So I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark the other day, partly because its great and partly because it’s on Amazon Prime. Now, I’m hardly the person to talk about direction and form but there is so much pleasing in the movie, not just in the story and the acting but in Steven Spielberg’s direction. This was a bit on my mind lately because Matt Zoller Seitz tweeted this:
Funny to think Spielberg and Ridley Scott, considered flashy and shallow by some in the 70s, are elder statesmen of classicism now.
— Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz) January 7, 2017
Mavericks often turn into has-beens, right, and maybe we are all tired of Spielberg now (although Stranger Things begs to differ), but in Raiders Spielberg was in his prime and the camera movement especially is so enjoyable. (To be clear, I’m not tired of Spielberg, or Scott for that matter.)
One other thing that I loved in the movie is the shadow work. I may post something later about other ways Spielberg used shadows but look at these few examples with Indiana Jones thinking about Marion Ravenwood.
This first shot is from the scene in which Marcus Brody goes to Indy’s house to tell him that the US government wants him to go find the Ark of the Covenant. While Indy is packing, he asks Marcus if he thinks “she” will be with his old mentor, Abner Ravenwood. (Yeah, the names in this series are excellent.) “She” is Abner’s daughter, Marion, with whom Indy had a relationship. Look at Indiana’s face in this shot.
Indy is in shadows while Marcus Brody is clearly lit. We know from context that something happened between Indiana and Abner and Marion that caused a falling out (and we can probably guess what it is), and the shadow on Indy’s face reinforce this.
Indiana travels to Nepal to find Marion who he hopes will give him the headpiece that he needs. (I assume you’ve seen the movie so all this makes sense to you.) Their reunion is not exactly joyful (Marion slugs Indiana and refuses to give him the headpiece). Marion tells Indiana that he broke her heart and hurt Abner also. She tells Indy to come back the next day to get the headpiece. This shot is of Indy as he walks out the door.
Again, his face mostly in shadow. There is still something between them but maybe they will never be able to put the old hurt behind them.
Shortly after Indy leaves, Marion is attacked by Nazis who are also looking for the headpiece. Indy rescues her and Marion takes the headpiece and tells Indy she’s his partner. Together they go to Egypt.
In Egypt, Indiana and Marion are in the sun with Sallah’s family, enjoying the weather as well as each other’s company. Eventually Marion gets kidnapped by those pesky Nazis and when Indy tries to rescue her he causes the truck she’s in to explode. Marion is dead. (Marion is not dead. [SPOILER])
So yeah, Marion is not dead but Indy doesn’t know this. So first Indy drowns his sorrows, then threatens to kill Belloq until Sallah’s children rescue him, and then he confronts his grief. This is the shot that brings it all home. Look at this.
It’s a callback to the door for Marion’s bar in Nepal and again there is Indiana’s face partly in shadow. Indiana and Marion reconciled somewhat but now they will never fully reconcile. Simply, there will always be a shadow when Indiana thinks of Marion.