If you’re a screenwriter you’ve probably talked a great deal already about RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: it fascinates people.  It’s so “typical” in its structure yet so “atypical” at the same time. This is a special movie; like James Bond, but more rough & tumble, with a mystical, divine intervention.  Jamie Nash was dubious …
" /> Jason Holborn | Cybercarnet/Weblog - Patterns: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (AND ARC)


If you’re a screenwriter you’ve probably talked a great deal already about RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: it fascinates people.  It’s so “typical” in its structure yet so “atypical” at the same time.

This is a special movie; like James Bond, but more rough & tumble, with a mystical, divine intervention.  Jamie Nash was dubious it would fit the Save The Cat beatsheet; I imagined it would.  We were both right, as you will see.

GENRE: Golden Fleece.  “A team that goes on the road to achieve a prize — that turns out not to be what they expect.”  The Team is Indiana and Marion, his new goddamned partner.  It includes allies like Marcus and Sallah, but they’re the Prime Team.  The Road is a global trek, and the prize is ostensibly the Ark — yet proves to in fact be re-kindled romance.

OPENING IMAGE – The Paramount symbol, known to all movie fans over the world, transforms into a REAL MOUNTAIN. Everything you ever wanted in a movie will come to life before your eyes in the next 115minutes. If one feels that’s a cheat answer, the Real Opening Image is a JUNGLE, and gives way to EXPLORERS, Europeans in Western dress, and LOCAL SOUTH AMERICAN GUIDES in local attire.

Dr. Indiana Jones is a daredevil archaeologist who risks his life again and again to discover and retrieve antiquities for his home museum, for research and education. HIS LIFE IS ABOUT KNOWLEDGE, DISCOVERY OF TRUTH BY LOOKING INTO THE PAST. He hates snakes and has a European arch-nemesis named René Belloq – the well-dressed, well-heeled European James Bond to Indy’s scruffier, hardier American version.

Indy’s also a university professor; considerable less comfortable in a classroom but the ladies love him. NOTE: A balls-out adventurer in danger zones, he is TOTALLY UNCOMFORTABLE with the attentions of fawning, and very attractive, women who very much want him.

- The US Government contacts him through his museum executive, Marcus Brody.  Hitler’s Nazis are looking for the long-lost Ark of the Covenant and Indy’s mentor Abner Ravenwood’s name has been found in their communiqués. Indy knows Ravenwood’s not a Nazi, but is excited to think that Ravenwood may have found Tannis, the last known whereabouts of the ultimate Ancient Treasure. Note: The Ark could be considered as a weapon; Indy has an image of it firing a ray, or beam, or power to smite enemies. (No wonder Hitler’s interested) Ravenwood sought a HEADPIECE (a ‘medallion’) to find the Ark.  By the time the meeting is over, Uncle Sam has an unspoken question: “CAN DR. JONES FIND THE ARK?” 

DEBATE — CAN Dr. JONES FIND THE ARK?  Indy packs his bags and by the way, he’s consented to do this little government mission because the museum gets the Ark when he’s got it home (his mind has been made up off-screen, the bargaining (debating) period is mostly done. There’s only one Debate-worthy item here regarding Refusing the Call to Adventure, and that’s acknowledging that the road ahead could be dangerous: Indy packs a gun.

Indy travels to Nepal (as in THE BIRDS, time during a long patient journey is conveyed by memorable cinema action, is part of what Snyder labels “the Debate section”).  Yet it’s sort of Fun & Games (and so is the Opening Scene, along with many subsequent scenes).  

Indy hopes MARION, Ravenwood’s daughter, can help. (Abner is dead now; Indiana was his student, he screwed Marion and then took off). He NEEDS Marion’s help to get a “MEDALLION” (the Headpiece) to find the Ark. She’s reluctant, and bargains. She will consider looking for the medallion. (SHE HAS IT)

Marion’s attacked by Nazi henchmen looking for the medallion. Indy saves her. Burns down her enterprise. TOAT badly sears his hand on the medallion and must leave it behind. 

