Study Guide

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

We don't really get an "ordinary world" in Temple of Doom, unless being a dance club in Shanghai is your idea of ordinary. Of course, this is ordinary for Indiana Jones, and his adventure is only going to get crazier once he leaves Club Obi-Wan. (Yes, that's really what it's called.)

Call To Adventure

For anyone else, crashing through the window of a nightclub in Shanghai, bouncing down to the street like a Plinko chip, and escaping with an eleven-year-old driving the getaway, that would be the adventure.

But Indy's just getting started. After diving from a crashing plane in an inflatable raft (just another Tuesday), Indy's taken in by poor villages in the countryside of India. They enlist him to find the Sankara stones.

Oh, and their kids, who are all kidnapped, are tacked on as an afterthought.

Refusal Of The Call

Indy's too much of a hero to refuse the call. Willie, on the other hand, has no problem wanting to return to her cushy life in Shanghai. But Indy valiantly accepts and soldiers forward. Or, in this case, elephants forward on the backs of brave pachyderms.

Meeting The Mentor

Indy doesn't have a mentor character, although he acts as one for Short Round. However, if we consider where this stage falls in the plot, then the Maharaja could serve as a mentor of sorts. He's at least a person who commands authority at the dinner table. Even though he's only about twelve, when he speaks, everyone shuts up. Even Indy.

Crossing The Threshold

In an Indiana Jones movie, you haven't crossed the threshold until something gross happens. The threshold into the glamorous Pankot Palace is impressive. It stands in stark contrast to the terrible poverty of the village nearby.

But the true threshold comes when Indy pushes the statue in Willie's bedroom and enters the secret passage into the Temple of Doom, and it's filled with more bugs than a New York City apartment.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

We don't meet the villain of Temple of Doom, Mola Ram, until an hour into the movie. Indy and crew witnesses him pull the beating heart out of a man. Anyone else would run screaming, but Indy doesn't let it faze him (either he's heartless or brave). Short Round and Willie cement themselves as allies by sticking with him.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

The inmost cave is quite literal in Temple of Doom : it's a cave filled with child slaves. You can't get much darker than that. Here, Indy realizes that his task won't be as simple as bringing some rocks back to some old dude. He needs to liberate dozens of prisoners.


Have you been brainwashed? Did you try to lower your potential love interest into a pit of flaming lava? And to top it all off, did you backhand your best friend across the face, probably knocking out a few teeth in the process?

If so, you're having a similar ordeal to Indy in Temple of Doom. During this ordeal, the hero becomes the bad guy because of the blood of Kali, which bends its victims to Mola Ram's wishes.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Short Round snaps Indy out of his trance, and together they retrieve the Sankara stones and free the child slaves. Hooray—what are they going to do next?

Ride a mine cart through the catacombs, of course. Fun fact: sound effects for the iconic mine cart ride were recorded from roller coasters at Disneyland. (Source)

The Road Back

The road back is a vertical one. Indy must chop a rope bridge in two on the way back to the village, meaning he has to scale the bridge as if it were a ladder.

You'd think he'd be home free after lava, mine carts, and rushing water, but an archeologist's work is never done.


After Mola Ram falls to his death and his torn apart by crocodiles (yum), Willie and Short Round make it to solid ground on the cliff side. However, there's a beat where they worry that Indy, too, might have fallen to his death and become gator chow. Their fears are unfounded, as Indy's hand appears and he pulls himself to safety.

Return With The Elixir

Indy returns the allegedly magic Sankara stone to the village elder. The elder believes that magic will return to the land. We don't see magic return, but we do see all the kids come back, and people in the 80's loved to remind us that children were the future.

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