Part of the joy of being a dad is reliving moments of your childhood with your kids. This afternoon, I took my son Jeremy to see Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen. I saw it, like most people, when it was first released in 1981, and I can still remember how amazed I was as Steven Spielberg’s homage to movie serials and James Bond unfolded.
Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones was indelible from the moment he stepped from the shadows and brandished his whip for the first time. Seeing it today, I realized how much of this movie uses shadow to tell its story.
Things happen off-screen, shown to us only in shadow, and I was impressed all over again by how Spielberg tells his story with such artfulness. That moment when Marian Ravenwood (Karen Allen) turns around and sees him in her bar in Nepal—we don’t see him, we see her, and he’s depicted by a huge shadow on the wall behind her. Even so early in the film, we know his face by then, and we get to know more of both of them by watching only her expressions. It’s a wonderful, rich moment, and there are countless others throughout the film.
Another great moment is when the crowd parts to reveal the Egyptian with the massive sword. He spins it this way and that—and Indy, having already had a stresssful day, just shoots the guy.
I also love the moment when Indy confers with Sallah and Marian about how he’ll catch the truck carrying the ark, and he says, “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” This isn’t just Indy talking; it’s the screenwriter, too. The line sets the tone for these films and so many others like them: the hero is a pinball, bouncing from moment to moment, unsure what the situation will throw his way.
I’d forgotten just how layered the film was—but even better was sitting beside Jeremy in the dark theater. This wasn’t the first time he saw Raiders, but all the other times have been on TV or DVD. So in a way, this was the first time—the first time we saw it together, as it was meant to be seen, larger than life.
A couple of years ago, we watched it on DVD with my other son, Ian. Ian said he thought it would suck because the special effects would be so terrible. I told him to wait and see. When it was over I asked Ian if the special effects had sucked as much he thought they would. He said, “What special effects?” How could I not smile? I explained that was the whole point. He’d been so caught up in the story that he forgot to look for them, and they were done so well that they hadn’t called attention to themselves.
Anyway, these moments mean so much to me as my sons grow up—and in a way, as I grow up too. Every time we sit in the dark together, at home or in a theater, watching movies that are my cultural touchstones, I get to see them for the first time because I see them through my kids’ eyes. And even better, I know these same movies will become their touchstones as much they’re mine.