Indy GETS THE MEDALLION (Continued Debate… with Abner Ravenwood’s medallion (the headpiece to the staff of Ra), Dr. Jones can find the Ark).
But, with the medallion comes Marion: he just got himself a new goddamn partner.

 – Into the new world (and growth machine?? I think so, while recognizing others do not see an arc) of Egypt: ancient land of Judeo-Christian history (ie. the Ark), containing Cairo, and the Well of Souls dig. It is also, however, the new world and growth machine of Marion Ravenwood Revisited – a new goddamn (life) partner.

Indiana’s old friend SALLAH Mohammed Faisel el-Kahir welcomes them. Also, Indy & Marion meet a MONKEY who adopts them as friends.

The Nazis are digging at Tannis already (STAKES); Indy wonders how they could possibly know where to dig, since HE has the Headpiece Medallion.  Sallah has seen them with a medallion like Marion’s, on a staff.  (Ultimately this is revealed as a REPLICA, made (imperfectly) from the scar on Toat’s palm)

- They are spied on by a Sinister Seeming Man. Also, the Monkey is an improbable yet effective Nazi spy. 

Marion is kidnapped by Nazis and Arab henchman supporting them; Indy chases her desperately but loses her – and sees the truck carrying her blown up. 

Indy gets drunk. (Experiencing a kind of ALL IS LOST)

Then, he meets Belloq, who is working for… the Hitler Nazis, searching for the Ark. Indy is outgunned but saved by a group of children who rush in and walk him out.

The Sinister Man poisons a bowl of dates, and Indy and Sallah meet a Wise Scholar who can read the Medallion and reveals that the Nazi’s imitation is of the wrong length: they don’t have the disclaimer on the BACK of the medallion. Only Indy’s team has the real measurements. STAKES: Indy and Sallah are almost poisoned but the monkey eats first and dies: Sallah saves Indy.

At the Tannis dig, Indy and Sallah fool people into believing they’re ordinary workers, but in fact seek out the Map Room and discover the location of the Map Room.

INDY DISCOVERS MARION IS STILL ALIVE!! But he must leave her tied up, or the Nazis will search the grounds… 

Indy enters the Well of Souls… unfortunately for him, it’s full of snakes. 

Marion tries to seduce Belloq (not really, just to escape), and succeeds in getting him drunk – but is interrupted by Toat.

* Snyder defines FUN AND GAMES as a cruise control steady drive through fun, without as strong a focus on conflict and tension. I think that’s especially true in a movie like GHOSTBUSTERS; here, as in STAR WARS, there definitely IS conflict and stakes (Marion’s death and Belloq’s advantages, spying, poison), and I know that for me, it’s important to remember that)

* Jamie Nash points out there’s less Promise of the Premise than you’d expect here; I agree there’s few “trailer moments” here (many more are in what Snyder would say is Bad Guys Close In, the Opening temple scene, and the Midpoint). Promise of the Premise-wise… Fun & Games here is about an archeologist (and his French rival) vying to find, or raid, the lost Ark in Egypt, for the USA and for Hitler, so I would venture it does capitalize on the Set-Up in a “promise of the premise” way.

MIDPOINT 1:08:40 (in a 1:55 movie; beyond ‘halfway’, FWIW) – INDY GETS THE ARK.  END OF DEBATE QUESTION: He did it.
Indiana Jones claims the lost Ark of the Covenant from the Well of Souls. He was sent on a mission to find the Ark; he has done so. Now the conflict changes; he must “get the Ark back home to the United States”.  I will even call this “Commence New Debate”, actually: CAN Dr. JONES GET THE ARK HOME TO THE USA?

Belloq notices Jones’s unwarranted dig.

The Nazis seal Indy and Marion into the Well of Souls (a pretty cool BELLY OF THE BEAST moment; George Lucas held the trademark on these).

