After a recent watching of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I wondered, what would have happened if Indiana Jones did not set out to find the Lost Ark of the Covenant? Is his involvement truly meaningless in how the story unfolds? How would the events of the movie been different? First I had to answer the question of why wouldn’t Indiana pursue the Ark. After all, as his boss and friend, Dr. Marcus Brody, pointed out, finding the Ark is why they went into archaeology in the first place. The only logical conclusion to me is Indiana Jones died during the opening encounter with Belloq, and with that, stands removed from this new time line. Now that’s taken care of, let’s get into it.
The first consequence of Indiana’s absence is Marion Ravenwood being brutally tortured and likely murdered by Toht after surrendering the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra. I always felt this was reason enough to have Indie in the movie, and was glad to see it mentioned on various discussion threads. However, there is a counter argument that the only reason the Nazi found Marion was because they trailed Indiana. I had not considered this possibility, but it does add new significance to Toht being on Indie’s flight. Of course, the only way the Nazis could know about Indiana’s involvement was because they trailed the government agents who contacted him at the fictitious Marshall College in Connecticut in the first place, so “nice going, Feds.”
I am going to go positive and decide Marion survives in this time line too. This suggests the Germans do not obtain the Headpiece, but I do not see this as a problem for them. Regardless of the build up to the dramatic reveal in the Map Room, including the old man, the revelation on the back of the Headpiece, and bad dates, the Germans would have found the Well of Souls even without the Headpiece. Belloq complained to Dietrich about the Germans crude digging methods, such using a bulldozer to uncover a China cup. Considering the Well was located in the middle of the dig site, instead of hidden somewhere outside Tanis, it was just a matter of time before the excavation reached it.
I can imagine the new sequence of events. A group of laborers are clearing the soil from the next grid on the map, a small hill, when the slope, actually the chamber wall, collapses, spilling hundreds of snakes onto them. German troops with flamethrowers move in to eradicate the snakes, and soon after, Belloq climbs through the opening with Dietrich, and discovers the Ark. The once Lost Ark is carried out, crated, and loaded onto the cool looking flying wing. Mission accomplished.
Now, as much as I like the movie’s flying wing, I have issues with its design and corresponding function. Germany flew the first flying wing in 1944, and it was jet not prop-powered. This plane could be explained as an early prototype, because other possibilities do not easily align with its mission in the movie. A fighter or high altitude interceptor would not have cargo space, and the German light bombers and reconnaissance aircraft of the time were still considerably larger. Regardless of what it was meant to be, other than cool looking, in examining Indiana’s fight sequence around the plane, I’m hard pressed to find the bay doors or determine if such a bay would actually be large enough to hold the crate. I guess I have to take this one on faith that the crate fits and the plane flies off to Germany with its prize.
This brings me to Belloq’s fate. Rene was hired to find the Ark, and he succeeded. So what happens now? Does he return to Germany with Colonel Dietrich for awards and commendations? I highly doubt the Nazis would put a French archaeologist in charge of the Ark’s German research team, especially after the events of March. Does Rene get paid for his services and sent on his way? This would be risky. His involvement with the Ark makes him a loose thread. Who is to say he would not attempt to sell what he knows to the French or British? No, I think his fate is a medal pinned to the chest, a photograph with Der Fuhrer, followed by a bullet in the head, and an unmarked grave. It would seem in either time line, Belloq’s sins catch up to him in the end.
Now, back to my comment about March. The opening of Raider of the Lost Ark informed us the events take place in 1936. Based on the abundance of green leaves and lack of heavy coats on Marshall College’s campus during Indiana’s lecture, I’ll place it in late April to May. Although several years prior to the outbreak of World War II, March 1936 marked a significant step in this direction when Hitler sent 30,000 troops to retake the Rhineland. This industrialized region of Germany, located between France and the Fatherland, provided munitions manufacturing during the First World War, supported by its strong coal and steel production. Germany lost control of the region under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, signed at the end of WWI. As a demilitarized zone under allied control, Germany would find it difficult to launch a new offensive from the Rhineland against France, while providing France a safe route into the heart of Germany if hostilities broke out again. Retaking the Rhineland was a major point of pride in Germany and a gamble Hitler won. If France had counterattacked, the German forces would have been easily defeated, but Hitler believed the allies were too war weary to risk a new conflict and would do nothing. He was correct.
Jump ahead a few months to a flying wing touching down on Leighton Barracks air field, outside Wurzburg. The Luftwaffe base was established in 1936 in southern Germany and seems a reasonable location. A mysterious crate is transferred from the plane to an armored transport and immediately taken to a secure, secret military installation. Hitler would still be riding the high from the Rhineland expedition and want to be on hand for the opening of the crate. Just as in the original time line, the event would be filmed for heavy propaganda use. The crate would be opened, revealing the gleaming gold artifact. Hitler and members of his inner circle would examine the intricate artwork and pose by the Ark for photographs and newsreel footage. Considering the importance of this event, Hitler would invite his closest staff to be with him; Martin Bormann, his Personal Private Secretary and Head of the Nazi Party Chancellery; Joseph Goebbels, Reichsminister for the Propaganda for Nazi Germany; Hermman Goring, Commander In Chief of the Luftwaffe and Founder of the Gestapo; and Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer of the SS, Military Commander of the Waffen SS, Commander of the Gestapo, Minister of the Home Army, and supreme leader of the administration of the Third Reich.
None of these men would sanction a Jewish ceremony like Belloq convinced Dietrich to allow on the island. I think Hitler would stand there with the others, in center frame of the rolling cameras, similar to Belloq, Dietrich, and Toht, as two sharply dressed Waffen SS officers lifted the lid off the Ark, revealing a pile of dust. Expecting to see the Ten Commandment tablets, Hitler has a few moments to explode into a furious rant, before the cameras explode, spirits appear, and their faces melt.
It is what comes afterward that is interesting to ponder. I think the Ark would be deemed too dangerous to handle and, again, hidden somewhere forgotten. As for the new future of Germany, the deaths of Hitler and the Third Reich leadership could not be hidden for long. Whomever succeeds as Chancellor may try to galvanize the population by declaring it an assassination by the allies in retaliation for the Rhineland, but it would not have the same impact as Hitler’s impassioned speeches. News of Hitler’s death may also embolden France to retake the Rhineland after all, and even march into Berlin to arrest the remaining Nazi leadership for Treaty violations. This would leave Germany under the heel of the Treaty of Versailles, and stoke more resentment in the ensuing years. Perhaps a weakened, crippled Germany would be seen as an opportunity to Stalin to push west through Poland in several years, say around 1939.
World War II, as we know it, may have unfolded differently if Indiana Jones never set out after the Ark, but his absence certainly would not have guaranteed peace in our time.
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