Flashback Flick: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Poster of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. He is wearing a hat and is shown from his head down to his shoulders.

To kick off the Fall 2022 semester, the crew at FIU Film Studies would like to introduce you to our new series: Flashback Flicks. Every week, one of our editors will select a favorite film or cult classic that we recommend to you, our readers. This week’s pick is Steven Spielberg’s 1981 film, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Through shots of a tropical jungle and an iconic score, viewers are immediately thrown into the fantastic adventure that is the 1981 classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark. After the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, director Steven Spielberg was faced with both positive and negative reviews that rivaled those of George Lucas’ Star Wars. Eager to begin a new project, Spielberg was eventually picked by Lucas to bring his story to life. But what is it about this epic journey that entices fans to keep coming back? The answers lie not in the charming character of Indiana Jones (although Harrison Ford portrayed him so well); instead, the movie’s appeal is found in its ability to mix history, myth, and adventure through detailed storylines and exciting visual stunts.

At its core, Raiders is a story about uncovering a myth so old that archeologists like Jones doubt its authenticity.. Set in 1936, the American government sets its sight on Jones as their lead researcher to locate and extract the ancient Ark of the Covenant before Nazi forces do. It sounds almost ridiculous, but it is not entirely made-up. From a historical standpoint, the Ark of the Covenant has long been believed to hold the Ten Commandments that were given to Moses by God. In religious studies, this Ark was found to protect soldiers when carrying them into battle. In the film, we see not only the journey Jones goes through as he tries to find the Ark, but we also see how a myth and the rituals tied towards obtaining it lead to animosity among nations, the death of soldiers, and the destruction of various settings in the film.

But forget all of that. This movie is great because it does not bore you with the details of what it would mean for Jones to get his hands on the Ark. What really captures the viewers are the storytelling techniques Spielberg used: fight scenes between Jones and his enemies, changes in settings as he goes around the world looking for the chest, and thrilling chase sequences all contribute towards wanting to see more. But to tell this story, Spielberg also had to rely on Ford. From his introduction on-screen as Jones, Ford immediately brings his character to life by portraying him as an intelligent, adventurous, and charming professor who has spent his life researching ancient artifacts such as the Ark.

It was important to Spielberg that Jones be both serious and funny as both a professor and an explorer. We see these in several moments throughout the film: first, when a young girl writes “love you” on her eyelids (visibly confusing the professor and detracting him from his lecture); then, the iconic scene in which Jones easily shoots the swordsman instead of dueling him; and finally, when the character of Toht brings out what looks like a weapon towards Marion and René Belloq, only for it to be a coat hanger. Although not all the scenes involved Ford, it is evident that Spielberg was intent on making a movie that would retell an infamous myth while making audiences laugh.

With equal parts adventure, wit, and comedy, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic 80s film that we recommend for those seeking adventure away from home, alongside Indiana Jones as he traverses the Egyptian desert in pursuit of something greater than humanity can handle.

Kayla Melendez is a Senior studying English in the Literature track at FIU. Upon graduating, she has no idea what she wants to do with her life, as long as she is somewhere tan and happy. Naturally curious, she enjoys reading, writing, and watching films.