That Moment in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984): Raiding the Alter Ego
The second installment in the Indiana Jones franchise sees the intrepid archeologist recovering an ancient stone from a diabolical cult worshiping in the catacombs of an old temple. It’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
After the success of Raider of the Lost Ark, the series got its second outing, one that gave our hero archeologist a new companion and love interest. Opening in Shanghai at a jazz night club, which was right away something different from expectations, Indy is forced to escape the party with a lounge singer, a woman named Wilhemina “Willie” Scott (Kate Capshaw) who does a fair share of screaming. Soon after, they join up with 11-year-old Short-Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), Indy’s newest sidekick. After some more escaping involving a fuel-less airplane and an inflatable raft, they eventually arrive in Northern India at a small desolate village where they learn the children have been taken and their people cursed because the sacred Sivalinga stone once enshrined there has been stolen. Believing Jones and her friends are beings sent by their Hindu god Shiva, they beg them to retrieve the relic and bring back their children from the nearby Pankot Palace where the evil Thuggee cult is forcing the youngsters to work in the mines.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Temple of Doom is another rousing adventure that doesn’t so much try to remake the first but equal it, and aside from its uncomfortable racism and cultural disparages along with the tired and overwrought white-man-saves-‘underdeveloped’-tribe theme we are (rightfully) more sensitive to now, the film is a marvel of technical filmmaking, pacing, and non-stop action that, in its time, was unlike anything audiences had seen done with such believability and let’s face, pure joy. It builds upon the tropes established in the serial adventure films of decades pasts, such as cliffhangers and elaborate exotic sets and creates a visually and narratively exciting movie experience. It’s been criticized for its scenes of mild horror, which were shocking for the largely uninitiated at the time, but has tempered since. Yet for straight-up escapist fun, reimagined with Raiders, Temple of Doom is hard to beat.
There are a lot of amazing moments in the movie, and revisiting it again to discuss some of them will be necessary. The stunts and action sequences are mind-boggling, let alone Spielberg’s highly influential direction, but for now let’s talk about Indiana Jones himself. As noted in the first post in this series, Jones is an everyman hero who is highly-skilled with spontaneous decision-making, allowing him to excel with making things up as he goes. It’s a defining characteristic. Let’s further explore Jones’ personality and how one important moment in Temple of Doom reveals a few more details into this celebrated character.
Raiding the Alter Ego
After Jones, Willie, and Short Round arrive at Pankot Palace, they are treated to a lavish dinner sponsored by the young Maharajah, Zalim Singh (Raj Singh). There, they are told how the villagers claims are unfounded and superstitious and that there is no Thuggee cult at the palace. But that evening, invited to spend the night, Jones and Short Round retire to one spacious room with Willie made comfortable across the hall. Naturally, an assassin breaks into Jones’ room and is easily dispatched, leading Indy and the others to find a series of tunnels that lead to the, well, you can guess.
But wedged into the middle of the dinner scene and the action in the tunnels is a telling moment with a funny and challenging little exchange between Jones and Willie. Clearly inspired by and wonderfully echoing the style and verbal dueling prowess of the classic 1930 and 40s romantic adventure tales with fast-talking characters ready with a quip, the two are having to face the fact that they are attracted to each other. ‘Face the fact’ is key here because both want to deny it as each readily gets on the other’s nerves, but in Hollywood screenwriting, that’s Romance 101. While it’s never explicitly said, as is established in those aforementioned classics, it’s about sex. And while both want it, it’s a powerplay in deciding who will go to whom first because you know, that’s very important.
Before we dig further, let’s quickly talk about the hero and women. It’s a standard movie cliché to have the hero bed a lot of women. A lot. It establishes a pervasive sense of allure and magnetism, a carefree and rebelliousness that intrigues most. James Bond is perhaps the most notorious, though his bedroom escapades got to be too much and became a distraction as attitudes in sexual promiscuity shifted from the 70s to the 00s leading Bond to change, too. The thing about Jones is, and one that is another remarkably well conceived and executed addition to the character, is that on-screen he is not a lover yet we all believe that he is. In each of the first three films, there are women of course, but sex is never part of the show, even though we all look at the handsome, charismatic Jones and nod, yeah, that guy’s gettin’ tons.
