Study Guide

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark Summary

We're not even sure why you're here, honestly. The first ten minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark are possibly the best ten minutes in all of movie history.

So yeah. Just go watch it.

Nazi Germany is close to finding the mystical Ark of the Covenant, and only one man can stop them. Armed with his trusty whip and fetching perma-stubble, Indiana Jones, archaeology prof and heartthrob extraordinaire (Harrison Ford), ventures forth from the halls of academia to find the Ark before the Nazis get their greasy little paws on it. His path leads him to the Himalayas, where he reunites with his old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and indulges in a bit of karmic schadenfreude when the local Gestapo agent (Ron Lacey) has his palm melted off.

From there, we head to British-controlled Cairo, where the German army has apparently been given free rein to machine-gun anyone they wish. Cue the action:

  • Thugs throw Marion into a basket and lead Indy on a merry chase through the streets of Cairo.
  • Indy and Marion find the Ark, only to get buried alive in its ancient holding place along with a few thousand poisonous snakes.
  • Indy tries to hijack a German plane, only to blow it to kingdom come (and turn a hostile mechanic into strawberry rhubarb thanks to an unfortunate propeller incident).
  • Indy chases a German convoy carrying the Ark and single-handedly nabs it from under their noses (though admittedly, he has to crawl under a speeding truck to do it).

All that mayhem pays off when they find themselves in possession of the Ark with a boat out of Egypt waiting at the dock. The Germans, however, catch them on the high seas (it couldn't be that easy), taking the Ark (and Marion) to a super-secret sub base in the Mediterranean. Indy follows (though how he does requires a little editorial hand-waving), only to end up tied to a post while the bad guys open the Ark up in front of them.

Turns out, that's a big mistake. God comes down, tells the Nazis to go sit in a corner (you know, if sitting in a corner involves holy fire melting their innards to goo), and even keeps Indy and Marion safe thanks to a magic "close your eyes" trick that Dr. Jones remembers in the nick of time. The American government takes the Ark and promptly makes it disappear into a seriously gigantic warehouse, but Indy and Marion have reconciled… which might have been the whole purpose of the exercise after all.

Roll credits.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    Peru, 1936

    • Indiana Jones, adventurer of adventurers, heads into the jungle in search of an ancient idol.
    • A couple of his guides spot a statue full of birds and decide that staying alive beats a measly paycheck.
    • Jones' partners, a couple of ne'er-do-wells named Barranca (Vic Tablian) and Satipo (Alfred Molina), speculate that the local headhunters may be following them.
    • Barranca tries to steal Indy's half of the map that brought them all here.
    • Indy demonstrates what a seriously bad idea that is, and Barranca goes running into the jungle.
    • Indy and Satipo continue into the temple.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    In the Temple

    • The temple has a whole smorgasbord of death traps laid out for our boys in a neat little row. First up: deadly tarantulas!
    • Having brushed aside the tarantulas (quite literally in this case), Indy discovers an old rival impaled on a spear trap. Dead body + South American humidity = seriously icky.
    • Indy uses his bullwhip to swing over a pit in the floor, followed much less gracefully by Satipo.
    • They reach the idol. All is well.
    • Oh wait, it's not. Some of the stones on the floor are pressure activated, blowing poison darts at whoever steps on them.
    • Indy gets to leapfrog his way to the idol while Satipo, in Maximum Wimp mode, stays behind and winces a lot.
    • Indy reaches the idol and swaps it out for a bag of sand that he figures weighs about the same.
    • He figures wrong. The bag sinks and the entire temple starts to collapse.
    • Nuts to being careful. Indy sprints back along the booby-trapped stones, outrunning the darts that come screaming at him like angry hornets.
    • Satipo swings back over the pit first and now holds the whip. He cuts Indy a deal: throw him the idol and he'll throw Indy the whip.
    • Indy complies. Satipo reneges, because he's a jerk, and Indy has to jump over the pit. He barely makes it.
    • Karmic comeuppance arrives very quickly: Indy discovers Satipo impaled on the same spear trap that got Indy's rival.
    • Indy scoops up the idol and moves on, gently nudged by the five-ton boulder rolling down at him like a giant bowling ball. Unbelievably great scene, btw.
    • He outruns the bowling ball and exits the temple just as it's sealed up forever. Everything is awesome. Oh wait… remember those headhunters?
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    Escape from the Jungle

    • There's a welcoming party of angry natives waiting for Indy, led by his old enemy, French archaeologist Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman).
    • Belloq does some gloating, then shows the idol to the headhunters, who think he's going to give it back to them. They kneel in supplication…
    • …at which time, Indy goes running for the hills. The headhunters chase him, while Belloq does some bonus gloating just because he's a jerk.
    • Indy flees through the jungle, yelling at his trusty pilot Jock (Fred Sorenson) to start the plane.
    • Jock does, indeed, start the plane, just in time for Indy to execute a vine-fed belly flop and swim his way to the spare seat.
    • They take off as the headhunters' spears go clattering against the plane.
    • Indy's surprised to see a large snake in his seat. Jock admonishes him to stop being such a nancy boy. (We suspect that this is ironic.)
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    Bright College Days

