Indiana Jones: "professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and… obtainer of rare antiquities."
Translation: This guy would have gotten all of the hot tamales on Rate My Professor.
There aren't many movie characters as iconic or beloved. There's James Bond, there's Jack Sparrow, and there's Indy. Everyone else becomes debatable.
With all that cultural baggage, it gets hard sometimes to look at who he really is, and what kind of changes he undergoes during Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Everyone knows the general 411 on Indy: He's super-intense; he has a passion for ancient cultures and artifacts; and when he's not teaching kids about ancient barrows, he's out plundering tombs of their cultural riches.
The technical term for this is "grave robbing," which makes Indy a bit darker than people often think. It's massively illegal, for starters, and yet he seems to spend a lot of time on it. (We wonder how he manages to hold onto a teaching job with all of his globetrotting ways.) "The museum will buy them as usual, no questions asked," Marcus Brody tells him early on, suggesting that Indy's activities fall well beyond realm of the ethical.
We also know that he's a womanizer, and kind of a skeezy one at that. His classroom is full of adoring girls decades younger than him, one of whom writes "love you" on her eyelids. There's also a cut scene in Indy's house, right before Marcus shows up to send him on his adventure, where he's seducing one of his students. If you look closely, you can see signs of it in the existing film: Indy has a pre-opened champagne bottle with two glasses, one of which he's already poured.
That's just a garnish to the main bit of skeeze: Ten years before the movie begins, he loved and left his mentor's very young daughter Marion, hurting her so badly that she now runs a bar on top of a Himalayan mountain rather than deal with the rest of humanity.
So for all his heroic reputation, this guy has a serious dark side. "Grave-robbing sexual predator" doesn't exactly evoke squeaky-clean Boy Scout values.
Why, then, do we root for him?
Well, for starters, he's got a yard of guts. Never let it be said that the man shrinks from a challenge, whether it's braving a trap-filled Peruvian temple or taking on an entire Nazi convoy single-handedly. He hates the Nazis, too, which puts him firmly in the Good Guy camp despite his significant personal shortcomings. And he's a smart guy: well-educated and with a lot of practical knowledge that comes in handy when the walls sprout spikes and start closing in.
He likes the money he gets, sure, but he's also interested in getting the things he steals into museums: not hidden in some rich guy's house, but in public view where school kids can come and learn about the culture that produced it. He's Two-Fisted Teacher Man, bringing enlightenment to the masses at serious risk of life and limb. We here at Shmoop fully approve of his rationale.
But more importantly than all of that, Indy represents the perennial underdog: someone weirdly vulnerable in a period where people liked their good guys god-like and unstoppable. When Raiders came out, the James Bond films were in their Late Roger Moore phase, where Bond never broke a sweat and seemed to have the answer to everything thanks to those nifty Q gadgets. Overly muscled ubermensch like Stallone and Schwarzenegger were getting ready to take over the world.
Indy does a lot of the superhero feats they do: escaping death traps, thwarting whole armies, and the whole "rescuing major artifacts from the forces of evil" thing. But, man, do they make him sweat for it. He's always hanging on by his fingernails, running into trouble he can't handle, and stuck in places that no one would ever want to be. And oh yeah, he's afraid of snakes.
The perfect example comes in the movie's first scene, when he escapes that Peruvian temple. He's survived collapsing walls, poison darts, spiders, spear traps, a pair of serious jerks for partners, and a giant pet rock intent on turning him into the world's first archaeologist pancake. He goes through all of that, clutching his hard-won prize in his hands as he finally emerges from the temple, only to find his hated nemesis outside waiting with a tribe of cranky locals ready to ice him then and there. All he can do is run for his life, leaving Belloq cackling like a schoolyard bully holding the idol Indy risked his life for.
Indy finds himself in that situation a lot throughout the film. Not only does it make us naturally sympathize with him, but it gives him a sense of humanity. This is no suave secret agent or unstoppable force of righteous butt-kicking. This is a guy who lives every moment a missed step away from a brutal death (or snakes). We've all felt that way from time to time: like we're up against the wall with no one to help us. And while there might not be snakes and poison darts involved, the effect can be remarkably similar. It makes Indy human and relatable, someone we can seriously get behind, without detracting from the flaws and foibles that might otherwise tarnish his credentials as a good guy.
