Indiana Jones is arguably one of the most famous film heroes of all time, with four movies total so far and a fifth one supposedly coming out next year. I am an Indiana Jones purist, so I prefer to think of the series as just including the first three films (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), but that is an argument for another day. Even so, these movies are close to my heart as I grew up watching them with my dad as his passion for history was one of the main reasons I ended up also being a history nerd.
That being said, now that I have watched these films again as an adult, I have a bit of a different view of them, and Temple of Doom in particular, than I did as a kid. Thus, for my print project, I am proposing that I will delve into the Temple of Doom film to study its representation of Indian and other Asian cultures. While the movie is not exactly presenting history, I am interested in how it is rooted in themes of Western imperialism, a white savior complex, and the divide between the white American hero and the culturally stereotyped villains, who are in this case promoting child slavery and practicing human sacrifice.
If you are unfamiliar with the story of Indiana Jones, the man himself is an archaeologist, professor, and adventurer of some of the world’s most famous artifacts, such as the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail. Each of the movies follows a different one of Jones’ adventures as he searches for a new artifact, often with a different group of villains (usually Nazis) and of course a different love interest in each one.
For a very brief plot summary of Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones flees Shanghai after almost being killed by a Chinese crime boss and he comes to northern India, with his young sidekick Short Round and a nightclub singer Willie Scott. Jones comes across a village that claims a sacred stone has been stolen from them, so he agrees to enter the mysterious Pankot Palace to help find it. The three main characters find themselves welcomed into a lavish palace, but later that night, Jones is captured and finds an underground temple, where the Thuggee cult is worshipping the goddess Kali (a real Hindu goddess) with human sacrifice. As Jones attempts to find the sacred stones, Willie is almost sacrificed, but they escape the temple. Not only does Indiana Jones manage to return the stone, but he also frees the slave children from the temple and they are returned to the village. What a hero.
For this project, I will be using Voyant to analyze the movie script, which I easily found online, in respect to the aforementioned themes. This computational text analysis will aid my project by allowing me to more efficiently delve into the movie script as it gives a visual representation of the common themes and phrases. This will be helpful, but only part of the story. Therefore, I will also be critically analyzing the problematic representation of these cultures as they are in visuals and sounds, such as the makeup, costumes, sets, accents, and other aspects of the movie. By doing a close study of both of these components of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I will capture how the film presents colonial era India with Western heroes coming to save the day.
As I was researching for this project proposal, I thought to myself: why does this matter? Why am I studying a movie from 1984? Why am I critiquing one of the most famous film franchises of all time, and one close to my heart? While it might be easy to say that representation in media is important, we also have to consider the negative side of this same idea. This is especially the case when our most famous movies depict certain cultures in harmful ways. In the end, I will explore this issue through the case study of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the representation of Indian and other Asian cultures, along with the accompanying portrayal of the classic, handsome Western hero Indiana Jones himself.