Indy has lost the Ark (if not for him, the Nazis never would have found it – and now they hold it).

The torches are going out; but Indy formulates a plan by observing the environment, and they escape dramatically.  (Really, quite a Fun and Game.)

Indy and Marion see a plane being fueled up; Indy surmises the Ark is on board. Indy fistfights a huge Mechanic Guard and Marion is locked into the plane as a FIRE starts. Indy kills the Guard Mechanic and frees Marion just in time…. KA-BOOM!  These are more Fun and Games.

The Nazis come running. 

Indy and Marion evade and regroup with Sallah: the Ark has been loaded into a truck, and was never really on the plane: Oops.

Indiana Jones chases down the Ark convoy on a horse, cutting them off at the pass. He battles 30 Nazis in 4 mechanical vehicles and wins: INDY RETURNS TO CAIRO WITH THE ARK.  (All of this is more Fun and Games.)

Indy and Sallah arrange to load the Ark onto a freighter ship bound for America. It feels like they’ve won…. 

…. and so in the evening, love sparks once again between Jones and Marion. (Indy falls asleep, however.) 

In the hold, the crate containing the Ark burns its Nazi insignia off, greatly disturbing the rodents.

END OF ACT 2, which has completed itself: Indy got the lost Ark out of Egypt, and Indiana and Marion have in essence re-seduced each other and grown into each others as real, solid, forgiving partners.

In this sense, the beat doesn’t fit Snyder’s BS2. While I feel it is pretty minor to interrupt an act break before All Is Lost and etc., many others, including Snyder, could disagree and be pickier.

- Marion awakens to Indy cocking his PISTOL: the Nazis have boarded the ship in the night. 
Indy goes to investigate, and so is able to escape by hiding.

- Marion however is seized, and so is the Ark. 
 INDY HAS LOST MARION BEFORE, AND THE ARK BEFORE… BUT NOW, BOTH, AT THE SAME TIME, AND THE NAZIS HAVE IT ALL: His ex-girlfriend who he’s made up with, the connection to his past (Abner Ravenwood), and a weapon of unknown magnitude, combined with Hitler’s thirst for global domination under a dictatorial superstate.

Indy follows the Nazi submarine to a secret Nazi island, which he infiltrates.  A ‘New World’ for Act 3, in a way.


Indy holds the Nazis in a Mexican standoff, with a bazooka on a cliff. Indy, like any red-blooded American before the US entry into WWII felt, doesn’t think the Nazis are so bad – he’ll even let them keep the Ark. All he wants is the girl Marion – or, he’ll blow up the Ark.

The Nazis flip the freak out – Jones really has them over a damned barrel – he is going to destroy Hitler’s much-desired Ark!

But Belloq is Indy’s nemesis, and he knows Indy as well as any nemesis can.  Belloq calls Indy’s bluff and invites him: Go for it! Shoot the Ark! HE KNOWS INDIANA JONES WANTS TO SEE WHAT’S INSIDE THE ARK EVERY BIT AS MUCH AS RENÉ BELLOQ DOES.

He can beat 40 Nazis and 4 tanks with a whip and a horse and his wits and fists, but Indiana Jones cannot destroy this vital relic of history. He should have swung in on a vine with a different plan to save Marion and get away on a palmtree-raft; he has guts and mettle and intelligence and prowess but he’s gambled his woman (and the fate of the world*) on a threat he can’t cash, and he loses.

*It’s debatable whether he actually realizes this; I think personally that at this moment, he doesn’t.

- I think this moment (Indy surrenders, lowering the bazooka) is the Moment of Grace for this movie. He can’t bear to see this important relic lost and chooses it over his stated choice of Marion.

Indy and Marion have been allowed to live; they are tied to a stake at the head of the Nazi camp. Belloq wants to perform an Old Testament-proscribed ceremony to open the Ark, though the Nazis are uncomfortable with the Jewishness of the moment. Belloq quickly convinces them it’s best to determine the contents of the Ark prior to delivery to the Fuerher; but in reality is determined to open the Ark because HE WANTS TO BE FIRST TO LOOK INSIDE!