As a matter of fact, you could look at Raiders of the Lost Ark as Indy's quest to atone for his bad behavior of the past. Think about it: The Ark is just as lost at the end as it was at the beginning, and clearly God didn't need any help getting it away from the Nazis. (Can you imagine what would have happened if they brought it back to Germany and opened it at a Nuremburg rally? Problem solved. Hey, God, why didn't you think of that?)
So why does Indy go through all of this? To heal his relationship with Marion—to realize how much he hurt her and to help her close some of the wounds that he inflicted. It's not an easy trip. He realizes how badly he's screwed up with her early on, when he's about to head off after Abner and cautiously asks Marcus if he "think she'll still be with him?" When they meet, she socks him right in the jaw and verbally tears him apart, which he attempts to assuage by buying her off (three thousand dollars for the headpiece; stay classy, Indy).
Even after he keeps the Nazis from burning off her face with a hot poker, there's a lot of ambivalence, and at the end of the day, the Ark initially means more to him than she does. (Hence why he leaves her in the hands of the Germans rather than cutting her free: Again, that's a pretty jerk move.) He even gets jealous of her at one point, making some snide comments about her dress in the Well of Souls after basically abandoning her to escape on her own.
And yet that slowly changes as the movie proceeds. "You're not the man I knew ten years ago," she concedes during one of their few down-times, suggesting that his jerk qualities may be receding in light of what he's done to her. But the real proof comes when Indy points that rocket launcher at the Ark just before the whole "God kills everyone" climax. "All I want is the girl," he tells the Nazis. He's willing to leave the Ark in their hands because she now matters more to him.
That's what the good guy really does, and over the course of the whole "keeping this priceless artifact out of the hands of pure evil" thing, he learns that lesson. God's got the Ark in hand. For Indy, it's enough to figure out how awful he treated his girl, show her that she's really important to him, and let that long-sought shiny treasure slip through his fingers with a last wistful look back. Indy isn't beating the Nazis so much as he's winning over the dark side of himself: acknowledging it, confronting it, and coming through all of the peril and snakes and scary guys yelling in German to become a better man.
It happens almost without his knowledge, but that's ultimately the journey he takes. Those are lessons worth learning, and the thing that makes Indy far more worthy of our sympathies than all the daring escapes and Nazi pummeling he can produce.
Marion Ravenwood and her Amazing Titanium Liver.
That should be a comic book title, or at least a really killer act at the local three-ring circus. Sadly, Marion has to perform that trick in her Himalayan bar: drinking Sherpas and brawlers under the table despite weighing about half as much as they do. Frankly speaking, she's really not one for alcoholism. We only see her drink a couple of times and she pretty much ignores booze the rest of the time. So we're thinking she's not a compulsive drinker; she just has an amazing ability to avoid getting drunk, even when she downs enough liquor to poison a musk ox.
Frankly, we wouldn't much blame her if her drinking were heavier. Somebody did her wrong once, and when said somebody comes sauntering back into her bar like nothing happened, it's bound to make even the most teetotaling individual start reaching for the bottle. So Casablanca.
Dr. Jones loved her and left her, and judging by what the film implies, she was just a little too young for that kind of crude treatment. "I was a child! I was in love! It was wrong and you knew it!" she screams at him, right after decking him in the face. So she's got some deep wounds to deal with, on top of running a bar for the locals halfway up a ridiculously large mountain.
The good news is that she's not the type to go weak in the knees. A tough life makes for a tougher gal, and when danger rears its head, she's more apt to stare it down with a snarl than scream for help. "Listen, Herr Mac," she growls to the scariest guy in the whole wide world. "I don't know what kind of people you're used to dealing with, but nobody tells me what to do in my place." Granted, she delivers a couple of shrieks here and there (she apparently doesn't like mummies much), but she saves them up for the really special occasions instead of dropping them every time a little problem shows up.
