’s still two things that are able to get under Indy’s skin–losing Marion and losing to Belloq. Both happen here in one fell swoop. With Marion and the Ark in the Nazis’ hands, it looks like all’s lost. There’s even the possibility that the overpowered pirates might be blown from the water, more casualties of Jones’ quest.

But if there’s anything about the human spirit, it’s that it refuses to give up. Even when we’re backed into a corner, we still find some way to fight back. We lick our wounds and then come out charging. That’s why we love heroes–they never say die.

So what do you do when the Nazis take Marion and the Ark aboard a U-Boat?

Strap yourself to the damn U-Boat with your whip and ride it to the Secret Nazi Island Base.

8. ACT THREE: In which Indy rescues Marion–and the Ark–from the Nazis, reckoning with his desires to indulge in the secrets the Ark contains.

The secondary effect of the Act Two turning point is that after your character’s hit rock bottom, there’s only so far they can go before you have to end the movie. This state creates a climactic situation–the CRISIS–which is either stopped or spurred on by the protagonists’ final course of action at the CLIMAX.

You’ve been building to this climax for your entire script–and so has Kasdan with Raiders. Now that Indy is left with nothing, he’s got one last chance to reckon with his flaws and get the Ark and Marion back in one fell swoop.

And so we plunge headlong into Act Three.

9. CRISIS: Before Belloq can open the Ark, Indy ambushes the Nazis with a bazooka. He threatens to blow up the Ark unless they give him Marion. Another group of Nazis take Indy by surprise and subdue him. Belloq opens the Ark as Shliemann pulls Indy away to be executed.

Say it with me: Secret Nazi Island Base. It’s just so damn cool, and it’s the perfect place to end a movie like this–or any movie. It’s the belly of the beast, the lion’s den. Know what your Secret Nazi Island Base is and you’ll have a great ending to your picture.

Raiders’ final terrible situation is about to take place. As Belloq prepares, Shliemann expresses his reservations towards this “Jewish ritual.” Belloq refuses to consider any alternatives at this point, dedicated to open the Ark and talk to God. Calling back to our discussion of morality, Belloq’s putting the Nazis in danger; Nazis, no matter how Nazi they may be, are still humans–so Belloq continues to solidify his stance as an antagonist marked for a bad end.

It’s also nice that this climactic sequence takes place in a tunnel–like Indy, we know we can only head to the end. No turning back now. It’s also a nice call back to the beginning, in which Indy and Satipo warily ventured into the Mayan Temple. In that sequence, Belloq stole Indy’s idol–now it’s Indy’s turn to do the stealin’. It’s only fitting that we’re going to get the dramatic answer in a place akin to where we received our dramatic question. It’s full circle–and it implies closure.

However, the climax of the film mirrors the inciting incident primarily to dramatize the change the protagonist has gone through as a result of the film. At the start, Indy was a freewheeling, womanizing adventurer who only cared to successfully obtain rare antiquities. Here, at the tabernacle, Indy is ready to destroy the ultimate prize if he doesn’t get back Marion. He could care less what the Nazis do with the Ark–just as long as it doesn’t concern him and the woman he cares about. Indy’s successfully changed from a man who’s only cared about treasure to caring about another treasure entirely: love. (Aww!)

But there’s one more thing about the crisis–it’s the crisis. It’s a terrible situation. To have your protagonist immediately be successful isn’t dramatic. It’s a haphazard and abrupt way to end your movie. The change of the protagonist has to be tested. And so Indy is led away at gunpoint empty-handed towards certain death, just as Belloq fulfills his story purpose of opening the Ark.

10. CLIMAX: The power of the Ark slaughters Belloq and the Nazis at the Tabernacle. Indy rescues Marion, who persuades him to save the Ark. They catch the eye of Shliemann, and a firefight ensues via mine cart chase. A munitions reserve explodes. The explosions catch up to the dueling carts, frying Shliemann and his men while Indy and Marion fly out of the tunnel. Explosions destroy the island. Indy, Marion, and the Ark hop a boat and safely escape.

At the climax, don’t be afraid to go totally apeshit. It’s the craziest moment of the movie. It’s what we’re going to remember the most. So, go big or go home. Here, the climax is effective because it revolves around the opening of the Ark, a tangible event that’s had a wealth of setup going into it. Sallah’s reverence, the little beats in which the power of the Ark is suggested or shown–it’s all been playing into this moment here.

Nngh. Bad move, Belloq. In this payoff to Kasdan’s themes of Greed, even the reader/audience is blinded by the power of the Ark, involving us in the Nazis’ divine retribution in their quest to seek ultimate power. Normally you wouldn’t give such specific visual and sound effects cues in a script…but this is a pass. We need to hear and tremble at the whisper of God. It’s what we’ve been building up to. We need to both enjoy it and regret it.

