Friday, October 11, 2013

A rebuttal to the Raiders Minimization episode of the Big Bang Theory

Amy's thoughts on Raiders of the Lost Ark caused Sheldon's jaw to drop. Here
she is closing his mouth, but he's still none too happy about her ruining his favorite movie.
Last night, The Big Bang Theory aired an episode called "The Raiders Minimization." Sheldon Cooper and girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler finished watching the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which it turns out is one of Sheldon's favorites. Amy "ruined" it for Sheldon by saying that Indiana Jones is completely unnecessary to the plot. "With or without Indiana Jones, the Nazis would have still gotten the ark, they still would have opened it, and they still would have gotten their faces melted off. He contributed nothing to the overall story."

It's an interesting premise, but as a writer, I immediately did not like what she was saying. And for a room of supposedly high IQ's, they should have seen this fallacy in Amy's argument. Allow me to explain through example. If Amy had been in my home and said this, my rebuttal would have been thus: "Without Indiana Jones, no one would have known about the story. Therefore he is actually the most important person to the plot. He's the active narrator."
Indiana Jones and Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark
There are many examples of this kind of storytelling. Moby Dick has a narrator called Ishmael who ends up being the only survivor after the white whale kills everyone. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the same kind of story. If you remove the narrator, Indiana Jones, then the whole story collapses because no one knows about it because no one survives to tell the tale. In other words, he's the point of view character through which we see everything. Even Marion couldn't have been a stand-in because had Indy not been around to save her, the Nazis would have killed her in Nepal and then taken the amulet for themselves.

So how do you like them apples, Amy Farrah Fowler? It looks like Raiders of the Lost Ark is not so minimal after all (and in my opinion) remains one of the great triumphs of fiction. I do have to admit though, that until Amy brought it up in last night's episode, I never realized that Indiana Jones is completely unnecessary to the ultimate outcome (and that is probably much closer to what she meant).

44 comments:

  1. Amy is a strange one. Don't watch BBT but the probably two episodes I did see showed me that girl speaks her mind. And often others might not like what they hear.

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  2. Yeah, uhh, this doesn't really work as it just means Indiana Jones is simply important to the NARRATIVE, the plot would have gone the same with or without him. They could have just made a regular nazi be the POV character instead and turned it into a horror story where everyone dies, it would have been the same thing, just a different POV, a different style, etc, but ultimately the same outcome.

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  3. My favourite show. I'm watching this episode tonight.

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  4. Very good point. No one would've known.
    And they still might not have found the ark since they were digging in the wrong place. But then, if he hadn't shown up, they would've taken the medallion from Marian and had both sides. So it still comes back to him being the narrator.
    Still the best action-adventure film ever. Think I saw it three times in the theater when it came out.

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  5. It's Dr Jones's struggle we watch not his success or failure. A man who trains for the Olympics and fails to win a medal doesn't make it a pointless story if interesting things happen along the way.

    mood

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  6. The white whale kills everyone?! D:

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  7. I'm with Alex - I think he's integral because he's the one figuring out the clues, them Nazi's are just following him around and stealing his ideas.

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  8. never thought of it like that

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  9. With all the extra time it would have taken them to figure things out without Indy the war might have been over by the time they found the Ark and could open it.

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  10. We all must really treasure this picture from our youth to be defending it so rigorously.

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  11. Phew! That's so true. Indiana Jones is the narrator and thus very, very important! And I hadn't thought about how he wasn't really central to the plot until she brought it up.

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  12. @Harvey: the suggestion you make is to change the entire film even making it into a horror story. That's a different topic altogether. Although I respect your opinion, I believe this invalidates it. My original point is that without Indiana Jones alive to tell the tale, the whole Raiders of the Lost Ark story cannot be told. He needs to stay alive so that he can inform others in a past tense of his experience and pass on the tale. He does so at the end of the movie.

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  13. LOL, funny stuff, and now look everyone is discussing it! Water cooler topic for sure! Entertaining - and isn't that really what it's all about?

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  14. Excellent points. They needed you to write that show.

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  15. The eventual outcome, though, is that the Ark ends up in a box in a warehouse in the US, which would not have happened without Indiana. That is, in fact, what he was hired to do by the US government, and that's what happened, so he entirely necessary for that outcome.