The filmmakers balance that toughness out with traditional damsel-in-distress stuff. She still needs saving, she's just not going to sit around and wait for it—but they want us to know that she's different from the earlier serial movie heroines who came before her. They can put her in danger (thrown into a pit full of snakes, stuck in a locked plane on an exploding tarmac, the whole "pluck your eyebrows with a flaming hot poker" unpleasantness) just like we expect, then have her react in an entirely different way than those earlier movies. Raiders uses her to send up the old clichés a little bit even as it embodies those same clichés: a slick little way of having its cake and eating it too. That's all a little meta, though it's a no less important part of Marion's personality.
Similarly, her wounds are important because they give Indy a chance to right some past wrongs. She's a walking, breathing reminder that he was once a pretty big jerk and that he needs to change his ways if he wants to be a proper hero. It takes a while—seriously man, you're gonna just leave her in the hands of the freaking Nazis?!—but he eventually figures out that she matters more than the Ark, and the pain he inflicted on her could really use a Band-Aid or two. Marion's the embodiment of his past sins, the mistakes he's made, and the injuries he's inflicted. Healing her pain is the real purpose of his quest, though he's unaware of it until the very end.
At least he figures it out in time ("All I want is the girl," he tells the Nazis while pointing some seriously heavy ordinance at them). Marion is exactly, precisely the kind of gal you want on an adventure like this: smart, plucky, able to crack some skulls with a frying pan if need be, and always ready to drink the local bad guy right under the table.
According to the novelization, his first name is René, but we never hear it in the movie. He's just Belloq, snooty Frenchman extraordinaire and serious pain in Indiana Jones's side. We first see him outsmarting Indy in the jungle: letting Dr. Jones run the risk, then casually plucking the idol out of his hands at blowgun point. So right away, we know that he's a giant jerk who's happy to rob, cheat, and steal to get what he wants. He's pretty pleased with himself.
We also infer that he's been doing this to Indy for some time. "Again we see there is nothing you can possess that I cannot take away," he tells Indy in the jungle, which suggests both that he has no problem doing this and that he's very, very good at it. That continues during the quest for the Ark, as he swoops in on Indy twice (once in the desert, once on the high seas with a sub in tow) and takes it away from him.
Dirty pool, old man.
But while he takes a distressing amount of joy from making Indy miserable, he also has a strange respect for Dr. Jones. "Where else shall I find a new adversary so close to my own level?" he says with a grin at one point, and he's not kidding. He feels that he and Indy are kindred spirits, and by extension that Indy isn't as squeaky clean as he'd like to think:
"I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me: to push you out of the light!"
He's the dark half of Indy's soul, and in some ways that cuts both ways. Just as Indy isn't entirely good (tomb-raider, Worst. Boyfriend. Ever.), so Belloq isn't entirely evil. He's not willing to torture Marion, for instance, and he doesn't consider himself a friend of the Nazis. "In this particular time and place, and for my work, they are necessary evils, not my friends," he tells Marion.
In that sense, he represents a thinly veiled dig at Vichy France, the puppet government set up by the Nazis after their invasion in World War II. The Vichy government was ostensibly independent, but actually acted as a puppet for the Nazis.
Regardless, it makes the two of them closer to each other than the two governments they're working for. And that makes us wonder: What about them is different? What makes Belloq a bad guy and Indy a good guy? You can point to a lot of things, but it probably boils down to motive. Though his methods are fairly sticky-fingered, Indy at least wants to see the things he nabs in a museum, where everyone can study them and learn from their stories.
Belloq, on the other hand, just wants a prize. He's eager to get there first and get a lot of money for it, and who cares what happens to it afterwards? Heck, he's willing to turn a sacred Jewish artifact over to Adolf Hitler. This is not a guy with humanity's greater good in mind.
