I’ve been listening to some tapes on story craft, and something in one of them recently struck me. In a nutshell, the instructor was talking about the first act, and how in the set-up, we see the hero in their ordinary life–the status quo. Then, per the Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell, Vogler, and basic story structure, the hero receives a Call to Action, which he will accept, either eagerly or reluctantly.
In talking about Raiders of the Lost Ark, the instructor pointed out the opening sequence. There’s Indy in the jungle, searching for an idol. We see him do his uber-cool thing, and we’re all watching with awe at how cool this guy is. And then we meet the antagonist, who takes the idol away.
We all know the story, right? (And if you don’t, Go.Watch.It. Now. Seriously, it’s awesome, and it’s wonderful from a craft standpoint. I don’t think I’ve ever given a workshop on craft without referring at some point for some reason to Raiders.)
Anyhoo, the instructor mentions Belloq, questioning whether the taking of that idol was the Call to Action. He presents it as an open question, ultimately saying it probably wasn’t — that happens later at the school when the Army dudes send Indy on his quest for the headpiece to the staff of Ra.
I think there’s no doubt about it at all. Belloq’s taking of the idol is absolutely not the call to action. Instead, the sequence in the jungle (the prequel, if you will) combined with the bit at the university before we see Indy take the job and toss his gun into the suitcase, is all designed to show us Indy’s status quo.
Indy’s status quo, after all, is an archeologist/professor who is also an adventurer. We could have started with him at the university … except we couldn’t. Who’s going to believe that hunka-professor who fumbles with his papers can do all the cool stuff he does in Nepal? No one, right? So we need to show the audience that Indy’s status quo is two-sided. Adventure dude and professor dude. And Adventure dude has to come first in order to properly introduce the character. Not only that, but Belloq says it himself later–he’s always taking what Indy acquires. So the taking of the idol isn’t a call to action, it’s a representation of that component of the status quo.
Can you tell I love this movie? I think I just may have to watch it again.