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  16. I think the point is that the Nazis would have accomplished it without Indy, even if it took longer. The fact that she points out the ending being exactly the same proves that the only thing that made Indy truly different was how he approached the whole thing. And because the movie doesn't end with that (which is why I think Last Crusade is a better movie), Amy's conclusion is perfectly valid. Being a narrator doesn't change the story, but how (/if) it's remembered, an entirely separate matter.

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  17. @Tony: without Indy, there is no one alive to tell the story. It's a "tree falls in the forest" scenario. Does it make a sound? Not if anyone is around to hear it. This is basic quantum mechanics. Things behave differently when observed. It's a fact and proven by the double slit experiment. Your conclusion is invalid.

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    1. And since when does a movie need a narrator? Harry Potter didn't have a narrator. It simply happened in the third person. Without Indiana Jones, it would simply have been called Raiders of the Lost Ark and ended with the camera panning out and the audience realizing everyone died. And they would never have wondered if another character named Indianna Jones was necessary for the story. I simply reply to this to refute your argument regarding Indy being a narrator. Nothing needs a narrator when the third person perspective exists.

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  18. Didn't see the episode (no tv) but I'm glad you were able to refute her argument because I love Raiders, too!

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  19. It made me think, heh, for a bit. But it was such a fun movie, I don't think it suffers from BBT's comments. My favorite scene is when the faces melt at the end. :D

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  20. That's all meta, which is exactly my point, the horror thing was just an example. They can remove him from the story, change the narrative, the story would be the same. Nor was the story even presented in a recounted format like with Titanic to require someone to retell the tale, but if you wanna go meta then you can turn it into a "dying flashback" of some nazi mook remembering how he got there. The story main story doesn't concern nor revolve about indi at all, it's about the nazis(Raiders) and the Lost Ark of the Covenant, indi and the "Top Men" have no bearing on the plot whatsoever! Remove them and the only difference would be that the Ark would have stayed lost instead of being researched. indi's not even the protagonist as the story doesn't revolve around him, he's just some random speedbump that got in the nazi's way and narrated the story.

    What I'm getting at is that your simply justifying his status as the narrator and, much like Jack and Rose with the Titanic, he still has absolutely no bearing on the story whatsoever. I can atleast forgive Titanic if I think of the movie as "their" story and not about the ship sinking.

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  21. @Harvy: In Quantum Mechanics, light behaves differently when observed. Einstein has even posed the question: Can you prove that the moon is actually there when no one is looking for it? The answer from a purely "physics" point of view has always been "no." Look up the Double Slit experiment on google.

    My point in bringing this up is that Indiana Jones is the "observer" of the events that take place in the story arc of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Without him, the story does not coalesce because no one is alive to tell it.

    At the end of the movie, he is finished recounting his tale to Marcus and the other gentleman that approached him at the beginning of the movie. One of them asks, "Where is the ark now?" presumably after Indy telling him of how all the Nazis met their end.

    THAT is Indiana Jones' reason for being in the film. I understand what you are getting at, but it isn't meta. Everything you need to understand my point is within the context of the movie.

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  22. I'm sorry, but I have to add something with that tree bit. Bringing quantum mechanics into this doesn't really, work, why? Because this is about a story, a movie, not physics. "If a tree falls in a forest without anyone around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Maybe yes, maybe no, but it still fell. Likewise, even if nobody reads, watches or, experiences it, a story is still still there, what happened still happened. It's not about the sound it makes, it's about the tree's story, what happened to it. Even if nobody hears it, it still fell. Even if indi wasn't there to get in their way, the nazis would have still found the Ark, albeit earlier, opened it, and died.

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  23. @Harvy: I disagree. I think that the use of quantum mechanics is perfectly valid especially given that both Sheldon and Leonard are physicists (in the Big Bang Theory) and Amy Farrah Fowler (who first postulated the theory) is also a scientist. This is exactly how they should have approached the argument regarding the Raider's Minimalization.

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  24. I understand what you mean perfectly, that indi is the NARRATOR. What I'm saying is that the whole plot of the movie would still be the same with or WITHOUT anyone telling it, trying to say that that someone needs to be alive to retell it is moot as it's not required, the narrator can be a third unimportant party, or an all seeing camera in the sky, nor was the movie presented in such a format to require it.