That ultimately proves to be Belloq's downfall. Indy can be humble when he needs to be (God likes humble) and he ultimately thinks about other people before himself. He sees the Ark as "a find of incredible historical significance" that everyone in the world should see. Belloq, on the other hand, sees it as an object: an incredibly powerful object, but still something he can use and abuse as he wishes. "It's a transmitter!" he tells Indy. "It's a radio for speaking to God! And it's within my reach!" Indy sees the centerpiece of an ancient and honorable culture; Belloq sees something on sale at Best Buy.
And for God, that's a serious no-no. According to the Bible, opening the Ark took absolute devotion and reverence, as well as following some very specific rules. Belloq chucks out the "devotion" part and just concentrates on the steps to open the Ark. He doesn't love God, he doesn't display respect for God's wishes or commands. He's not even Jewish. He just wants to use the Ark to talk to God. So he follows the instructions like he's building a bookshelf from IKEA and assumes that's enough to get him in touch with the Big Man Upstairs.
Unfortunately for him, God is not a Scandinavian furniture store, and "talking" to him means having the flesh ripped from your bones. Important safety tip, which our sinister French bad guy learns too late. Indy doesn't risk the wrath of God just for his own greedy purposes, and that's the first and still the best distinction between the two of them.
Frankly speaking, Indy needs more than one pal.
Sure, he's got Marion, but that's a serious rebuilding project, and if he's going to pull this thing off, he can't be sniping at everyone ostensibly on his side. Enter Sallah, Indy's contact in Cairo and "the best digger in Egypt." Like Belloq, he and Indy have a long history that we haven't seen. Unlike Belloq, none of it involves ripping Indy off and forcing him to run for his life. Sallah is true blue in every way: loyal, tenacious, and even willing to go down into that snake-y pit with him. Like any good sidekick, he's always there for his friend—check out the save with that poisoned date—and he takes his responsibilities very seriously.
But he's more than just a stout right arm for Indy. He also represents a lot of the things Indy lacks. Stability, for instance: He has a wife named Fayah and "8 or 9 kids," according to Marion. There's respectability as well: Sallah doesn't have any skeletons in his closet to come rattling out like Indy does. He's known and respected in the Arab community and vouchsafes for the reliable Katanga to get Indy safely home. (Okay, the Nazis scuppered that last one, but it isn't Sallah's fault.) That helps keep Indy grounded, which is something he needs out there in the desert when cranky Germans start shooting at them.
Above all, Sallah smiles. And laughs. And sings Gilbert and Sullivan songs, of which he seems particularly fond. With an intense sourpuss like Indy, a little laughter and joy are important: something his Egyptian friend knows how to deliver in spades. Some people would call Indy's quest quixotic, and if Dr. Jones is Don Quixote, he couldn't ask for a better Sancho Panza.
Speaking of buddies, Indy has one at home, too. Marcus Brody lies somewhere between stalwart companion and father-figure. Indy's had a shortage of those since his mentor, Abner Ravenwood, disowned him. His actual dad doesn't show up until the third movie, which just leaves Marcus to fill the role.
Officially, Marcus seems to be a liaison between Dr. Jones and the museum he sells his ill-gotten artifacts to. "The museum will buy them as usual, no questions asked," he casually mentions early on, suggesting that he's been pimping Indy's bling for a long time. He does so stateside too, where it's nice and safe. Even here, before his misadventures in The Last Crusade, Marcus doesn't strike us as a field man. So while Sallah helps Indy out where things are hairy, Marcus does it from the comfort of an office: filling out the paperwork and doing all the other safe, boring things that swashbuckling archaeologists aren't supposed to do.
Beyond that, they're clearly fast friends despite their difference in age (Denholm Elliot was twenty years older than Harrison Ford), and while Marcus speaks to Indy in an advisory fashion, it's as a friend rather than an elder or superior. It's obvious he cares about Indy very much, however, and that he's willing to voice concerns about his safety just before Indy goes off.
In terms of the Hero's Journey, that makes him a surrogate for Refusal of the Call (see our "Hero's Journey" page for more details). While Indy doesn't say no to the Call, Marcus is there to voice those concerns. "It's like nothing you've ever gone after before!" he tells Indy, signaling that the Ark may be a lot more dangerous than most dusty trinkets. Marcus's gentle companionship makes him the perfect person to voice them, and who else but Marcus could make sure they're heard in just the right way?
