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Indiana Jones and the Theory of the Big Bang
By Philip Schweier
November 9, 2013 - 18:42

On the Oct. 10 episode of the Big Bang Theory, Sheldon and Amy discuss Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), with Amy suggesting that Indy is superfluous to the plot. Regardless of his involvement, the Nazis would still have found the ark, opened it, and had their final come-uppance. Sheldon later shares Amy’s assertion with Leonard, Raj and Howard, and the four continuously try to justify Indy’s role in the movie.

The same thing happened when this argument was shared with my friends, and no doubt other fans of the film are having the same debate. One member of my group came up with what might be the winning theory.

But first, lets weigh some of the plot points and their arguments:

• Without Indy, the ark would never have been found.
No, the Nazis would have found it eventually.

• But only Indy had the headpiece to the Staff of Ra, showing the ark’s location in Tanis
Indy had the headpiece because he intervened at the Raven Bar in Nepal. If he had not, the Nazis would have taken it from Marion and used it to find the ark

This brings us to the saving argument: Would the Nazis have been able to retrieve the headpiece without Indy? I suggest not.

Here is the theory that makes Indy’s role vital to the storyline. I’ll admit, it requires taking some things for granted, but that’s why it’s a theory, open to further debate.

Early in the film, we see Indiana Jones boarding a clipper bound for the Orient. As he takes his seat, declining a drink in the process, it is made clear that another passenger  is watching Indy with great interest over the pages of his in-flight magazine. It is generally accepted that said suspicious character is Toht, the villainous Gestapo agent working on Hitler’s behalf to retrieve the ark.

Question: Why was Toht following Indy?
Answer: So Indy could lead him to Abner Ravenwood.

Question: Why couldn’t the Nazis find Ravenwood on their own?
Answer: Heck, Indy didn’t know where he was. His means of locating Ravenwood was through Marion, only to learn that Ravenwood was dead.

So let’s follow this scenario: The Nazis need to locate the headpiece to the Staff of Ra, and learn Ravenwood most likely has access to it. Despite knowing Ravenwood is an American, they can’t find him, nor his only family connection, Marion. So rather than stretch their resources, they let American intelligence “intercept” a communiqué mentioning Ravenwood. The expectation is the Americans will find Ravenwood for them.

Unaware of the Nazi plan, American intelligence plays right into their hands by having Ravenwood’s protegé – Indy – look for him. All the Nazi’s have to do is follow behind. And Indy leads them right to Ravenwood’s daughter who (conveniently) has the headpiece. Otherwise, would the Nazis have found the headpiece? No, not without Indy’s help.

If a 72-inch Staff of Ra is too long, how tall does that make Indy?
As I said, this requires taking a few story elements for granted, and only resolves one of the many questions surrounding the story. Others include: How did the Nazi’s load the ark on the submarine, when it was too big to fit through the hatch? And why is Indy using an automatic in the shoot-out in Nepal when he packed a revolver? If the Nazi’s staff for the headpiece is too tall, why is it towering over Indy’s head? Why did Indy have champagne at the ready when Marcus came to his house to tell him the G-men wanted him to find the ark?

Such blunders are of importance to only the nittiest of pickers. It reminds me of another Steven Spielberg film, E.T. Toward the end of the movie, the children manage to rescue E.T. from the Big Bad Government Men. They open the ambulance and there he stands, restored to life. Behind me in the theater, I heard a voice mutter, “I’m so sure.”

This begs the question: Is this the point at which the movie split from your reality?

In a movie such as Raiders of the Lost Ark or E.T., it is expected that the audience suspend their sense of belief. As Indy once suggested, if you’re looking for truth, you’re in the wrong class. Get over it.

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