    • Indy goes back to his day job: teaching archaeology at a hoity-toity East Coast college.
    • His classes are all filled with adoring young women for some reason.
    • After class, his friend Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) arrives to commiserate on the loss of the idol and to introduce him to some fun new friends from Army Intelligence.
    • The Army guys found the name of Indy's old mentor, Abner Ravenwood, in a secret Nazi cable.
    • The cable also mentions the words "Tanis" and "Headpiece to the Staff of Ra," which has them a little baffled.
    • Indy and Marcus explain that the Ark of the Covenant may be hidden in the ancient city of Tanis, and that the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra can show exactly where it is on a miniature map of the city. The Nazis are apparently looking into it.
    • Later that night, Marcus tells Indy that the U.S. government wants him to beat the Nazis to the Ark.
    • Indy heads off to find Abner, speculating on whether his daughter, Marion (Karen Allen), is still with him.
    • Marcus doesn't know, and delicately suggests that Indy has bigger fish to fry.
    • Indy blows him off with a pistol tossed casually into his suitcase, then boards a plane for parts unknown.
    • A sinister guy follows him, peering from behind the safety of a Life magazine.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    The Himalayas

    • Indy arrives in Nepal, where his bitter ex-girlfriend, Marion, has built a thriving business around drinking Sherpas under the table.
    • She's angry with him for doing her wrong all those years ago, and reveals that Abner is dead.
    • He offers her a fat wad of cash in exchange for the headpiece. She wants to watch him squirm for a bit, and tells him to come back tomorrow.
    • After he leaves, she pulls the headpiece out of her shirt; she's been wearing it like a necklace.
    • A menacing Gestapo agent, Toht (Ron Lacey), arrives with a gang of local yo-yos intent on taking the headpiece from her.
    • She demurs. He responds by threatening to sear her face with a hot poker.
    • Indy arrives just in time. A brisk gunfight follows, along with a gigantic thug breaking in and trying to squeeze the life out of Indy's battered little body.
    • Amid this wacky mayhem, the bar gets set on fire.
    • Toht spots the headpiece in the flames and picks it up. Free third-degree burns for him!
    • Marion grabs the headpiece with a cloth and she and Indy flee the burning building after dispatching the thugs. Next stop: Egypt.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6


    • Indy and Marion arrive at the home of Indy's friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), who's working as a digger in a Nazi archaeological excavation.
    • He tells Indy that Belloq's working with the Nazis. Also that the Ark isn't something to go messing with.
    • Marion picks up a new friend: a monkey who does tricks. Turns out, the monkey is working for Adolf Hitler. Yes, really.
    • The monkey finks on Indy and Marion, and thugs accost them in the streets.
    • Wacky mayhem ensues, including (but not limited to) swapped wicker baskets, further monkey betrayals, shooting cocky swordsmen, and copious use of Frying Pan Fu.
    • Indy inadvertently blows up a truck that he believes Marion's in. He gets very, very sad.
    • While drinking his sorrows away in a nearby bar, he's accosted by a couple of Germans, who tell him that someone's waiting for him in the bar.
    • It's Belloq. They exchange pleasantries of the "I know you are, but what am I?" variety before the whole place pulls guns on Indy.
    • Sallah's kids show up to save the day, since the bar patrons won't shoot Indy in front of the kids. They're good that way.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    Bad Dates

    • Sallah takes Indy to an old man (Tutte Lemkow) who can translate the markings on the headpiece. It details the length of the staff required to find the location of the Ark in the map room.
    • The monkey's evil owner poisons the dates they're noshing on, but the monkey gets greedy and eats some dates before anyone else.
    • Sallah spots the dead monkey a fraction of a second before Indy pops a date in his mouth, saving his friend from a messy death.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    The Map Room

    • Indy and Sallah infiltrate the dig disguised as Arab workers.
    • They make their way to the map room, where Sallah lowers Indy on a rope.
    • Indy starts making calculations in response to the gorgeous special effects sequence that he knows is coming.
    • Germans take Sallah's rope, forcing him to find another one if he wants to get Indy out of the map room.
    • Meanwhile, Indy sets up the staff. The sunlight strikes it and gives him a perfect X-marks-the-spot to the Ark.
    • Sallah returns with a makeshift rope tied together out of sheets, shirts, and a Nazi flag.
    • While making his way through the camp, Indy runs into Marion tied to a post. She didn't die after all.
    • That doesn't seem to mean much to him, though: He leaves her there rather than risking the Ark. Indy's name is subsequently removed from consideration for the Boyfriend of the Year award.
    • He finds the spot indicated in the map room, and with a small team of Arabs he starts a-diggin'.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    The Well of Souls