As Belloq completes the Hebrew-language ceremony and opens the Ark, Indiana Jones advises Marion to close her eyes. 


Indy repeats his advice to Marion – to close her eyes.

Pulled from the fascination by Indy, Marion does as he suggests – and lives.

The spellbound Nazis all die fiendish and memorably horrifying deaths, and the Ark re-seals itself. Indy and Marion have survived.

Back in the US, Indy and Marcus Brody are stampeded by Big Government Spending, which has taken the Ark and spirited it away, out of the museum’s possession, into a very safe place. Indy is bitter, angry, emotional. Marion greets him outside and promises to buy him a drink. He’s still not happy about the situation, but he accepts Marion’s invitation, and they leave the government building together.

The Ark is tucked away in an enormous warehouse of CRATES.

My conclusion: Jamie is half-right. 
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK does contain a ‘BS2’, but Blake Snyder’s BS2 barely contains RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

-While I personally think it’s minor to Feature AIS and DNOTS in Act 3, Snyder could be very specific when he felt like it. Never met him but can picture him, easily, telling a workshop participant to “maybe try moving Break Into 3 into a more natural setting for it”

-Indy experiences a mini-“All Is Lost” in mid-Act 2 Pt. A; he even tells Belloq “I’ve got nothing left” and is willing to die, his life lacks meaning now after losing Marion to violence. Snyder doesn’t accommodate this kind of bottom-pit thinking/feeling into Fun & Games.

-Bad Guys Close In has many highs, including three famous ones – the Well of Souls escape, the plane fight victory, and the horse-to-truck convoy chase victory. Again, Snyder doesn’t accommodate this type of emotional/mental high in this section. 

Overall though, I think it’s exactly the kind of classical three-act structure that Snyder based his “Save The Cat Blake Snyder Beat Sheet” on.

Regarding the Lost Arc, I think Indiana Jones does experience one. I’ve long thought that he grows from a Man Obsessed With Knowledge From Antiquities to a Man Who Accepts That Some Things Are Simply Not To Be Known.

(FWIW I don’t necessarily believe that he’s an atheist or that he initially mocks religion, and becomes a Believer. Example: “you want to talk to God Belloq?” isn’t a critique of religion, it’s an angry, hurt threat. It’s not about religion, it’s about Belloq, and it’s about Marion. It’s personal, not universal. You could even argue it implies Belief – he offers to try his best to send Belloq to be judged by St. Peter. “Didn’t you go to Sunday School” isn’t a mockery of people who went to Sunday School, it’s the exasperation of an academic in antiquities talking to a man who knows absolutely nothing about what Indy believes is/should be common knowledge.)

However, Jamie Nash posited me an idea which seems more and more worthy: that Indiana climatically chooses Life over Mysteries. I now think he’s right.

  Indiana Jones is a man obsessed with the Past (Death), and with relics. He is grouchy, and hard, and dead inside: only a passionate hobby, which is his career (lucky him), brings any spark of LIFE to him. Amid scenes of Death, replete with skulls, skeletons, and mummified flesh, he battles for Life, seemingly on a frequent, regular basis, but it is HIS OWN LIFE that he fights for. He has no urge to fuck, no urge to reproduce, no desire whatsoever to meet, let alone unite with, women (Man + Woman = LIFE). The proof is in his classroom: he’s surrounded by buxom ladies who adore him and would happily succumb to his masculine charms and strengths. HE DOESN’T CARE.

But… he used to care about a Girl – so much so that he sorely screwed up a valuable mentor relationship with a man (Abner Ravenwood) he clearly cared deeply about, and admired as a professional. THE LUST FOR THIS GIRL WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE RESPECT OF THIS FATHER FIGURE.

