Ahoy, squirts! Quint here to introduce Papa Vineyard's contribution to the Fortune and Glory series, celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Mr. Vinyard touches on one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie in the below piece: the exchanges of hats between Short Round and Indy. It's a powerful moment of apology and forgiveness done with very little dialogue, but more impactful for it.
So here's Papa Vinyard with his two cents on this aspect of Temple of Doom:
In the 11 years in between AMERICAN GRAFFITI and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, Harrison Ford had gone from being best known as a jerky George Lucas hot rodder to wowing fans worldwide as both of the two most famous heroes in the Lucasfilm library. Sure, Han Solo wasn't the lead character of the STAR WARS flicks, and Indiana Jones didn't even get his name in the title of his first outing (nor did Ford receive above-the-title billing), but kids around the world were already awestruck at this new cinematic icon being formed in front of their very eyes. His improvised moments like "I know," "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage," and, of course, drawing his revolver instead of fistfighting that swordsman played a huge part in making him a massive cultural icon over the course of only a few years.
When it came time for Lucas, Ford, and Steven Spielberg to follow-up their massively successful RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, they decided to go darker. Whether it was because of personal matters (both Lucas and Spielberg had gone through a divorce and break-up, respectively) or merely a desire to replicate the "dark sequel" formula of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, there's no doubt that DOOM's caverns, fanatical villains (originally written as being even more zombie-like), and, obviously, the Kali Ma heart removal made the desert archeology and even the face-melting spirits of RAIDERS look positively kid-friendly in comparison. It's common knowledge that this direction was a huge factor in causing the MPAA to instate the "PG-13" rating, and has made Spielberg and Lucas disavow the film in subsequent years.
And sure, all that stuff shook me up when I was a young warthog watching this trilogy on VHS (completely out of order, by the way), but you know what really chills me when I see this flick today?
EVIL INDIANA JONES.
Of course, it's more nuanced than all that. After Indy, Short Round, and Willie Scott get captured by the Thuggee, Mola Ram shackles up our hero and forces him to drink the Blood of Kali, putting him in "the Black Sleep of the Kali Ma." As the young boy locked up with Indy and Short Round explains, "We'll be alive…but like a nightmare. You drink blood, you not wake up from nightmare."
But that's not what he means. What he means is that when our hero, Indiana Jones, drinks that blood, he ain't gonna be our hero no more.
He's gotta find a way out of it right? He'll pretend to be evil, but the inner goodness of his character will persevere, and a reassuring wink from Indy will prove that his Boy Scout purity overwhelms the sinister black magic of the Kali Blood.
Nope. Indy wretches and sweats like a recovering junkie while the evil goop takes over his body and mind, and when Ford finally moves his face toward the camera in that candle-lit room, we see it. Indy has both figuratively and literally drank the Kool-Aid, and that eerie smile that creeps across his face (in the presence of no one, mind you, lest you think this is a ruse) lets us in on the fact that our hero, maybe the most recognizable screen icon amongst the children of that era, has crossed over to the Dark Side.
They don't really pull this kind of stuff too often in family-friendly entertainment (if you could even describe TEMPLE OF DOOM as such), and it's understandable. That archetypal "good vs. evil" dynamic is a huge part of what sells these movies to hordes of kids around the world, even if they are too young to fully appreciate the nuances of the Galactic Empirical rule or the simple adage of "It belongs in a museum." Kids tend to like their heroes cool and awesome, and their villains hissing and sinister, which is one reason the revisionism of books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns did so much to reinvent the way comics were viewed in the late-'80s.
Still, there's Indy, shirtless and bathed in shadow, undoubtedly a slave to Mola Ram and the Kali Ma, chanting "Mola Ram Suda Ram" like a madman and ready to plunge poor Willie Scott to a fiery doom. We haven't seen anyone wake up from the Black Sleep at this point, and as far as we know, it's impossible. Willie's pleading certainly isn't doing the trick.
Then he slaps a kid. Han Solo never slapped a kid. Short Round wants nothing more than to save his buddy, and has given up his chance to escape without him, but all he gets in return is a solid slap to the face. Many have decried Short Round for being a blatant effort to give kids an "in" to the story, and to make them feel like they could be the one strapping a block to their shoe and driving Indiana Jones around. And that kid you're supposed to relate to when you're a child gets slapped by the hero that he (and everyone watching the movie) is in deep worship of.
From my perspective, this is as hopeless as things ever get in the Indiana Jones series. Indy has faced Nazis, the occult, ancient demonic spirits, the KGB, and freaking aliens, but we knew he'd figure out a way to deal with all that. He's Indy, after all.
But the loss of his own resolve is the greatest challenge we've ever seen him face, and is the biggest obstacle put in his path in any of the four films thus far. To hell with the parameters of the hero's journey, and the idea of a second act escalation or "test"; what happens to the forward momentum of the narrative when the hero is not your hero anymore?
