4 Reasons 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' Is Secretly About Drugs
I was an English major back in college. Basically, that means when I wasn't growing my hair or drinking, I was reading, thinking, and writing. It was fantastic. Especially at my school, which, despite its solid reputation, had an English program that placed absolutely no emphasis on researching historical context or referencing previously published literary analysis. You could just read and spin your wheels. It was the perfect program for me. There is more substantiation and footnoting (hyperlinking) in the average Cracked article than there was in our English papers, and that's the way we liked it. We loved it. And I miss it so.
I know it's getting old, but I can't get out of that provision in my Cracked contract requiring me to put college photos in every third column. Sorry.
It's been over 15 years since I last wrote something approximating an English essay, and the other day, I got an idea for one. Not on a book, of course, because who would be so bold as to write about literature on the Internet, but a movie. Specifically, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now here's how English essays work. You come up with a thesis. That's a theory. Then you point to specific examples within the context of the examined work to prove your point. Then you have a conclusion. If you write an essay for the Internet, however, and you want people to read it, you number your points, keep the conclusion super short, and write an introduction no one reads. You just hope the title conveys enough of the message, which is kind of like hoping to understand the complex rules of Risk by staring only at the cover of the box.
Wait, so how do I amass an army in the Ivory Coast?
Anyway, here's my thesis:
Raiders of the Lost Ark is not an action-adventure movie about an archaeologist who plays by his own rules and saves the day. Instead, the film is an exploration of Marion Ravenwood's crippling drug addiction. An addiction that was born from her unhealthy relationship and continued association with Indiana Jones.
Is it true? Who cares. Can I prove it? Well, not proof in the sense of research or evidence -- proof only so far as crafting an internally consistent argument, relying solely upon the clues within the movie.
Marion in Nepal
For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, stop reading, because there's no point. Then kill yourself. There's no point to your life either as you're clearly living it wrong. Never saw Raiders of the Lost Ark? Seriously?
Anyway, if you've forgotten, Marion Ravenwood is Indiana Jones' former lover and the daughter of his mentor. By the start of the movie, it's been 10 years since they've last seen each other. A lot of the background research indicates that their relationship was probably wildly improper. Like pedophilic improper, considering that Indiana Jones is arguably 10 years older and first knew her when he was a grad student. But like I said in the introduction you didn't read, this is not an essay about research and nailing down details outside of the work itself. All we know for certain is that Indiana is an older man; his mentor, Professor Abner Ravenwood, hates him because of the relationship; and Marion tells Indiana Jones he "knew it was wrong." Oh, one more thing: We know that Indiana Jones is a dick because his reply to all of this when they see each other again is "I did what I did. You don't have to like it."
That brings us to Nepal, where Marion owns a bar and seems to have a serious drinking problem. She appears to be at the worst level of alcoholism where the addict doesn't even feel the effects of alcohol. How else can she knock back close to 20 shots with seemingly no effect?
Marion downs enough booze to kill three men (or the one giant behemoth of a man she's bested), and when it's over, she kicks everyone out of her bar without thinking twice. She commands respect from the ruffians. But it only takes one man to reduce her to a little girl. The shadow of her lost love hangs over her addiction.
This was no summertime fling gone wrong. This unholy union was capable of creating something darker than the destruction of the relationship between a mentor and his favorite student. Marion says, near tears, "Do you know what you did to me? To my life?" More than a broken heart. Indiana is the source of her physical addiction. Indeed, I would offer that Indiana is not only the indirect cause of her chemical dependencies -- via the broken heart she nurses with drugs -- but perhaps directly responsibility for her addiction. The one who got her hooked in the first place.
He enters, and her first reaction is to light a cigarette:
And then trouble strikes with Nazis and thugs seeking the headpiece for the Staff of Ra. While Marion seemed perfectly capable of dealing with a tough crowd moments earlier, with Indiana around, she is now quite literally down on the floor, crawling on her hands and knees. What's worse, while she was arguably only drinking for sport at the start of the scene, now she desperately seeks out booze, even in the midst of fighting for her survival.
Marion in Cairo
The two travel to Cairo, and, at first, things seem to be improving. Marion looks renewed as she explores Sallah's home in a new white outfit. But this is the first of several failed attempts at redemption. In fact, things are about to get much worse. Even in this scene, she is still drinking. Think about it: When's the last time you've seen an actress (not in a movie about drinking to excess) drinking in two consecutive scenes set on different days?
Marion's alcoholism, however, doesn't stop Sallah from checking out her ass.
