March 27, 2011

The threefold death of Mola Ram in Temple of Doom

Returning to the topic of how some of the strongest Proto-Indo-European themes and motifs have survived through the most recent wave of mythmaking, let's take a quick look at Indiana Jones' enemy in Temple of Doom -- Mola Ram.

At the end he dies a triple death of falling hundreds of feet off a cliff, getting ripped apart by crocodiles, and drowning in the river at the bottom of the chasm. This is just like the "threefold death" motif in PIE mythology where a person suffers a falling or strangling death for offending against the first social order (the priestly / political class), a wounding death for offending against the second social order (the warrior class), and a drowning death for offending against the third social order (the producer class).

Sure enough, Mola Ram has sinned against all three of the social orders. First, he has brainwashed political and royal leaders by making them drink the blood of Kali Ma, and he has used his priestly power to subvert rather than to uphold the proper structure of the world, sins against the more mundane and more spiritual sub-groups within the first order. Second, in trying to use the five sankara stones to spread rather than contain evil, he has betrayed Shiva, who served as a warrior / storm god in Vedic mythology. (He also ducks out through a trap door when Indiana Jones is about to have it out with him mano a mano, a violation of the warrior code against cowardice.) And third, he has kidnapped and enslaved dozens of children, a gross violation of patron-client norms, and their disappearance from the village of Mayapore has left their crop fields barren from drought.

It's too bad that this character didn't get fleshed out more, and instead only appears as a caricature of the bad guy. His lust for power is already at 100% when the movie begins, so we don't get to see his gradual unraveling on account of his tragic flaw. Also, it would have been neat for Mola Ram to reveal that he is Indiana Jones' true father when the two are arguing over what cause the sankara stones should serve, good or evil. Indiana himself is often too ambitious for his own good (which almost gets him killed at the end of Last Crusade, when he nearly plummets to his death in reaching for the Holy Grail). It would be more satisfying to see where that came from -- certainly not from his perhaps overly cautious and bookish father as he appears in Last Crusade.

As we saw in the case of Chewbacca the berserker, the new mythology does not simply try to revive an interest in the themes, motifs, and other conventions that are common to all or even most of the world's mythological traditions. Rather, some of the most memorable pieces of it derive, whether consciously or not, from a uniquely Proto-Indo-European source. The fact that the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies have proven so popular with audiences worldwide suggests that the original spread of PIE mythology was not merely the strong forcing their religion upon the weak, but that a good deal of people within the invaded group found these particular outsiders' narratives much more fascinating than what their second-rate local storytellers had come up with.

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