Back to the temple. Dinner was a catastrophe for Willie. Fried beetles, eye soup, monkey brains . . . she fainted rather that ate. Jones shows up at her bedroom door, and she pretends to want nothing from him even though he says he has something she’ll want. He then proceeds to turn and take a bite out of an apple. This sends here leaping toward him, where she literally eats the fruit straight out of his hand. What’s more, she lets out a guttural, orgasmic moan of deep pleasure as she ravenously devours the apple.
There’s a lot to unpack here but first, let’s get past the apple symbolism as the fruit of temptation. That’s obvious. He then offers her a small plate of assorted yummies and she takes them with glee and renters her room (attempting to establishing dominance), casually remarks that maybe he could be her palace slave. Indy turns with a salacious smile and John Williams‘ score shifts to a sweeping romantic swell. The ‘okay’ has been given in his mind and he slides into the room with confidence. He notices a large sparkling gold necklace draped between the open lapels of her nightgown and asks if she wears her jewels to bed. She nods and with the first overtly sexual exchange, she replies, “yes, and nothing else.” It’s a dream line every guy wants to hear.
The two then have a few more bits of dialog where they explore each other’s receptiveness to sex until they finally kiss just as Williams’ score reaches a breathless crescendo. Then he makes a presumption that triggers her to step back and he takes that as a rejection and leaves, though she tells him he’ll be back . . . in five minutes. He replies he’ll be asleep in five. They close themselves in their respective rooms and impatiently await the other.
Before moving on, let’s consider that exchange again. Something important happens that is understated but revealing. First, take a look at Indy during dinner just moments before he and Willie meet in the hall.
And then again while they are talking to each other before they kiss.
It’s hard not to notice the glasses, but the funny thing is how much we really don’t while the movie is playing. As the two engage in some foreplay, and it becomes clear that things are moving towards a sexual encounter, or the possibility of such, Indy makes this move:
He does this in response to Willie’s flirty inquiry about what kind of things would he do to her (in bed it’s implied), given that he’s a scientist. What’s really impressive is how Ford changes in this motion and the next words that come are in fact clinical compared to the suave, apple-munching playboy just a moment before. He is colder suddenly, directed, observational, and less intimate. She is swept up in the allure of the moment and is too far gone to notice, but Dr. Jones has transformed into Indiana, and that is a crucial distinction.
Superman established glasses as the defining visual characteristic that set he and his alter-ego, Clark Kent, apart. It’s a quick, readily identifiable symbol that audiences are already familiar with, and Spielberg and Ford employ it here with sublime deftness. We hardly even catch it, even though they make a supreme effort to show us. But what can we learn from it?
The first question is obvious. Why does he need glasses? He spends all of the action moments as Indy without them. Can he see? When he’s teaching or otherwise not adventuring, he’s got them one. The answer is just as obvious. The purpose is aesthetic, a costume he dons in service of his profession and his life beyond it. The moment the specs come off, the metamorphosis is complete and what’s really revealing is that as Indy, he loses nearly all interest in sex. Well, at least the passion for it. His once romantic wooing of the lovely and inviting Willie turn from sweet banter to conceited ape-ishness, to use Willie’s words, once the glasses are off.
Directly after, as the two wait for the other, Jones gets attacked in his room and when he frees himself of that entanglement, rushes away in an excited state over to Willie to make sure she’s safe, which she mistakes for lust. He foregoes explaining and instead, now fully transformed into Indiana, explores the room for assassins, ignoring the welcoming, attractive women, discovering the tunnels in the process instead, which inspires one of the funnier, more sexual bits in the movie as he presses on the sculpted breasts of a statue while Willie gestures to her own in invitation.
In other films, the hero always has time for the girl. It’s a mandate of the genre, an expectation of the audience. Heroes save, women swoon. The genius behind Indiana Jones is how successful that conceit is implied in the character without it being part of the story. Sex for Jones is off-screen, an adventure we don’t witness, and it’s the right choice. The use of the spectacles is one of the better story devices in the franchise, a subtle delineation in two very particular characters that occupy great importance in their stories. It’s what makes Jones such an endearing icon, and in this moment, why Temple of Doom is so great.
Willard Huyck (screenplay), Gloria Katz (screenplay)
Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan