If Temple of Doom is true, then Hindus believe in reincarnation, karma, enlightenment, and pulling out the hearts of their enemies while leaving them alive.
Wait. What? What? That's not even remotely true.
So why does Temple of Doom serve us up a plate of anachronism with a garnish of xenophobia? What gives with the heart-pulling-out scene, which has no basis in Hinduism or Indian mythology?
It's a metaphor. It's a metaphor for heartbreak.
If someone wrote this in your creative writing class, you would accuse them of being too blatantly emo. And we're not just spinning our wheels when we make this metaphorical connection.
Bryan Curtis, a reporter for Grantland, investigated this scene in 2012:
"I was going through a divorce," Lucas said, "and I was in a really bad mood. So I really wanted to do dark. And Steve then broke up with his girlfriend […] For two bummed-out guys, Temple of Doom was a catalog of what it's like to get your heart ripped out.
I had to ask Lucas about the heart. The metaphor seemed too perfect. Is that your heart being ripped out? I asked. "Yeah," Lucas said, but he insisted the glee with which it was ripped out was Spielberg's. (Source)
We're just going to leave you with that info, and let you think about it. But we do want to mention the unintended symbolism of the heart-pulling scene.
That Ain't Right
The Indiana Jones franchise made a killing making archeology look cool. And it did that by skillfully blending history and movie magic. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, we see Nazis drooling over the Ark of the Covenant…which, believe it or not, actually has a historical precedent. Hitler did have a thing for religious artifacts: he wanted to nab the Ghent Alterpiece and the Holy Grail. The more you know, eh? (Source)
And in Temple of Doom, we meet a member of the Thuggee cult—which really existed in India, but was eradicated by the British in the 1870's. (Source)
But that's where the history lesson stops. Rather than being confronted with anything that resembles Thug practices (and these dudes were brutal and strangle-happy), we get heart-ripping.
And while you might say "Hey, in Raiders of the Lost Ark we saw face-melting! What's the big deal?" we want to point out the fact that in Raiders the Ark of the Covenant is responsible for all face-melting…while in Temple of Doom it's the Thuggee leader and that's responsible for the world's worst magical heart transplant.
In fact, The Temple of Doom peppers its portrayal of Indians with cringe-inducing idiosyncrasies: the Maharaja uses a Voodoo doll (which isn't Indian in the slightest), Indy chants in Hindu rather than the ancient language of Sanskrit, and the Dinner of Doom scene includes delicacies that would never show up on an Indian table.
In short, Temple of Doom manages to Other the Indians all the way to the bank…and that bloodless heart extraction is merely the most glaring example of this.
In fact, it's thanks in large part to the anachronistic heart-ripping scene that the Indian government forbade shooting on location in India…and later banned the film from showing in India. (Source)
So there you have it, folks: proof that something can be both symbolic of a) heartbreak and b) using anachronism in a way that is wholly disrespectful. Two symbols in one!