Women of Raiders of the Lost Ark

The female characters that had the most impact on me as a child were Leia Organa in the original Star Wars trilogy, Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Jo March from Little Women, and Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark. So it’s fitting that I start this new “Women of” series on 365 Star Wars with an in-depth look at Marion. I’ll be looking at female characters in different films from a variety of genres and time periods and in future articles the women who worked behind the scenes to bring these stories to life.

If you’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark you are probably aware that there aren’t many women in it. Like, at all. There’s basically Marion, the young woman who wrote “Love You” on her eyelids (a legend, if you ask me), and Sallah’s wife. The writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lawrence Kasdan, or arguably the director, Steven Spielberg, could have imagined more of the characters as women (I’m thinking Belloq, Toht, the pilot who owns Reggie the snake). But, for whatever reason, they didn’t. I doubt this is because either man didn’t WANT more women in the film. I bet it’s because neither one of them felt that the other characters NEEDED to be women. So they went with the default of a male character. Pretty much all of the female representation in the film then falls to Marion – and she’s truly a complicated and delightful woman. But before we dive into Marion, I like to take a look at films chronologically so let’s start at the beginning of the film.

In the epic introductory sequence, Dr. Jones finds a treasure, only to lose it to that rascal of a rival archaeologist, Belloq. When Indy returns to the United States we see women on-screen for the first time.

In case this shot of the dreamy-eyed students didn’t get the message across that some of these ladies may not be in this class to learn about archaeology, we meet the aforementioned legend who has some serious “LOVE YOU” eyeliner skills.

While it’s easy to argue that it’s a bit insulting to insinuate that the only reason women would be taking Indy’s class is that he’s handsome, I can’t argue with the fact that Harrison Ford is damn attractive in this film. I also enjoy seeing his character get so flustered in this scene by this attention. So, overall I give this scene an A+. The women in this scene are having a great time and I am not going to judge them for that.

When we first meet Marion she’s in a drinking competition in a bar in Nepal. She wins when the very large man challenging her passes out. I have always enjoyed that Marion is surrounded by very supportive women while her male opponent is surrounded only by men in this scene.

It’s an interesting way to introduce the leading lady of the film and Marion is a powerful force any time she is on the screen in Raiders. She’s not a waitress, she runs the place. She doesn’t have a glass of wine after dinner to relax, she will drink your ass under the table. She doesn’t appear to need a man (or really, anyone) but we soon discover that her relationships with the men in her life, including Indy, have left some scars.

Marion refers to herself as having been a child when she fell in love with Indy and tells him he knew the relationship was wrong. She also refers to her now-deceased father as having drug her around the world and references now being stuck where she is. I find all of this intriguing because the creators of Raiders very intentionally didn’t give us a pretty princess in a sparkly dress trapped in a castle by a bad man for Indy to “save”, but they did give us a woman trapped in her circumstances because of her past interactions with the men in her life.

When Indy does come back into her life, rather than falling into his arms in a “my hero has returned to rescue me!” fashion Marion tells Indy to come back tomorrow for the headpiece to the staff of Ra he is after. She’s in no hurry to help him and is smart enough to know she can probably use his desperation for a piece she has in her possession to her advantage. After getting cornered by a barbaric Nazi named Toht and his men, Marion handles herself as well as anyone could be expected to. When Indy comes to her aid Marion doesn’t fall into his arm and kiss him in thanks, she declares herself Indy’s partner so she can recover the money she just lost in her now destroyed bar. I love that Marion isn’t dragged along on this new adventure – she chooses to go – and that she essentially doesn’t give Indy a chance to ignore the new damage he has done to her livelihood.

Now in Cairo, we get a quick glimpse of Fayah, Sallah’s wife. She isn’t named in the film but we see her welcoming Indy and Marion to her home with her nine (9!!) children.

In the next sequence, Marion is abducted, but not before she puts up a good fight (although she does yell “Indy!!! Indyyyyyyy!!!!” a few too many times for my taste). There are two interesting things of note in this sequence to me. #1 When Marion gets to pick her own clothes they make sense for her location – a white cotton dress and a loose-fitting pants and top outfit. #2 There are zero women in the streets or cafes in this village but hundreds of men. This happens a lot in films and I always think it’s odd.

To be fair, we do get a shot of some of Sallah’s daughters at the end of this sequence. (And that monkey is probably a girl now that I think about it in addition to being a Nazi.)

The next sequence takes place in the various Cairo dig sites. It’s not surprising that these scenes are men-only until we catch up with Marion again. Indy finds Marion tied up but since he doesn’t want to tip off anyone that he’s there he decides to leave her there. The man who has tied up Marion is no stranger to Indy – it’s his rival Belloq. Belloq is clearly quite smitten with Marion and somehow comes up with a dress and shoes that are just her size. Marion toys with Belloq in this scene with some wonderful “I’ll put on your silly white gown while hiding a knife under this napkin” energy.

This white dress has always fascinated me. I love the dress even though it is completely ridiculous in so many ways. It works in the film to show how Belloq sees Marion as an object he possesses and controls – yet another treasure he has stolen from his rival Indiana Jones now on display. It’s over the top in the best possible way with multiple layers of fabric, a very low back with a giant bow, and open-toed shoes that are only good for a shot of a snake slithering through them later on in the film.

Speaking of snakes, one of my favorite moments in the film is when Indy is holding Marion in the snake pit trying to not trip on her dress and she screams up to Belloq about what a bastard he is. She’s now dressed like a princess (complete with a sparkly gown). She’s trapped in a tomb. She’s in the arms of the hero of the story. But she’s not holding her tongue about her disgust for her captors.

Marion and Indy of course escape the snake pit with Marion in a now-shortened, but still ridiculous dress. It’s a great sequence where Indy and Marion work together to evade the Nazis, for at least the time being.

Later, on Katanga’s ship, Marion and Indy share their most tender moments together. Marion is also now, somehow, in a fancy white nightgown thanks to Katanga. You have to give it to the men of Raiders of the Lost Ark – they always have a gown of some kind just hanging around! Katanga tries to keep Marion away from the Nazis by insinuating that he will sell her at their next destination but Belloq and the Nazis insist that she belongs to them. Marion is back to being considered a prize for the victor.

When Indy catches up to Belloq, the Nazis, and Marion he initially says all he “wants is the girl”, but Indy doesn’t have the heart to destroy the real prize, the ark, to gain their freedom. His love of history and treasures is too great and Indy and Marion end up tied up together during the ark opening ceremony. After shielding their eyes to the ark’s contents Indy and Marion are also the only ones who survive this sequence.

Finally, back in the US, Marion chooses to end her story arm in arm with Indy – I would argue as equals. She’s not with Indy because she has to be, she’s there because she wants to be – and she’s back in clothes that are not ridiculous!

Marion and Indy’s relationship in the film is volatile but one of the reasons I always liked her was because I always felt like Marion did things in her own self-interest. She was never trying to please others. Marion wasn’t going to let anyone push her around or tell her what she could or couldn’t do. She wasn’t a trained fighter but she was going to use whatever weapon she could find – whether it be a frying pan or a man’s affection for her – to keep herself safe. She was funny and silly and affectionate, but she’d punch your lights out if you crossed her. She wasn’t perfect. Neither was Indy. But she was the perfect match for him in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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