Quint made a very good case for the idea that the Indiana Jones of DOOM is not the Indy we first saw in RAIDERS. He's not Mr. It Belongs in a Museum just yet: he's in it to win it, so to speak, and is hunting after that FORTUNE AND GLORY we've used as the title of this series as much as anything else. Maybe this helps nudge him past the point of no return into "subservient villain" territory, or maybe the Blood of Kali really is pure Evil Juice straight from the Goddess of Death.
Either way, for once, we are not scared for Indy's life, or that of those around him: we're scared for his fucking soul. Indy's gone off the deep end, and worse than that, he keeps SMILING. He likes it. Almost as if this is the way he was always meant to be. And that's way scarier than a dude ripping hearts out or a rickety rope bridge.
So with Willie descending into the lava and Indy rocking a psycho glare in his eyes, Short Round's screwed. He can't depend on Jones rope-swinging in and saving the day the same way we can't, and he certainly can't fight his way out of there alone even if he wanted to. In that moment, he's got only one move he can make to get the three of them out of there alive. He's gotta snap Indy the fuck out of it. He makes the desperate move to the torch, and with an, "Indy, I love you!" pulls a Black Widow and gives his buddy a good old cognitive recalibration.
Then we get our wink.
He's back. Short Round has pulled his boy out from the fire, and given us our hero back. The existential terror that was there for about 8 minutes of screentime has graciously receded. Now, it's just a matter of rescuing Willie and getting the hell out of there, hopefully with the Sankara Stones and the enslaved children in tow. We know he can do that. He's goddamn Indiana Jones.
Sure, Indiana Jones recovers the Ark, keeps the Holy Grail out of the hands of the S.S., and reunites with his estranged father, but finding his way back to the light feels like a bigger win than any of the external, physical obstacles he's had to tackle in any of the four cinematic entries. Losing him, then getting him back is this wonderfully emotional segment that dips into darker territory than had been previously explored, but then gives us the divine relief of getting our hero back, swinging his staff and saving the day like always.
But that's not my favorite part. No, the thing that gets the tears going, the beat that brings me right back to being that wide-eyed boy dreaming about donning a fedora and being a badass, is when it's time to hit the dusty trail, and Short Round brings Indy his getup.
Indy walks over to Short Round. He puts hit tattered-up NY Giants hat back on his head. Short Round hands Indiana his fedora. They hug. John Williams' rousing theme slows down to highlight this emotional moment between these two amidst the action.
We all know the power of the fedora. It's a huge, crucial part of the Indy mythos, and the running joke of Jones continually going out of his way to grab the hat in the most dire of circumstances relays just how important it is to both him and the audience. But in that exchange, Indy is bringing Short Round up to his level. He was out of commission, and had no hope for recovery, leaving the fate of Willie and Indy himself squarely in the hands of Short Round. And he steps up magnificently.
This is Han saying, "May the Force be with you," to Luke. This is our rogue hero acknowledging that this kid is just as heroic, badass, and unrelentingly GOOD as he could ever be. If the film has succeeded in getting us to empathize and relate to Short Round, this is basically Indy telling us that we did a good job of keeping our faith in his heroism. This is everything many of us ever hoped for as kids, to be validated by the fictional gods we worshipped so devoutly. And Jonathan Ke Quan NAILS the moment. We see the importance of this beat plastered across his face and permeating his voice.
"Indy, my friend."
Even though popular entertainment has gotten a lot darker in the past 30 years, and movies like THE DARK KNIGHT, the BOURNE series, and even CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER have pushed the limits on what you can show in a PG-13 movie, not a lot of movies take their own hero out of the driver's seat the way Spielberg, Lucas, Willard Huyck, and Gloria Katz do here and and get away with it. Watching Indy smile at his chemically-induced realization that, as Donald Sutherland paraphrased John Milton in ANIMAL HOUSE, being bad is more fun than being good, leaves you with an empty feeling, one that makes you fully aware of your emotional attachment to Indy's do-gooder sense of heroism and righteousness. When he comes back, it's like the sunrise, and like Quint mentioned in his write-up about Indy's arc, when he lays down that, "Yeah, all of us," we're more onboard with Indy kicking ass and mine-carting his way the fuck out of that cave than ever before.
Of course, Spielberg pulled the reins on the darkness in the last two features, and never came nearly as close to humanizing Indy or hinting as the darkness within him as the creative team did in DOOM. Seeing our hero absolutely lose his way, and then watching him come back to the light to get his sidekick/partner and the helpless dame on his arm to safety is something that is unique to TEMPLE OF DOOM, and is what I immediately point to when people refer to it as the first "bad INDIANA JONES movie."