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Raiders of the Lost Ark is really subversive!


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I just watched Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time in years, and something really stood out to me. It takes place in 1936, and deals with the rise of the Third Reich and the threat of WWII, conveniently circumventing having to deal with Jews in concentration camps. Were there other movies of the time dealt with Nazis, without touching on the Holocaust? This is right at the epicenter of the Holocaust Hollywood, with NBC's Holocaust miniseries, Sophie's Choice, Marathon Man and any time you saw a Nazi in film they were **** and gassing Anne Frank. Sure, the extermination of millions of Jews isn't subject for a popcorn adventure yarn -- but that's where the subversion comes in.

 

There is Judaism all over that movie, without a single rabbi or any nod to the concentration camps. The Nazi's are searching for the most reverent relic of Judaism, the Ark of the Covenant and wish to use it as a weapon. Allegorically, they are plundering the history, culture and wealth of the Jewish people to fuel their war machine.

 

Where it really gets crazy is when the Nazi Belloq masquerades as the brother of Moses, the Levite High Priest Aaron, his costume complete with the breastplate Ephod and turban, and he starts performing Hebrew rituals. And then God smites him for his hubris, melts his face and the Nazi's are attacked by what appears to be ancient ghostly Jews.

 

Let me reiterate. A Nazi dresses up like the most sacred Jew and Yahweh makes his head explode.

 

It's like having a movie where a southern plantation owner dresses up in blackface and is killed by voodoo.

 

The movie isn't mired by the serious weight of the Holocaust, but Spielberg still manages to have the Jews permeate the movie in spirit. It's crazy, subversive material for a summer blockbuster, every bit as crazy as Inglourious Basterds and Spielberg must have been giggling every Jewish-Nazi-killing-wish-fulfillment second of it.

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It was pretty obvious to me, when I first saw the film, that Spielberg grew up watching old adventure films, such as Jungle Jim, Tarzan, King Solomon?s Mines, Captain from Castile, Secret of the Incas, Valley of the Kings, etc.

 

The prototype of Indiana Jones:

 

 

 

 

 

During WW II, Nazis were used as villains in a lot of old adventure films.

 

Tarzan and Nazis:

 

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Raiders, although trying to emulate the serials of the 1940's, is a product of 1980, the emerging summer tent pole popcorn blockbusters. It didn't exist in a vacuum. The audience had preconceived notions of how the Nazis were. At at the time, Nazis didn't exist in the American mind as just a bad guy, but as a Jew killing villain of epic proportions.

 

Culturally, America itself has just went through a traumatic decade where the highest officials of government were crooks, and had just come out of a war that had no clearly defined good guys or bad guys. The portrayal of WWII movies went from heroic Guns of Navarone, Patton and Dirty Dozen shoot 'em ups to serious dramatic fair. Germans were not goofy Colonel Klinks, not as combatants, not the same way we would portray the British in a Revolutionary War picture, but as really really evil twisted genocidal antisemitic uberfucks. After Vietnam, war movies were as appealing as Die Hard would have been on September 12, 2001. America needed an emotional release valve and they found it in the summer spectacles of Star Wars and Jaws.

 

George Lucas wanted to tell an airy, escapist, high adventure, treasure hunting, fun flick. They want to have clear good guys and bad guys, so they use Nazis. Evil twisted genocidal antisemitic uberfuck Nazis sans the messy genocide and antisemitism. A studio isn't going to greenlight a summer Holochaust Adventure movie, right? So the concentration camps and Jew gassing has to be ignored. HENCE, place it before all of that, in 1936. Easy right?

 

Enter Spielberg. His idea is to have the Nazi's searching for, not some one eyed pirates gold, not some mystical ancient scroll, not the hammer of a Norse god, but THE FRIGGIN ARK OF THE COVENANT. The holiest of holies for the Jews. And then he has a Nazi dress up like THE FRIGGIN HOLIEST PERSONAGE of the Jews, the HIGH PREIST, and perform Hebrew rituals.

 

So the hidden theme is, Don't Eff With Jehovah. Nazis seek to wage war equipped with Jewish treasure and Yahweh explodes them.

 

And Spielberg did it under the noses of the studio. Hence the subversion.

 

Edited by: Killgore on May 5, 2010 8:51 PM

 

Edited by: Killgore on May 5, 2010 8:53 PM

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> {quote:title=Killgore wrote:}{quote}

>

> Let me reiterate. A Nazi dresses up like the most sacred Jew and Yahweh makes his head explode.

>

> It's like having a movie where a southern plantation owner dresses up in blackface and is killed by voodoo.

>

 

LOL Well put, Kilgore!

I think the ending is pretty subversive as well--Jones wants to know what the gov't has done with the Ark, now that he's risked life and limb and his very soul to bring the thing back and he's told, "We have our very best people working on it," (or something like that) and there's some other business, then the scene shifts to a huge warehouse and we see the Ark being stored int his warehouse, just another anonymous wooden crate among millions...

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As you say, the film takes place in 1936.

 

Though the Nuremberg Laws forbidding Jews from holding positions in the German government or academia had been enacted, the excesses and brutality that defined the Third Reich and the Holocaust were still taking shape. There were, as yet, no concentration camps (though political prisoners were already being interned in large numbers), Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") when Jews and their property were attacked all over Germany, was still two years in the future, and the Wannsee Conference, at which the Nazis formalized and systematized their plans for industrial-scale genocide, was was six years away.

 

Spielberg and writers Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas could hardly have injected a future the film's characters could not themselves have been aware of. More to the point, the Nazis made of themselves timeless villains, good for any number of dramatic purposes, from the specific (SCHINDLER'S LIST) to the vague (the RAIDERS films) to the comic (THE PRODUCERS). For the sake of their goal of making a jaunty adventure, Spielberg, Lucas and Kasdan decided that a generic anti-Semitism ("I am uncomfortable with this...Jewish ritual") was all their little exercise in updating Saturday morning serials could bear.

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Fred, *Tarzan Triumphs*, the Tarzan and Nazis film is loosely based on the Burroughs book Tarzan the Terrible, but is only a pale shadow of it. The book has triceratops-like animals, huge sentient apes, more or less human sized furry, and hairless, ape-people, with whom Tarzan is friends, and an evil German officer who captures Jane. Tarzan and Korak, just returned from WWI, pursue him to the lost land of Pal-u-don. This story never could have been made properly before modern FX. I wish Spielberg, or someone his cinematic equal, would pick up this book, and make it into a film. Done properly, it would blow away Raiders, Jurassic Park, and most any action-adventure film you care to name!

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