The climax is also the point of the dramatic answer–the thesis of your film. I don’t mean you’ve got to launch into a huge speech about how one shouldn’t devote one’s life to the endless pursuit of knowledge and how greed doesn’t pay–make your points as active as possible. Hence, exploding Belloq’s head.

You’ve also got to put your protagonist’s change into action here–give them a moment to show off how better or worse they’ve become. It’s why you’ll probably cheer as Indy rushes into the flaming Tabernacle with a machine gun looking for Marion. It’s the apex of their heroism.

Speaking of callbacks to past setpieces–Indy rescues Marion from another streak of burning oil like the earlier plane explosion, which occurred after he paid for choosing the Ark over her. Now Indy’s given a moment to correct that mistake, choosing her over the Ark. Naturally (and ever so awesomely by Marion), Indy is rewarded with the chance of saving the Ark as well!

With Indy’s inner journey complete–he’s not afraid of snakes, he’s devoted himself to Marion’s care, and he doesn’t care what happens to the Ark–it’s totally worth it to finally fulfill Indy’s story purpose. Kasdan’s made both Indy and Marion earn this moment.

That’s the most important thing about the climax: whether or not what occurs within it is earned. Too often in films do protagonists defeat their greatest foes without having endured some personal cost–it makes the journey seem all too easy, and as a result the end isn’t as satisfying as the overall whole. As audience members, we want to be pushed, prodded, thrust into danger so that the flames are licking our faces before we’re finally pulled back and saved, ultimately learning from our ordeals.

That said, Indy and Marion can’t get out of this situation that easily–we’ve still got one more setpiece we haven’t executed. A mine cart chase! It’s a brief moment of danger surrounded by explosions–ending the film with a bang. Shliemann finally bites the flaming bullet, while our heroes, together at last, sail away from the sinking Secret Nazi Island Base (eee!) with the Ark in tow.

11. CONCLUSION: Indy and Marion meet with Government Officials. While they’ve given our adventurers a hefty reward, the officials refuse to turn over the Ark. After the meeting, Marion encourages Indy to give up on the Ark. They walk off, ready to start a new life together. In a government warehouse, the Ark is loaded into a nondescript box and carted off amidst an endless maze of similar boxes.

The ending of your film past the climax can go either way–you can give the protagonist and the audience a few more moments to savor their victory or you can end your film in the midst of that victory. Either way, tie up your loose ends and don’t outstay your welcome.

It’s important to show the effects of your dramatic answer in the film’s conclusion. Since you’ve spent your time developing a potent answer to the question posed by your film’s beginning, it’s only courteous to show us how your changed protagonist’s climactic choices have affected the world around them.

The Government has the Ark–check. They’ve paid off Indy–check. But there’s still one last thing–where is the Ark? Now that’s something he’ll never, ever know.

But he’s OK with that now. With Belloq gone, Indy’s the best archaeologist around. Having witnessed the Ark’s fury, he’s a believer who sees why his sacred objects are so sacred. But not as sacred as Marion. She’s not the Ark…but it’ll have to do.

And that’s the story of Indiana Jones, the man whose lust for treasure was pacified by his love for a woman.

As audience members, however, we’ve got the ability to know more than Indy–which is nice because we WANT to know where the Ark’s ended up. And what a reveal that is.

In contrast to Belloq and the Nazis, the Government naturally wouldn’t like to know anything about the Ark. So it’s shelved and forgotten–like so much of history’s mysteries. But then that begs the question–what else is in that warehouse?


While most of Kasdan’s third draft is preserved in the film version of Raiders, much has been added, excised, or outright changed.

Indy the Merciful

Indy doesn’t kill the treacherous Quechuan guide in his attempt on his life at the beginning of the film; instead, Belloq has the Hovitos do the deed. In terms of movie morality, it’s far less likely you’ll side with someone if you see them kill a guy over a piece of paper at the beginning of the film. Having Indy not kill anyone keeps us rooting for him and helps us hate Belloq even more.

Shanghai, We Barely Knew Ya

In the film, Marion’s medallion is in one piece–thus Indy has no reason to go to Shanghai and rob General Hok’s museum. While the Shanghai sequence does give us a nice taste of the Nazi-fightin’ to come, these scenes do little in terms of new information to the plot–we know we need to get the medallion, and we already believe the Nazis are after the Ark. The same information is carried out in the retrieval of Marion’s half of the medallion, but with one clear difference–Marion is involved in the action.

At this point in Act One, it’s much more important to introduce Marion rather than another character who’ll never come back into the story. We also need to get our narrative asses to Cairo and get the show on the road. Therefore, the medallion is in one piece, and the vital information that the Nazis are missing are conveniently on the other side–the side that didn’t burn into Toht’s hand.