    • Digging continues well into the evening, with ominous cloud-and-thunderstorm accompaniment.
    • Meanwhile, Marion attempts an escape on her own by drinking Belloq under the table.
    • It would have worked too, but for Toht showing up and leering at her in a threatening fashion.
    • Back at the dig, Indy and Sallah uncover the Well of Souls: the resting place of the Ark.
    • One small problem: The Well is full of poisonous snakes. As you may be aware, Indy hates those things.
    • They use dropped torches and fuel to cut a path through the snakes to the Ark.
    • They pop the Ark in a crate and get ready to pull it up…
    • … just as dawn breaks and Belloq notices what they're doing.
    • Sallah comes up, Marion goes down, and she and Indy are buried alive in the Well while the Nazis take the Ark.
    • Indy rescues them by breaking through the wall of the Well (try saying that five times fast).
    • One nasty encounter with a bunch of mummies later, he and Marion escape the Well.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    Let's Blow Up a Plane!

    • Indy and Marion emerge next to a small airfield, where a plane is waiting to whisk the Ark away.
    • They try to knock out the pilot, but Indy's interrupted by a burly mechanic (Pat Roach) who looks like he moonlights as a circus strongman.
    • Marion gets stuck in the cockpit, but still has the wherewithal to turn the plane's guns on arriving Nazis. She also creates an explosion.
    • Indy's fistfight with Baldo the Mechanic ends abruptly when the bad guy fails to notice an approaching propeller. Ugh—we can't look. Neither can the camera.
    • Indy frees Marion from the cockpit and they flee before the plane blows up.
  • Scene 11

    Scene 11

    A Really Big Chase

    • Indy and Marion reunite with Sallah, who tells them that the Nazis are taking the Ark to Cairo by truck.
    • The Nazis have quite a caravan built around it, complete with ominous music and random machine-gun fire to disperse the cranky locals.
    • Indy goes after the caravan on a white horse. Because: good guy.
    • He jumps the truck carrying the Ark, knocks out the driver, and commandeers the vehicle.
    • He drives other cars off the road, shakes off the Nazis in back like flies, and generally causes all variety of structural damage to the local building projects.
    • An especially plucky Nazi shoots him in the arm, then another one throws him through the windshield.
    • He turns the tables by crawling UNDER THE TRUCK and coming up from the rear.
    • He chucks the Nazi out the window; the Nazi tries to repeat Indy's feat, with somewhat less success. (Better hose down those tires when you get home, Indy.)
    • Indy drives Belloq's car off the road and vanishes into the city.
  • Scene 12

    Scene 12

    To the Island

    • Indy and Marion board a very dodgy freighter run by Mr. Katanga (George Harris); the Ark gets an especially rat-infested spot in the hold.
    • The freighter's soon stopped by the Nazis, who bring their own submarine to the party.
    • Indy hides while the bad guys scoop up Marion and the Ark.
    • As the sub leaves, Indy swims over to it and hangs on. (The movie gets a little vague on how, so we're gonna say he wraps himself to the periscope with his bullwhip! Right? Right? Okay, we're not buying it either.)
    • The sub travels to a hidden Nazi base somewhere in the Mediterranean.
    • Indy makes it to shore and beats up a Nazi to steal his uniform. (Two Nazis actually; the first guy was too small. Embarrassing…)
    • He steals a rocket launcher and threatens to blow up the Ark as the Nazis take it to a remote spot to be opened.
    • He's willing to give the Nazis the Ark, so long as he gets Marion.
    • Belloq calls his bluff, saying that Indy would never blow up the Ark. Belloq, it seems, is right.
  • Scene 13

    Scene 13

    God Gets Angry; Very, Very Angry

    • Indy and Marion are tied to a pole while the Nazis open the Ark.
    • Belloq dons the ceremonial robes of the ancient Jewish High Priest and chants in Hebrew before sticking his hand in the Ark and finding… sand.
    • The electrical feed goes out and some freaky wispy things come up out of the Ark.
    • Indy remembers some key passages in Sunday school and tells Marion to close her eyes.
    • The wispy things turn into ghosts and holy fire starts ripping the Nazis apart. Cue the face-melting.
    • Indy and Marion are spared by keeping their eyes shut.
    • God's disciplinary action ends, leaving Indy and Marion on their own with the Ark.
    • They take it back to the government, which locks it away in a warehouse that nobody will ever find (until the much-maligned fourth movie, that is).
    • Indy's fuming, but Marion consoles him by reminding him that she doesn't hate his guts anymore.
    • Roll credits!