Indiana Jones wasn’t really dead inside; Marion reanimates him – we see that when HE LOSES HER. He fights Nazis and swordsmen, and creates havoc among totally innocent bystanders (HE BATTLES DANGER AND DISRUPTS PEACEFUL REALITY FOR HER) when she is abducted.

When he loses Marion, he sinks into a profound depression, and gets drunk. HE IS READY TO DIE, and tells Belloq so.

Pushed by external forces to continue his existence, he throws himself into his work… and discovers Marion is still alive. Indiana cares more than anyone would have ever guessed.

 But how does he care? Between Marion (Woman) and Antiquities (Death, the Remote Past), Indiana seemingly cares more about Antiquities: he’s only bluffing that he’ll destroy the Ark to save her – he would rather the Ark survive, and that he and Marion are taken prisoner (by the freaking NAZIS!) if that means the Ark’s survival.

***Belloq is a mercenary and Jones is a museum professor; their values differ. However Belloq describes them, to no real challenge from Jones, as “very much alike”, “on the same level”, that their methods are “not so different as Jones pretends”, that “archeology is their religion”, but that they each have “fallen from the true path”, that he is a “shadowy reflection of Jones”, and that a “small push could easily push Jones out of the light and into the shadow with Belloq”. They are obvious long-time adversaries, “there is nothing Jones can have which Belloq cannot take”, and function at the same level of competence and education. Indy’s biggest loss is a foolhardy bluff that Belloq knows how to see through to beat Indy instantly: “You want to see what’s inside as much as I do”.

BUT – moments later as Belloq prepares to open the Ark, Indy, perhaps flashing back to the power of the Ark as sketched in the textbook in Act 1, decides to Ignore The Mystery, and turn away — and take Marion with him. The man who, seemingly, didn’t care about Marion half as much as he did about the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra in Act 1, chooses Life (with Woman) over Knowledge of the Past (Death). The man who will risk ANYthing to shed light on archaeological mysteries chooses to Live With Marion rather than look — he’ll allow his loathsome, taunting, snooty European arch-rival to go ahead and look first, and be the gloating winner. Jones will wait for second place, provided it’s safe, but for now, he chooses Life with Woman.

Life on earth is hard and full of knocks, and filled with death all around you – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK represents that. It’s easy to be cynical, it’s easy to choke the love inside you – Indiana Jones represents that. Although life is rough, it relies on individuals to make the choice to continue life – often by choosing a partner that has given you a rough time in life and caused you hurt you’d rather forget (Marion Ravenwood), and ultimately, after exploring and causing a lot of death, Indiana Jones finds the will to do just that.

(BTW Tea Partiers and Republicans commonly saw themselves in Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT; I don’t feel the movie bears out their interpretation even remotely. Indiana Jones does – anti-government, arms-bearing believer in Scripture who chides federal bureaucrats for not going to Sunday School enough. Anyone would take him as President any day!).

Probably this will be my final Blake Snyder Beat Sheet; it’s been a good exercise for me to use to analyze some different movie stories, yet I think I’ve written enough about it.  

Jamie Nash on this very BS2: “My bottom line — if you start having to shuffle the BS2,it tells me that the BS2 is not ‘the only way to do it’. Bs2’s are valuable if used literally. If not…well…I’m not sure. A BS2 is a type of plot that works. And many films use this structure. There are other structures.”

I guess I agree.
I think the BS2 *is*, or SHOULD be, somewhat flexible, ie. a general guide, not a precise path. That said, Blake Snyder seems to think it’s rather inflexible, so I agree with him. (I have no problem with a structure that plays loose-ish with the BS2)

Still, Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT was for me a really valuable read.  I don’t recommend people follow it slavishly; people criticize Snyder as “cookie cutter”, however, reading it and remembering what you like and ignoring the rest is worthwhile, in my opinion.  He brought a lot of ideas to the table that I hadn’t heard of before, that stirred my thoughts and illuminated some dark spots I didn’t even know were there.  I liked SAVE THE CAT.