It’s All in a Name

Belzig is now Toht, and Shliemann is now Dietrich. It’s nice to have characters with differing name patterns–you don’t want to confuse Belzig for Belloq. The name changes also lend a clever credence to Sallah’s declaration of how “death surrounds the Ark.” In German, Dietrich (Die-trich!), the head Nazi, means “ruler of the people,” while Toht–the torturer–means “Death.”

Marion’s Entrance

Marion’s intro has been changed from breaking up a bar fight to a drinking contest with a surly traveler. A change like this goes to show that a little action instead of a lot of dialogue can go a long way. While it is nice to show how Marion can quell the hearts of men by giving them a stern talking-to, her introduction has her far too removed from the  action of her scene–instead of having Marion break up a fight, it’s far more interesting if she was in the fight.

As a result, Marion is able to stoically hold her own–and defeat–the big, tough men around her without even opening her mouth. It’s funny as hell, and immediately endears us to her. And, in a film like Raiders where the story has to keep moving at all costs, this is exactly what we need to do to make sure that happens.

Just Shoot ‘Im!

Several other action sequences have been vastly trimmed down or cut out. A notable example happens during the basket chase. In the script, Indy takes on a menacing, sword-wielding Bad Arab with his whip. It’s tense, it’s action-packed…but Indy’s prowess with leather isn’t what’s important here. Marion is. And she’s getting away fast. Also, Harrison Ford apparently had a rather bad case of diarrhea on the day of the shoot–rendering the sequence unfilmable.

So what d’you do to keep the story moving?


Belloq: the Human?

Not only is Belloq’s confrontation with Indy significantly shorter, but Belloq is no longer the most powerful character in the scene. While he’s been forced to meet with Belloq by his thugs, Indy becomes more dangerous than his rival–to the point where Belloq thinks Indy could kill him first. The similarities between Belloq and Indy are also further elaborated: Belloq compares archaeology to religion, showcasing how both of them have fallen from the “purer faith.” Indy’s threat to kill Belloq is also much more active, and reveals how much effect Marion’s death has had on him.

Belloq’s character is also given a lot more to chew on throughout the film, especially as tensions mount between him and his Nazi counterparts. Several scenes are added between him and the captive Marion, which not only give Marion a much more active role in her escape, but also lends greater depth to Belloq’s character. As he jokes and drinks with Marion–her escape method calling back to her introduction–Belloq seems
much more caring and…human.

As a result, Belloq’s earlier comparisons between him and Indy seem much truer than before; where Indy has the capacity for greed, Belloq is revealed to have equal capacity for empathy. Belloq’s later scenes where he protests against Marion’s torture also feel more sincere because of this scene, and makes his decision to let Marion die in the Well of Souls feel much more treacherous than Kasdan’s initial draft. The decision to complicate our feelings for Belloq complicates our feelings for Indy as well, thus lending greater weight to the decisions of each as they both pursue the Ark.

It’s also hysterical when Belloq reveals that their alcohol comes from his family’s label–a subtle hint that Marion’s escape plan won’t work.

Aw, They’re Fighting!

The inclusion of Marion and Indy’s fight in the Well of Souls adds not just a nice humorous beat in the midst of certain death, but establishes an emotional consistency for Indy and Marion’s characters. Indy refused to free Marion–naturally, she’d still be angry at him. Her frustration towards Belloq and her failed escape attempt also carries into this scene–when Indy jealously questions what she had to do to survive Nazi imprisonment.

The above two additions further develops the idea of Marion as another “lost treasure” by making her another idol in Belloq and Indy’s rivalry–like the Ark and the Hovitos Idol, both men pursue this woman as yet another object of conquest.

A Moment of Tenderness

Instead of blasting through the Nazi cavalry like in the script, Indy is shot and seriously wounded by the Nazis driving the truck containing the Ark. As a result, Indy and Marion’s love scene on the pirate steamer shifts from “closing all accounts” to Marion humorously tending to the wounds of the dubiously stoic Jones.

Indy’s shooting is by far a greater moment of realism and stakes than Belzig’s sudden death. More importantly, though, this following scene allows for a moment that reveals Jones’ vulnerability–much like his sudden fear of snakes after the far more dangerous Mayan temple. Indy’s childlike tenderness allows him to realize how much he does need Marion–he can’t take care of himself forever. As a result, Marion finds a further way into his heart–and ours.

Down Periscope

Another abbreviated sequence in the film is Indy’s journey to the Secret Nazi Island Base (it never gets old). While the sequence’s sharks and near-drowning allow Indy to experience further suffering at the hands of the Second Act Turning Point, it’s much more crucial to get to the Island–and the opening of the Ark. Unfortunately, this change does give rise to the plothole of how Indy survived the journey to the island in the first place…

Sand and Gold

A subtle yet profound visual addition to Raiders is the juxtaposition of sand and gold at both the opening and close of the film. In the Mayan temple, Indy judges how much sand is worth the weight of the Idol so he doesn’t set off the temple’s defenses; when the Ark is opened, Belloq is dismayed that the Ark only contains sand–much to Indy’s surprised pleasure.

