The darkest parts of Temple of Doom everybody missed

Roger Ebert called the second installment in the Indiana Jones saga "cheerfully exciting, bizarre, goofy, romantic…" and gave it a four-star review. And while we love Indy AND his adventures — except maybe the last one — there are some really messed-up things about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that we feel compelled to write about. These are things you might not have noticed because of the cheerfully exciting adventure, but we noticed when we first saw it in 1984, and we thought it again when re-watching it last Tuesday. [

The movie starts out with awfulness (and not just Kate Capshaw's singing)

The opening credits of the film are pretty delightful. The floor show and spectacle are a throwback to the big-budget musical movies of yore, and who doesn't dig that? However, the beginning of the movie starts with a bang of chaos that feels discordant and super strange.

For example, within the first ten minutes, Indy's dear friend Wu Han gets shot and has a tragic onscreen death, a guy gets impaled with a flaming skewer of burning pigeon, there are gunshots abound, and there's a screaming mess of people running for their lives. At the same time, Indy has ingested poison and must get his hands on the antidote, and ultimately has to navigate a room full of Wilhelm screams and a floor full of balloons before he can pull the antidote out of Kate Capshaw's cleavage. Have you ever tried to hurry across a room full of balloons? It ain't easy, but it helps gloss over the two deaths — one sad and the other comically horrific — that occur so early in the film.

In fact, there are 38 total kills in this movie, and it's rated PG. Probably because PG-13 wasn't even invented until parents dealt with their kids' nightmares from this and Gremlins (thanks, Gremlins). 1984 was a hell of a year for scary-enough movies, yet neither Temple of Doom nor Gremlins have ever been upgraded to PG-13 by the MPAA. Presumably, all parents should get to deal with nightmares of hearts getting ripped out and little monsters that go from cute to murdery because of a little midnight snack.

Short Round and the case of irresponsible surrogate parenting

Short Round, possibly the cutest and most charming child in all of cinema history, might also be the most responsible character in this movie. He drives the getaway car when Indy and Willie fall from the awning out of the club, carries Indy's luggage, and basically sticks around for all of the craziness the rest of the movie offers. The "adults" could learn a lot from him.

Where are his parents, you may ask? Indy tells Willie that Short Round is an orphan, that he caught him trying to pick his pocket in Shanghai, and that Wu Han took him in. So, we inadvertently learn that Short Round has been orphaned a second time, and may not even know that Wu Han is dead. Like, in the original script and the movie novelization, when they all get to the plane, Indy tells Short Round that Wu Han isn't coming, Shorty thinks for a minute and says "Don't worry, Indy. Short Round number one bodyguard now!" We can't imagine that the kid is callously happy Wu Han is dead so he can be top bodyguard, so he clearly doesn't know. Early versions of the script even say that Short Round is "unaware of what happened at the club." So, this irrepressibly cheerful kid gets sucked into this terrible scary adventure and basically saves everyone, but how boneheaded is Indy to let the kid go in the first place?

And yes, we know that there had to be a kid to infiltrate the child slave pit at Pankot Palace, but sheesh.

Fortune and glory: Indy's spurious intentions

So yeah, our three main characters have survived a plane crash, a trip over a waterfall in a big flat inflatable raft, and arrive in a little village where they're informed the inhabitants prayed for a hero to get this magic rock back. Because, when the magic rock was taken, the "wells dried up and the river turned to sand," and all the children went missing.

THAT'S AWFUL! If we take the cognitive dissonance leap to believe that Indiana Jones can speak this remote village's language (there are 1652 languages spoken in India, so … not likely?), we hear this story via his interpretation and we feel really, really bad for these people. We expect that Indy should too, but is that why he decides to go after the stone? Don't think so! A child escapee of the horror we'll eventually encounter at Pankot brings a piece of cloth into the village that tells Indy the nature of this missing magic stone. Turns out, it's one of the five sacred stones given to Sankara by Shiva, and that's Indy's motivation. It seems like Indy is simply out for fortune and glory, rather than to help the poor impoverished village.

This makes sense, too, in terms of the character arc over the first three movies (we won't even talk about the fourth one). Temple of Doom is actually a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. The dates say it all. Doom opens with a date of 1935 and Raiders opens with a date of 1936. Indy starts off the movie trying to trade an archeological artifact for a big-ass diamond, and he goes after the Sankara stone for what? Fortune and glory. By Raiders, he has respect for old things and thinks they belong in museums, and by Last Crusade he cares about his dad more than the Holy Grail. That's character development, for sure, and shows that the Indy in Temple of Doom is a very handsome, very brave, very charming jerk — the kind of character Harrison Ford excels at.

The bug scene (featuring real bugs) is just too much

Fortune cookies? Nope, just a crapload of creepy, crawly (real, BTW) bugs. Not to harp on the issue, but Indy takes Short Round into a scary tunnel with all these horrible bugs. That's no place for a small child, even if they like bugs! They get out of that mess, only to find themselves in another, when Short Round trips a trap and some big spikes (with skeletons attached, for extra "ARGH") they call to Willie for help.

