Breakup Boy

The Adventures of Indiana Jones--newly out on DVD--is actually about broken relationships.

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 14, 2004

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Sitting in a dark theater when I was only 9 years old, I knew right away something was amiss. Point blank: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is an ugly, mean-spirited movie.

Sure, it's poorly structured and possibly racist, but something even more sinister looms within those six forsaken reels that famously inspired the PG-13 rating.

Raiders of the Lost Ark will perhaps stand for all time as a sublime example of everything that's joyous and playful about modern blockbuster filmmaking. It's the one movie I've seen more than any other--the proverbial hit off the crack pipe that kick-started my cinephilia.

And yet the universally despised, seriously nasty follow-up Temple of Doom forever lurks in the shadows as Raiders' dark, foreboding flip side--the redheaded stepchild of the Spielberg-Lucas canon.

But watching the new DVD in that great Indiana Jones box set everybody got for Christmas, I found myself strangely enthralled by the movie's overwhelming bad vibes. There's something vicious and hateful about this picture that's downright energizing. Or maybe it's only energizing if you're stuck in the right psychological rut.

Somewhere in the bonus features, writer George Lucas snapped it all into focus for me: Pressed with the notion that perhaps Indiana Jones Goes to Hell wasn't exactly the greatest idea he ever had for a summer movie, Darth Flannel shrugs and replies, "I was going through a bad divorce at the time."

Suddenly, everything makes sense.

I recently ended up single after a four-year relationship. Believe me, there are only so many times you can listen to Dylan's Blood on the Tracks or Springsteen's Tunnel of Love when you're in this kind of situation, so as a third option I turned to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Broken families have always been Steven Spielberg's forte, but he and Lucas still managed to conjure a seriously fucked Freudian fun house of freakishly personal divorce anxiety during this particular go-round.

Return if you will to the ridiculously gratuitous (and quite telling) central image of a still-beating human heart being violently ripped from the chest of an innocent victim. Are we trying to say something here, boys?

Or how about that entire sequence after Indy drinks the poisoned black blood? He becomes a different man--cruel and abusive toward his friends. It's only after an old pal works up the nerve to (literally) burn him that Indiana Jones comes to realize that he's spent all this time worshipping an evil goddess.

Let's not forget that the central conflict of the film revolves (rather distastefully) around kidnapped children forced into slave labor. Is this the projection of a single dad's worst nightmare, or am I just reading into things?

But whoa, when that catharsis arrives, it's amazingly brutal. The big joke in Raiders was that our hero was always getting beat up. Not so in Temple of Doom. This movie downright revels in how swiftly and mercilessly Indy kicks the living shit out of everyone in his path.

The climax features our recently revived Indiana Jones opting for a suicidal gambit on a rickety rope bridge above an alligator pit--better to face certain death than to cede one friggin' inch to those evil-goddess-worshipping villains.

No, it's not a particularly good film. But one of the great things about being a movie freak is that certain pictures resonate in different ways at strange times in your life.

Childhood protestations to the contrary, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom really didn't do it for me when I was 9, but a couple of decades later I've finally started getting behind it.

Then again, if I ever start making excuses for that buffoonish piece of shit called Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, just shoot me.

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