Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

"Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" is a nostalgic film for many of my friends. It's a movie from our childhood. Watching it as objectively as possible and reading reviews from younger viewers of the film, however, it's also clear that this film has the potential to be perceived as culturally insensitive by contemporary audiences.

The Criticism:
In the movie, our hero and his companions wind up facing worshipers of a goddess called Kali (kind of like in "Help!"). As they attempt to escape, members of the Thuggee cult attempt to takeover the mind of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) - and steal his heart - literally. Some viewers find the portrayal of this historical group offensive, as there were apparently actually religious zealots worshiping Kali and killing up to a million in her name. Furthermore, India briefly banned the movie on grounds of cultural insensitivity.

Critics also dislike Willie (Kate Capshaw), Indy's love interest in this film. Used to finer things, Willie's not the world's best companion when it comes to adventuring with elephants and creepy crawlies. (She also screams a lot.)

Lastly, some viewers are offended by Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), Indy's underage Asian sidekick. This kid drives cars and it's clear Indiana's a mentor to him, but critics call out the immoral treatment of the child because in real life, Indiana would be putting him in danger.

My Defense:
I'm not really going to firmly defend cultural insensitivity. (Seriously, I'm a Democrat, people.) After all, I doubt Western audiences would appreciate a movie of this type about Nazis who chase our hero around and try to kill him and - oh wait, we're talking about Indiana Jones here.

In all seriousness, I see how the movie is offensive to Eastern cultures on account of the portrayal of Short Round and the Thuggee cult (and the cult's actual victims). Making a movie with the aim of achieving a certain aesthetic - whether it's early adventure hero or pulp action - involves a bit of risk. Spielberg wished to capture the cheesy but heartwarming nature of the genre he pretty much reinvented without going over the line with cheesiness. He succeeded, but in its legacy, the movie is a bit offensive.

While Willie is hardly my favorite of Indiana's love interests, it's ironic that modern movie audiences tend to dislike her. After all, she represents everything wrong with the decade in which the movie was made: the excess, the American superiority, and the quest for eternal entitlement.

Willie also has a hell of a scream. She happened to be Spielberg's wife at the time (I'm not going to posit theories about the man's bedroom activities here), but the director often casts women who have the Fay Wray scream. He mentioned this when discussing his casting of Arianna Richards as Lex in "The Making of Jurassic Park," a book cataloging the creation of the epic dino movie about a decade after "Temple." My feminist sensibilities say this: if you're going to cast a damsel in distress, at least make her effective at freaking out and screaming; otherwise it's less entertaining. And at least Willie is strong-willed with Indiana, because let's face it, some all of his ideas are pretty damn crazy.

What do you think about this movie? Leave your comments below!

Additionally, you  might enjoy:
callmeindiana: An Indiana Jones Role Playing Blog Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


  1. I LOVE Indiana Jones! New follower here. I'm stopping by from the "A to Z" challenge and I look forward to visiting again.


  2. I saw Temple of Doom in a somewhat rundown theater with my two cousins in Brattleboro, Vermont. To this day I maintain I saw a rat or two IN THE THEATER which only added to the creepiness and unsettling nature of this film!

  3. Just stopping by from the A-Z Challenge list to say "Hi" :)

    I LOVE that film!

    Good luck with the rest of the challenge.


  4. Sometimes a movie is just a movie. I loved it. I don't know, I still laugh at offensive things in my own society if it's done right and it's funny.... WelL.....then how can one not laugh.

    History Sleuth's Writings A to Z