Indiana Jones and the Powerful Protagonist

By Susan Kouguell · August 6, 2014


Indy relaxes and lies across the seat, a big smile on his face. One hand drops to the floor of the cabin and Indy jumps, hitting his head. On the floor of the cabin is a

huge boa constrictor. Indy tries to get his whole body onto the seat. Jock sees what’s happening.


Don’t mind him. That’s Reggie. Wouldn’t hurt a soul.


I can’t stand snakes.


The world’s full of them, you know.


I hate them.


Come on now, Sport. Show a little of the old backbone.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (directed by Stephen Spielberg, screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan) was shot by Oscar-winning cameraman Garrett Brown, (inventor of the Steadicam), and who is receiving the Vision Award at the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival.

Seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark again — most recently at the pre-festival outdoor screening at the 8,000-seat Piazza Grande at the Locarno International Film Festival, I was reminded about the strength of this iconic protagonist who has launched sequel after sequel. Indy has weaknesses and vulnerabilities – all of which make him an identifiable protagonist for the audience.

In the chapter entitled ‘Your Unforgettable Characters Come Alive’ in my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I write:

Characters must be complex, fully defined, multifaceted, and distinct. Readers must understand who your characters are, their motivations, behaviors, needs and goals, and feel empathy for them.

One of the character points I explore is vulnerability:

Characters who exhibit vulnerability make them more empathetic and relatable. Their Achilles’ heel can be in the form of fear, insecurity, anxiety, and so on. One classic example of a character’s vulnerability is Indiana Jones’s fear of snakes in the Indiana Jones films

Who is Indiana Jones and why did he meet such success? An example of a distinct and well-drawn protagonist, Indy is smart; he is a Ph.D. professor in archaeology, rugged, adventurous, handsome and handsomely paid for robbing buried treasures. He carries a bullwhip and a pistol. He is the leather jacket-clad man with the Fedora recognizable in shadow.

We see him teaching in the classroom. The female students noticeably swoon; one even has “love you” written on her eyelids. But it’s Marion — the tough, will-drink-anyone-under-the-table love interest who has his number and his heart. He knows it. She knows it.  He saves her life. She saves his — because he’s not infallible and that’s what makes him a compelling and charming protagonist, who continues to live on in film history.

WHAT HE SEES. That thick dark carpet is moving. It’s alive. It’s thousands and thousands of deadly poisonous snakes — Egyptian asps. And the only thing that seems

capable of avoiding this venomous groundcover is the altar. The snakes ebb and flow near it, but never encroach on it, as though repelled by some invisible force.

Indy shakes his head and talks to himself.


Why snakes? Why did it have to be snakes? Anything else.

After a moment of this, he stops. He gathers his energy and resolve and gets back to the task.


Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and industry executives worldwide. ( Her short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial. Kouguell worked with Louis Malle on And the Pursuit of Happiness, was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. Susan wrote THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, available at $1.00 off on and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD.  On Kindle: (discount code does not apply). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell on Twitter, and read more articles on her blog:

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