Indiana Jones Is a Loser... and That's One to Grow on

Indie_lHenry "Indiana" Jones, Jr. is a hero. If you grew up in the latter half of the 20th century, this is a given. Encoded in our social DNA. (Or is it RNA? Nevermind… questions like this are precisely why I became an entertainment journalist.) In any poll of the Greatest Action Heroes of All Time, he’ll consistently rank in the top 5.

And we can all agree that a hero’s job is to save the day, right? To stop the bad guys from carrying out their nefarious plan, whatever it may be. That’s their raison d’etre, pardon my French.

Then follow the jump to find out why we were all wrong about Indiana Jones. To see why, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, he’s not a hero… he’s a bystander.

addCredit(“Raiders of the Lost Ark: Everett Collection”)

Now, the theory that follows isn’t mine. It’s been attributed to Marv Wolfman, the legendary comic book writer who, among other things, created Blade the vampire hunter, wrote DC’s seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths, and has put words in the mouths of characters like Spider-Man, Superman, Doctor Strange, and countless others. (Basically, he’s got teh skillz.)

To paraphrase Wolfman: In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazis’ big plan is to locate and open the Ark of the Covenant. Indiana Jones tries to stop them at every turn. He fails. Because at the end of the film, the Nazis still get the Ark and open it. Look at it this way: if you remove Indy from the film, the outcome is the same. The Nazis go to Marion Ravenwood in Tibet and get the headpiece of the staff of Ra. They already know where the Map Room is, so — possessing the actual headpiece which will give them the right height for the staff — they find the Well of Souls easy-peasy, put the Ark on a truck, and drive it to a submarine bound for the island. (Or, they could’ve flown it there as planned.) Then, they open the Ark and everyone dies.

While I can’t lay claim to this theory, it saddens me to say that I wholeheartedly agree with it. All Indy does is slow them down and cause a little property damage. He never stops them from getting the Ark. And, I guess, he saves Marion’s life. But the Nazis win. (Oh, and by the way, remember that fertility god statue Indy was after in the film’s open? Belloq gets it.) Not only is Indiana Jones a completely reactive character, his actions dictated entirely by what other people do, he’s a big honking loser.

Am I wrong? If you can tell me how Indiana Jones does, in fact, save the day, the 10-year-old in me will thank you from the bottom of his heart…

Comments (71 total) Add your comment
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  • Anonymous

    The nazis didn’t win. They all died at the end and Indiana brought to the United States government.

  • smittyboy127

    Dang, never thought of it that way. Indy’s a scam! I’m putting away my whip and felt hat. So disappointed. LOL

  • Justin Mohareb

    Actually, if Indy hadn’t blown up the flying wing, the Ark would have been opened in Berlin and Hitler would have been there when it opened. So, basically, he saved Hitler.

  • alm034

    Indy’s a hero for trying, even if he didn’t end up entirely successful. Kind of like the whole “Evil wins when good men do nothing” principle. Also, anyone who does that much Nazi-bashing is a hero in my book!

  • Jay

    Without Indy, Marion would have been killed.

  • Shelley

    I never really thought the movie was about him rescuing the treasure. It was about redemption of sorts.
    Indy’s as much of a treasure-monger as all the Nazis and Belloch. He wants to win…it’s just that his treasures end up in a museum.
    Indy is part scoundrel (Han Solo with better funding and a degree.) The movie is about him redeeming himself with Marion AND, even though he’s all about making sense of the mysteries surrounding these treasures…he must have faith that there’s more to them…so he tells Marion to close her eyes so that they won’t die. That, right there, is all about faith.
    The treasures (symbols of Christianity) are the real heroes. They save the day…in both the first and third films (I refuse to EVER reference the second film.) Even the third film is about redemption…with his father this time, not a girl…and, again, he doesn’t get the real treasure (the challis).
    The movies, ultimately are about choosing between right and wrong…not saving the treasure.

  • Steve

    If Indiana Jones isn’t there after the Nazis opened the Ark then the Nazis would still have access to it. They would have just sent another group of soldiers to experiment until they could use it as a weapon. Jones, surviving the initial opening, removes the Ark form Nazi control.

  • librarian03

    I disagree with the article. The appeal that Indy holds is that he is the guy next door, the scholar, who gets swept up in crazy adventures and has the brain to think his way out of disastrous situations. That, in my book, constitutes a hero.

  • Honeybee

    I agree that the film is about redemption. Indy saves Marion and continues the life’s work of her father, whom he betrayed when he broke Marion’s heart. And I also agree that by being clever enough to close his eyes at the end, Indy gained control of the arc from the Nazis and kept Hitler from using it as a superweapon.
    But we know he’s a even before that hero because he saves the village in Temple of Doom, which takes place before Raiders. He leaves them with the sacred stones, forgoing the glory he would get if he took them to a museum. And after Raiders, he finds the Holy Grail and passes its test.
    Raiders is simply the middle chapter, when the hero’s heart is tested. And Indy gets the arc through respecting the Grail’s power, something the Nazis did not do.

  • Bruno

    Does the fact that he’s really hot comfort you? I have loved many many hot failures in my time…shoot…it’s actually a movie for women.

  • John

    Hey Shelley, what is wrong with the 2nd movie? Temple is actually a very good movie. Very much in line with alot of the Indy books that followed the movies.
    It seems that Indy in Temple actually redeems Indy as the hero and not the loser. I agree with the other comments too though, it is more Indy being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of those moments that makes him the hero in each movie. By choosing to close his eyes at the end of Raiders made him the victor in the end. The Nazis were the losers for not making the correct decisions and being ill informed of what they had in front of them.
    This arguement is like saying Luke Skywalker was not a hero because he did not kill the Emperor himself, Vader threw him down the conduit. Ok, but it was Luke’s influence on Vader that made the difference…just being there at the right time and place. In the end Indy always ended up getting the prize and the girl and evil payed the price. Sounds like a hero to me…

  • Sean

    “Indiana Jones is perhaps the greatest action hero in the history of the movies. And in his debut film, he flat-out fails from beginning to end.
    … This guy’s an action hero? Yup. Because he fails so damn impressively, from start to finish. Indy fails so well, in fact, the audience is impressed as hell, and hardly aware of the fact that he’s failing. The defeats are just setbacks that create more opportunities for heroism. As an added benefit, Indy wins the audience’s sympathy — the poor guy’s trying so hard, you can’t help but root for him. … If you make your villain truly near-impossible to beat, your hero’s various failed attempts can come across as amazing.”
    — Terry Rossio, co-screenwriter of a bunch of stuff

    http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp08.Impressive.Failure.html

  • Sara

    Well, that’s true…but after the Nazis all die, Indy takes the Ark back to the US. If he hadn’t been there, it probably would have stayed in Nazi hands and maybe someone would have figured out how to use it without dying.

  • Heleno

    Well, we’re told early on that any army that carries the Ark before it will win, basically. So even if the Nazis immediately present were killed, Hitler could still have brought the Ark to Berlin and carried it with him – say, to Stalingrad. The Yanks, of course, had far more integrity than to trust their war efforts to a religious artifact.

  • LisaMama

    Indy’s not a loser — he’s human. He starts out wanting personal gain (treasure) and then realizes that something bigger was going on. He tries to stop the evil Nazis, but being only a human and not a superhero, does the best he can. In the end, Hitler does NOT get the power of the ark, and Indy does NOT try to use the power or treasure for his personal gain. He learns a real life lesson.

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