Raiders of the Lost Ark and Deus Ex Machina

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is one of my all-time favorite movies. Always has been, from before the time I had an inkling of what story structure and good writing were. And yet, when I think back on the movie, I wonder why it worked so well.

One of the basic lessons that any writer learns is that “Deus Ex Machina” endings are bad. They are unsatisfying because the characters are supposed to drive the story and the victory, not some hand of God. When this happens, rather than feeling a sense of wonder at the magical things happening, the reader usually feels annoyed that he/she had to see all the irrelevant stuff that came before.

And yet, what was that ending in Raiders if not, quite literally, the hand of God? Does this mean the ending is not Deus Ex Machina, or does it mean that all rules have exceptions and Deus Ex Machina is okay in some situations? I think I need to re-watch the movie. It’s been too long.

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