First Look at the Story Structure of Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Story Structure of the Raiders of the Lost Ark

A tweet from director friend @ClayKaytis inspired a dive into the thematic structure of another iconic film from my childhood, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Subjective Characters in _Raiders_

Last week it was The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, this week it’s Raiders. Like Empire, Raiders sports two storyforms: the Raiders Story and the Ark story. And also like Empire, both stories offer both tragedy and triumph.

Something about the early 80s manifested complex and sophisticated narrative structures.

Clay wondered why Indy changes at the end (closes his eyes) and the Ark story answers that question. The Raiders one covers the relationship between Indy and Belloq and how “it would only take a nudge to make you like me.”

More importantly, the Raiders storyform focuses on everyone’s favorite bad guy: Nazis!

When the Main Character is not the Protagonist

This split offers me the prime opportunity to install the latest feature for the Story Atomizer: a visual representation of the split between Main Character and Protagonist. A core concept of the Dramatica theory of story, the subjective point-of-view of the Main Character can differ from the motivational effort to pursue.

Protagonists pursue. Antagonists prevent.

The Nazis pursue the Ark, Indy works to prevent that from happening. The Nazis spectacularly lose, while Indy ends up resolving any personal issues he had around his legacy.

A Personal Triumph–a subjective appreciation that best describes the feeling of the ending of Raiders.

Objective Characters in _Raiders_

Appreciating the Nazis as Protagonists allows for a better understanding of the Story Outcome of Failure and the Story Consequence of Becoming. They don’t get the Ark and they become dead!

Gaining greater meaning

Trying to force-fit Indy into the Pursuit role and the Nazis into an assumed position as Antagonist loses the greater meaning of Failure. The Ark winding up in a giant cavernous warehouse is not a Successful Outcome.

In addition, it flops the Crucial Elements for Belloq and Indy, drafting the former as Avoiding or Preventing, and the latter as strictly Pursuing. Feels better if you switch those around–and makes more sense in terms of the Story Outcome.

James R. Hull @jhull