These two moments are key visual markers of how Indy’s character has changed. At the beginning, Indy only cares about the Idol–not the safety of himself or others. After learning to care about Marion over such petty treasures, however, Indy can look upon the same expression of disappointment and laugh.

Indy’s obsession with Belloq’s persistent thefts is also played up in the film–when we first meet Marcus Brody, Indy attempts to sell whatever pieces he retrieved so he can fly to Marrakech, catch Belloq, and retrieve the Idol. After he’s tasked to retrieve the Ark, Indy wholeheartedly agrees–but now we can consider Indy’s enthusiasm to be fueled by his earlier failures, and that this quest for the Ark is a chance for Indy to one-up Belloq.

Also pertinent to this change is the inclusion of Belloq’s bluff whenever Indy threatens to blow up the Ark. In Kasdan’s script, Indy is merely subdued by Nazis before he can go through with his plan; in the film, he’s talked out of it by Belloq. While Indy still wants Marion, Belloq plays into Indy’s last remaining flaw: he wouldn’t destroy an object as important as the Ark. Not when he knows how important it is to history. “Indiana, we’re just passing through history,” Belloq says. “This…this is history.” With that said, Indy can’t go through with it. It’s the last flaw he still needs to get over. It’s a crucial moment of weakness that plays into his ultimate transformation at the film’s climax.

The Ending

The biggest change by far is the removal of the climactic mine car sequence. While this could be blamed on budgetary problems, the film version is vastly helped by the exclusion of this sequence. As I said earlier, the climax is invested in a singular action: the opening of the Ark. We’ve hinted at the power of the Ark several times in the film, and it’s only right that we get a full taste of its power. And that happens in the script.

But then a lot more happens after that. Remember, you can’t outstay your welcome with your ending. Give us the biggest explosion you’ve got, make the biggest point you have, then end the film. That’s it. We don’t need any more action sequences after that. Enduring an explosive mine car chase seems like a much punier accomplishment compared to being able to endure the power of the Ark.

In another change, Dietrich and Toht are now further casualties of the Ark’s power instead of dying separate deaths in various other set-pieces. This is an awesome decision because it not only eliminates the plot hole of the Ark selectively destroying Nazis, it inspires further awe at the power of the Ark because it’s able to destroy all three of Raiders’ protagonists at the same time.

Plus, this.

What could be a better climax than this serious payoff? We’ve invested all our time in finding, protecting, and possibly witnessing the power of the Ark. We also want to see all the bad guys pay for their greed and have Indy be rewarded for his newfound selflessness. So why not have all of these things occur all at once? We see the Ark do some serious shit, all the Nazis are taken care of, and even Indy’s given his brief moment to fully change: by shutting his eyes and also telling Marion to do the same during the unveiling of the Ark, Indy dually refuses to give into the greed that corrupted Belloq while also fully caring about Marion’s well-being instead of his own. Such a moment also confirms that Indy is now a believer in the power of the Ark–a belief that fuels his concerns for the Ark’s location at the film’s conclusion. By having all of these things happen at once, Spielberg and co. create a visually spectacular ending that packs as much payoff for the characters as well as the plot.


So, what’s gleaned from Raiders of the Lost Ark?

  1. Narrative Economy. Search for scenes that simultaneously develop your characters, themes, and plot through organic conflicts that involve everyone in the scene.
  2. It’s what’s inside that counts. While your story is externally driven by the plot, be sure to give your protagonists a subplot that allows them to confront their inner demons–and make sure that your subplot both affects and is affected by the main plot.
  3. Treat every main character like your protagonist. Because they’re the protagonists of their own story. Complicate them. Give them something to want.
  4. Stick to the morals you establish. If we don’t know what’s good or bad, we won’t know who to root for. It also allows you to create complex characters.
  5. Don’t be afraid to cut. If that exciting action sequence can be made simpler, DO IT. You want to keep things moving.
  6. Change. It happens. And it has to be dramatized. Do that through your characters or through similar before/after situations.
  7. Fears. Everyone’s got them. Know what those are for your protagonists and exploit them at the best possible moment for you–which is the worst possible moment for your characters.
  8. Climax. It’s called that for a reason. Go loco, and then end your movie.

My apologies for how absurdly long this post has taken. In addition to moving between states, getting an internship, and being supremely ill, I’ve had to rack my brain as to how exactly I’m going to pull this project off. I can assure you that now I’ve established my rules/format for posting, other analyses won’t take nearly as long.

Now go have fun and watch Raiders.

Next up: Shame (Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan, 2011).