If we cheat and look at the novelization, we know that his first name is "Arnold," but the movie credits list him as Toht. No one actually asks for his name in the movie because when a cackling Gestapo agent shows up dressed in black and brandishing medieval implements of torture, we're pretty much past the point of petty formalities. The name is actually a riff on the German word "toten," which means "to kill." That should give you a good idea of what this guy is all about.
Mostly, he serves as a throwback to the classic serial villains who didn't need a lot of backstory or psychological breakdowns. They were evil, everyone knew they were evil, and that's all we needed. Two dimensions were plenty. Actually, just one: sinister. Steven Spielberg purportedly cast actor Ron Lacey in the role because he resembled Peter Lorre, a similarly creepy actor who played his share of bad guys back in the day.
And "creepy" is the right word here.
Because while we don't actually see him kill anyone, it's clear that (1) he's good at it and (2) he really prefers torture to killing. "Let me show you what I am used to," he tells Marion just before trying to burn her face off. He's clearly enjoying her fear and seems to have plenty of experience in the field of hot-poker torture, so we can make reasonable assumptions about his capacity to perform them. He doesn't deliver the evil wholesale like his buddies in the Wehrmacht do. He gets in close and makes it really personal. That's enough to set him up for God's big Wrath Rave and label him a clear member of Team Villain.
Toht does the sinister close-enough-to-whisper stuff. Dietrich (Wolf Kahler), Wehrmacht Colonel and owner of a snappy set of desert khakis, doles out the big stuff.
He runs the German dig in Cairo, and as you might expect from a military man engaged in an act of archaeology, he does so without a lot of regard for the fine details. "You would use a bulldozer to find a china cup," Belloq grumbles to him at one point, which speaks to a man who goes big or goes home.
Like Toht, Dietrich represents a throwback to all those kiddie matinees where the bad guys were really bad and deep personalities need not apply. He's everyone's favorite cliché about the German officer: efficient, ruthless, and fixated on following orders. We chided Belloq in his "Cast" page for following religious ceremonies without sufficient reverence, but he at least understood the purpose of the exercise. Dietrich doesn't see the point in any of it; his orders are to bring the Ark back to Germany and bring it back to Germany he shall. "Only the mission for the Fuhrer matters," he snarls at one point, shortly after referring to the Ark as a "prize."
His discomfort at the Jewish ritual in the finale isn't just caused by Anti-Semitism (though he is really, really anti-Semitic; he's a Nazi for Pete's sake). It's because he feels it's a complete waste of time. Again, maybe not the best guy to go looking for a precious religious artifact, though we're betting he gets all his reports in on time.
Satipo (and his short-lived partner Barranca, who gets exactly one line before scampering off to be murdered by cranky natives) joins Indy on his first quest to claim the golden idol from its display area/death trap in South America. He's sneaky and duplicitous, happy to let Indy take the lion's share of the risk and then turn on him when there's a gaping pit to oblivion between the two of them. A pity he couldn't remember the spear trap.
His death serves as a bit of foreshadowing, and also signals that there's actually some karma in Indy's world. In short, if you don't play nice with your partners you might end up skewered alive in some manky hellhole or burned to ash by a cranky god. Belloq's smarter than Satipo, so he lasts longer, but at the end of the day, they're both too focused on what they're doing to see certain doom rushing up to meet them.
Katanga (George Harris) is the captain of the Bantu Wind, the ship that takes Indy and Marion out of Cairo. We're not sure about him initially, but he eventually proves to be another good friend to Indy. "Jones is dead," he lies to the Germans in an effort to keep both of his passengers safe. "I killed him." He even looks them right in the eye while he does it, the smooth bastard. It doesn't work, but it does buy Indy some key distraction time.
His true-blue qualities make a nice bookend for Satipo and Barranca, the thoroughly untrustworthy yo-yos whom Indy partners with in the opening scenes. We may be a little worried about Katanga, but Indy's clearly choosing better company by the end.