Adventure-wise, this is all fine. But the bugs. Oh, Lordy, the bugs. The filmmakers say, in a DVD comment, that the cast and crew found bugs EVERYWHERE after filming. Kate Capshaw said, "The bugs would go in and out of your clothes — you couldn't make that not happen." And in the same interview, Frank Marshall tells us the bugs were really hard to work with and people were super scared of them. Considering we have to take a shower after that scene, like, every time we watch it, we wish they'd picked something else. Sure, it was snakes in Raiders and rats in Last Crusade, but couldn't we have done something more with the giant vampire bats? Because ewwww bugs.

The scary assassins are based on super tough real-life guys

Indy calls the acolytes of Kali under the control of Mola Ram "Thuggees." Thuggees, as it turns out, were a real thing until about the 1830's. Some historians claim that they were, like the movie, devotees of Kali, meant to help maintain the balance between good and evil on Earth. This historical viewpoint was generally accepted.

The Thuggees were superstitious cult members who robbed and killed millions of people, to be stopped dead by a guy named Sleeman. Other historians claim that colonial fear made monsters out of the Thuggees and that they really were "a convenient excuse for the British to extend control over native-ruled states of central India." The reality is that, while the British certainly sensationalized the group, they did, in fact, exist and were robbers and killers. Also they did, like many in India at the time, worship Kali. Would they have been thrilled about Temple of Doom's depiction of them? Probably not. The movie guys were way too easy to kill.

The village kids basically live in Hell

Well, we found the kids from the village. Mean ol' Mola Ram has them digging for the other Sankara stones, and they are in rough shape. They tell Indy that they pray to die, because they don't want to drink the blood and end up in a deep sleep of the Kali Mar. If they find the two stones, the Thuggees will be all-powerful. Again, we're pretty sure the filmmakers took some liberties here, but if five stones make you a more powerful group than three stones, why not go for it?

But the CHILDREN. They're all malnourished and they have to do hard labor in stone mines with bare feet and just loincloths on, and they are scared and sad and it's just terrible. This part does a good job of making Mola Ram look like the baddie he totally is, but didn't the heart-ripping-out scene already accomplish that for us? Now we know why all the children are missing from the village (and apparently, in this part of India, no boy children are made) but it's pretty rough.

It adds insult to injury that Mola Ram has made the tiny child Maharaja into a Kali Mar zombie, and that kid keeps on poking the Indy voodoo doll (no comment on the mixed culture low-hanging-fruit here), and that Indy goes evil for a sec. Short Round, of course, ends up working in the mines (THAT'S why he's in this movie!) and escapes, delighting the enslaved children. And when Indy comes back to his senses, he's determined to save the kids, too. And they all learned something about themselves that day.

Indy's lasso'ing of Willie is beyond cringeworthy

At the end of the movie, Willie says she isn't going anywhere with Indy. She wants to go home to Missouri where they "don't feed you snakes" or rip your heart out and lower you into a pit. She starts to walk away to ask someone to be her guide to get the heck out of dodge, and Indy LASSOS HER WITH HIS FREAKIN' BULLWHIP. Go ahead, watch the clip if you haven't already.

First of all, OUCH, that probably hurt. Yes, Indy's good with the whip but that still certainly didn't tickle. Also, instead of crying in pain (the woman screamed and cried through the whole movie, so where are your protests now, Willie?) or being totally outraged, she smiles coquettishly and lets him pull her closer to him for a kiss. Let's just skip the outraged "what sort of message does this send the youth of today" comment and move straight to, well, OUCH.

Bottom line: Willie's either kinda into pain, or she has no feeling in her waist area. And, after her fitting into that sequined number at the beginning of the movie, we'll put money on the latter.

In conclusion ...

Look, we love Indiana Jones. Is this our favorite of the films? No. Is it the worst? Hell no. Does it have some WTF stuff that's fun to write and read and learn and grow about? Of course! Even Steven Spielberg has said that it's "too dark, too subterranean, and much too horrific." George Lucas says that he was going through a divorce at the time, "and I was in a really bad mood. So I really wanted to do dark. And Steve then broke up with his girlfriend, and so he was sort of into it too."

So we ended up with some pretty horrifying, dark moments (hence this article, folks) that merit discussion even after all these years since 1984. Yeah, they mixed up some cultures to make the villains scarier. They did some other stuff that people did in 80's movies that we didn't bother mentioning. But the thing that stands out to us most is the fact that, even after the MPAA PG-13 rating was created, they've never gone back and re-ranked this film. 1993's Mrs. Doubtfire was PG-13 for sexual references. Just let that sink in. Robin Williams in an old-lady dress: too much. Live bugs and hearts getting ripped out: p'shaw. Viva la MPAA!