George Lucas, the “brains” (I do not like give him credit for much) behind the Indiana Jones series, once explained the (for lack of a better word) oddness of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). He blamed it on the fact that he was going through a divorce at the time that Star Wars: Episode IV – Return of the Jedi (1983) was wrapping up and he began moving into writing the second installment of Indiana Jones. I get it, on a personal level, why divorce is difficult, but dang, dude! From the mild racist portrayal of the Indian (the ones from Asia) characters, to men literally having their hearts ripped out of their chest, you could tell that perhaps Lucas was not in the best head space in the early to middle 1980s. It just goes to show you that all the millions upon millions that he made from Star Wars could not necessarily buy you happiness.
We meet up with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom bedecked in a white tuxedo and in a swanky Shanghai club called the Obi Wan Club (we get it, George, you also made Star Wars). He is there to hand off the cremated remains of Nurhachi, the first emperor of China of the Manchu Dynasty, in exchange for a diamond. The gangsters with which he is dealing, led by Lao Che (Roy Chiao), attempt instead to poison Jones and keep the jewel for themselves. Having failed to use the singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) as a bargaining chip, he manages to escape with her with the help of his young companion, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan). Unfortunately, part of their flight involves boarding a plane owned by Lao Che, the pilots of which abandon their cargo somewhere over the Indian Himalayans. When Jones and company finally land, they come to a rest in a remote village that had recently had its Shankara Stone, a rock of mystical properties, and their village is suffering. Their crops failed, their children were kidnapped, and they suspect an evil religious sect at Pankot Palace nearby is responsible. Jones agrees to help the villagers and travels to Pankot Palace, partially drawn there by the hopes of fortune and glory to be found in the Shankara Stones. When he arrives there he discovers that not only is that sect real, but that the Maharajah (Raj Singh) is in league with them. Why is this Thuggee cult so bad? Its religious leader, Mola Ram (Amrish Puri), is sacrificing humans (this is where the ripping out of hearts comes in) to the goddess Kali, and enslaving the children to help search for the other stones will aid in some vague world conquest plot. Though Jones is temporarily turned to the dark side (sorry, could not resist a Star Wars pun here), he eventually punches his way out and is able to return the stone and the children to the villagers.
While Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is not as despised as the last installment (again, I will get to that one!), the one character that most people seem to react most negatively to is Willie. It seems clear that she is there for the comedic relief, and most of the time Jones acts annoyed with her, until he seemingly discovers she is a woman. Again, I think this can best be explained by the problems Lucas was experiencing at that time in his personal life. There is literally a line in the film where Willie, frustrated by Jones’ apparent (to her) reluctance to come spend the night with her at the palace, shouted at him through closed doors, “This is the night I slipped through your fingers!” At that same moment, Jones is reaching out an arm in her direction while being choked from behind by a Thuggee henchman, fingers splayed. Why they could not get Karen Allen to reprise her role of Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), I do not know. It should be noted that there is no reason why a woman could not also go on any of these adventures. However, Willie complains most of the time, whereas Marion seemed game for a brawl or two.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom deals with the Hindu religion, a polytheistic faith. While Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) dealt with Judeo-Christian faith, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) with aliens, the second in the series takes the main religion of the sub-continent at face value. It does this with faith. When looking at Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, it is difficult to see it from a Catholic perspective. I could talk about the way Jones is able to effect the return of the children to their parents, but it is kind of marred when you consider it is a white savior of brown people. Still, racism aside, in the end seeing the village once more be prosperous and the kids back with their families was all Jones needed. That was his true fortune and glory, and as the Bible says, “where your heart is, there also will your treasure lie.”
While Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a necessary cog in the Indiana Jones machine, there are some unfortunate parts to it as previously discussed. It is rated PG in the way that the 1980s understood sex and violence in movies and its impact on young people, which is to say very little. It is not a total train wreck by any stretch of the imagination, but it is not the greatest either.