But now that Indy's back in her life, the old addictions will return and her dependency will escalate. Marion's addictions go from alcohol to heroin. This escalation is shown symbolically, making use of the classic expression for heroin addiction of "having a monkey on your back."
First the monkey spills Marion's wine.
Then he literally gets on her back.
What happens next is even more startling. Marion has reclaimed the old heroin high she first experienced with Indy as a young girl. And now, amid that chemical euphoria, she and Indy smile at each other for the first time in the movie.
But that euphoric first high fades quickly. It becomes readily apparent that once again heroin will be Marion's downfall, perhaps leaving her stranded in some random armpit of the world all over again. Nazis pursue Indy and Marion, and for a moment it seems that Marion will successfully elude them, cleverly hidden in a wicker basket. Her addiction, however, betrays her and leads to her discovery.
Yeah, it's hard to sit still in a basket when you're dying for a fix.
Marion as Prisoner
Later in the movie, Indy discovers that Marion is a prisoner after mistakenly believing her dead. But he doesn't free her. Instead, he wants to keep her tied up. Or should we say "tied off." Look at the gag in her mouth and how nicely it compares to Ewan McGregor tying off in Trainspotting before his fix.
But that's not all. Before leaving, Indy says, "If you don't sit still the whole thing will be SHOT." Shot! Like a shot. (OK, in truth, this is probably not my strongest point, but some English professors appreciate bravado.)
Soon after, the white dress theme emerges again. Belloq, the French archaeologist and Nazi sympathizer, gives Marion a white gown. Here, another man is attempting to wash away Marion's past, but, once again, it is a failed attempt. As soon as she puts on the dress, she starts drinking again. Just like at Sallah's house.
Marion may be a booze hound, but at least without Indy around, she's being resourceful and trying to escape by drinking Belloq under the table. A few scenes later, however, this brave, resourceful woman who outdrinks barbarians, beats Arabs with frying pans, and throws a mean right hook is reduced to a cowering, whimpering girl when she's thrown into a pit with Indiana Jones. Suddenly, in his presence, that resourceful woman is gone and she is a child filled with dependency issues, whining about snakes like a cartoon housewife who's seen a mouse.
Maybe it's because Indy makes her revert to a child state. Or maybe it's because she hasn't fixed since that monkey died, and dark hallucinations have been known to accompany chemical withdrawal. Snakes are good. Even better? Corpses. She's jonesing for a fix. (Holy shit. Did you see that?) She's like Indiana Jonesing for a fix and seeing all sorts of scary shit. She is freaking out.
After they escape the pit, Indy needs a plan to steal back the ark. No one knows what he can do, and he admits he's making it up as he goes along. What does he turn to for assistance? That's right: a horse.
"Horse" is slang for heroin, kids. Don't believe me? Ask your deadbeat dad. Oh, he died when you were 3 from shooting junk? Sorry.
Marion in Act III
Indy and Marion make it aboard a pirate ship in an attempt to be smuggled to safety. Guess what the captain gives her? A white nightgown. Yet another man with another failed attempt to purify Marion.
But succeeding in the watchita-watchita-be-bow-bow factor. Mrowr.
But now, Marion begins her 12 steps toward sobriety. I've never gone to AA, so I don't know what those steps are. Also, as I said earlier, no independent research beyond the confines of the source material will be done, so I'm not looking it up. But in any event, I'm pretty sure one of them is making amends, and here, on the boat, she and Indy seem to find some level of forgiveness. And hot monkey sex. (Holy shit. Monkey!)
But you don't need to have gone through a 12-step program to know that another stage is acceptance of a higher power, and, um yeah, there's a lot of that in Raiders. In the climax, both Indy and Marion recognize the power of the divine by not looking upon it. They close their eyes as a reverent acknowledgment of power. God smites the bad guys and rescues them.
But you gotta meet God half way on this stuff. You can't go back to hanging around with the same d-bags who messed you up and got you hooked on drugs in the first place if you want to stay clean. And that is Marion's big mistake. She sticks with Indy. In the final scene, she does not wear white. There is no white for Marion. She has not purified herself. She can't so long as Indy is around. As a testament to his corrupting influence, her final words in the movie, indeed the final words of the movie, are "Come on, I'll buy you a drink. Y'know, a drink." Sure, you could say that Indy only looks sad to hear this because he's bummed the U.S. government has just boarded up the Ark, but check out the face on him.
To me, that looks like a man saddened to learn that the young girl he corrupted when he was old enough to know better will never be free of her addictions so long as he's around. They walk off, arm in arm, her in gray, toward one more drink.
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