    Again, whether or not indi was there to retell it, the story would STILL happen the exact same way. I'm not talking about his role in the film or the narrative, I'm talking about his role in the PLOT.

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  25. You can try to include the status of the parties involved all you want, as if trying to explain a STORY, not to mention one bound in fantasy, in physics would actually work, it won't change the fact that the tree still fell whether anyone was there to hear it, which is my point.

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  26. There's a big hole in Amy's theory: If Indy hadn't pursued the Ark and survived what the Ark did to the Nazis in the climatic scene, he would not have been able to retrieve and take it back to the U.S., and thus keep it out of the hands of other Nazis who might sensibly keep the Ark's lid on tight and thus not be obliterated by it. Then, once Indy had delivered the Ark to American possession, the Nazis would not be invincible and the Allies would defeat them in the upcoming WWII ('cause it's the Allies who had the Ark). This ending harkens back to Marcus's foreshadowing statement that an army that carries the Ark before it is invincible. So Indy basically saves the world and helps to defeat the Nazis in the long run by, at the end of the movie, getting his hands on the Ark.

    And yes, Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite movie.

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  27. Interesting point. I never thought about it like that. But you're right. Indy is the lens we see the story through.

    I may have to watch it again and ponder this some more...

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  28. We like our fiction to be all bound up in intricacies like this- like the butterfly effect. I think we like the puzzle it provides the mind- but obviously it was the author who created the story and without him it wouldn't matter if Indy existed or not- duh. ;)

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  29. Perhaps another way to view the matter is to look at other movies/stories where this was explored, and not just Indiana Jones. There's National Treasure, where Nicolas Cage and Sean Bean are in much the same relationship as Indy and the Nazis. Even without Cage's key insights, Bean still made it nearly to the end, and probably would have done even that (he was one step away and only went astray at Cage's suggestion) given the opportunity.

    There's also The Da Vinci Code with Tom Hanks and Ian McKellen (who makes everything better).

    In both these cases, the ending was affected by the behavior of the protagonist. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the ending isn't. It's Army intelligence agents who bring the Ark to its final resting place, which isn't even a museum, but a warehouse filled with other treasures that are for all intents and purposes lost again, their significance diminished to nothing.

    That's something that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull improves on, actually, the big giant discovery at the end leading to something other than just destruction for the antagonist, possibly because it's aliens this time and not something religious.

    And the point of whether or not the story remains the same with or without Indy's specific narration is still kind of moot. You're talking about the observer effect, whether or not Indy's specific presence affected the way the bad guys behaved at the end, the ultimate outcome. Bad guys are stupid. That's why they're bad guys. Indy always brings a reverence to what he seeks. That's the whole reason he does what he does. It's what separates him from his competitors, and explains why his subsequent imitators always share this trait.

    It's not his ability to tell the story afterward. Yes, mechanically, the movie itself would be different without him. But someone else involved in the story would have narrated the movie in his absence, and that would not have affected the way things played out at all. You're almost suggesting that Indy affected more the way we see the story than how it played out, either that he was an unreliable narrator or that he lied about the whole thing.

    And that's another matter entirely.

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  30. "They're digging in the wrong place!"

    Hello. And of Amy's argument. Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy.

    And didn't the Nazis follow Indy to Tibet (or wherever, going completely by memory) in the first place?

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  31. "They're digging in the wrong place!"

    Hello. Amy's wrong. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

    And didn't Indy lead the Nazis to Tibet (or wherever, I'm going by memory here) in the first place?

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  32. Excellent points. I never thought about the fact it would've happened anyway. But, as you say, he saved a life and he witnessed everything.

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  33. Boom!!! You're right on, Michael.

    Without Indy's perspective, there is no tale to tell.

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  34. The Nazi's were in the wrong place because they had the wrong measurement for the staff. Indy was in the right place because he had the correct measurement. He WAS significant. I'm referring to the map room.

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  35. The Nazi's were searching in the wrong place because they had the wrong measurement for the staff they used in the map room. Indy had the correct measurement for the correct location. Do he WAS important.

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  36. @Jeromy: But if Indy was removed from the story, the Nazis would have had the actual amulet.

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  37. It really depends on what you consider important, doesn't it? Do you watch it for the sake of Indy, the protagonist, to see how he interacts with the characters? Is he, as a person, the point of the story? If so, he's essential.

    Is the chain of events and their culmination the entire point? If so, Indy isn't quite as important, as Amy pointed out in the episode.

    I don't agree that him being a narrator makes him essential to the film. If the narrator does not have an impact, he's exchangeable. Somebody else could have taken his place, or we could have seen it without a specific PoV, from an "all-knowing" perspective.

    It does seem like something of a flaw in the plot if the alleged hero did not really have an impact at all.

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  38. @Michael Offutt's OP: IJ is a character and not the narrator here, Spielberg is, and we follow the story from an outsider point of view so with or without IJ we would still be able to witness the story (albeit with much less interest).
    And if you meant to consider the movie story as if it was real, without IJ the story can still be told by an outside narrator as if it was a myth. So I think the IJ-is-important-because-he-is-the-narrator argument is not valid and as a character it is true that "he contributed nothing to the overall story". Here is a better explanation: http://whatculture.com/film/7-unnecessarily-complicated-movie-plots-that-had-simple-solutions.php/6

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  39. @Michael Offutt's OP: IJ is a character and not the narrator here, Spielberg is, and we follow the story from an outsider point of view so with or without IJ we would still be able to witness the story (albeit with much less interest).
    And if you meant to consider the movie story as if it was real, without IJ the story can still be told by an outside narrator as if it was a myth. So I think the IJ-is-important-because-he-is-the-narrator argument is not valid and as a character it is true that "he contributed nothing to the overall story". Here is a better explanation: http://whatculture.com/film/7-unnecessarily-complicated-movie-plots-that-had-simple-solutions.php/6

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  40. Except no movie or book requires a narrator. It's called the third person, and most movies and both use it. You would play the part of some ghost following these events without an ability to influence them. The audience would have seen it and never noticed Indy was missing because the plot happened period. This refutes your narrator argument. If he was really a narrator we would see everything through his eyes, not outside his body.

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  41. I think Sheldon and friends should enjoy the movie MORE after Amy's punctualization.
    I find it BRILLIANT that in a HERO movie (made after the adventure movies of the forties), the hero is absolutely insignificant. My theory is that both Lucas and Spielberg were conscious about that. In fact in The Last Crusade they did it again.
    Notice that there are plenty of moments in the movie where his hero role is broken (e.g. when he chases the Amazonians and then flees, or when he meets his love Marion but gets punched in the face, or when Marion cures him in the ship...). So I find it brilliant that the whole plot is driven to break his role once again.

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  42. I know this comment is late, but I only recently started watching BBT, and I'm a long-time Indy fan. So, I have to say, Indy provides "the adventure." That may not seem important, but remember- Indy's "job" was to recover the Ark for the US Govt, who would study it, & then turn it over to Marcus's Museum. The Nazi's job was to help Belloq find the Ark, then escort it DIRECTLY to Hitler. Belloq's job was to find the Ark for Hitler, but his "plan" was to open it BEFORE turning it over to Hitler. Indy thoroughly messed up the plans & work of Belloq & the Nazis. It was all the madness & mayhem the Indy created that made the Nazi officer allow Belloq to go through w/ his plan to bring the Ark to the island to open it as a "test" before bringing it to the furor. Had Indy not caused all the Havoc, the Nazis would never have allowed that trip to the island. Without the trip to the island, no one opens the Ark, no Nazis die, then Hitler- who, with his studies of the occult would presumably know to use the closed Ark at the head of his army- would have receive the Ark & used it to lead his army. So, Indy is clearly integral to the story, as without his mayhem and madness, the Ark would have ended up with Hitler.

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  43. Honestly I can't believe this is even debated. Save the girl, get the ark. Two very simple understandable goals. If you take out Indy, Marion is almost certainly dead in her bar, the ark either is flown to Berlin, ends up lost forever on the island or the Nazis come and pick it up from the island. Yet as we finish this film masterpiece, Marion is alive and well, and the ark is in US custody. Not in a museum but hey, close enough. And like another commenter Judy said, it's really about the adventure.

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