Me and Chris really wanted to share a treasured part of our own childhood with our kids, so this week, for family movie night, we cracked open a beloved gem from our past:
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Now, there was much debate between the two of us as to whether we should address the series chronologically or by order of best-loved, and though Chris thought we should go in oder, with Raiders of the Lost Ark as the introduction, I persuaded him to go with Doom.
Short-Round! I said. Lots of kids! I said. I saw it in the theatre when I was eight years old and then convinced my dad to take me again! I said.
So sure was I that my children’s enthusiasm for monkey brains, tunnels full of bugs and mine-shaft roller coasters would match my own at their age, that I completely forgot about the human sacrifice, black magic, child slaves, and whip-yielding slave drivers. My bad.
The kids were game at first. We amped them up by telling them it was just like Scooby Doo, and that the Backyardigans and T.U.F.F. Puppies got their moves from Indiana Jones. Scooby Doo is scary! yelled our six year old. That should have tipped us off that things were going to go sideways, but it’s our Friday night too, man. Eventually they’re going to have to learn that not every monster is just a guy in a mask. Right?
[Pro tip: when Scooby Doo, Backyardigans, and T.U.F.F. Puppies are your points of comparison when wondering if your children are ready for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the answer should be clear to you.]
So, after showing little to no interest in any film that’s even remotely menacing, scary, or thrilling ever – like, ever – we gathered our hesitant kids on the couch, and cued up the movie
The opening scene, a nightclub in Shanghai, is awesome, right? Well it was, until the Chinese smugglers started shooting their cool 1930s pistols at Jones. AAAAH! Turn it off, turn it off! I don’t want him to diiiiiiiieee! Screamed my eight year old. I turned to my husband. WTF? I said with my eyes, haven’t these kids ever watched a shoot out on TV? Oh, right. No. They probably haven’t, because we really don’t watch any network television, and kids-only Netflix shows rarely involve shootouts between Chinese smugglers and American archaeologists. The only thing Barbie shoots is shade to Skipper for flirting with Ken.
The kids did keep it together for a little while, stomaching the snakes, bugs, collapsing spiked ceiling dotted with skulls, and monkey brains. Perhaps that’s because through it all, me and Chris are punctuating the narrative with a pathetically upbeat commentary about how awesome the scary parts are, trying to convince them that they’ll love it as much as we did at their age. Quite frankly, I hate myself by now and am beginning to question our entire parenting philosophy.
We get to the part where Indy, Willie and Short-Round have made it into the Temple and are watching the Kali-worship going down. The kids are audibly whimpering, but we are placating them with gentle coos (shoot me now, seriously). And then comes the human sacrifice. The kids start screaming – like blood-curdling, the-cat-is-licking-my-ice-cream-worthy screams – as soon as they strap the poor doomed schmuck into the metal cage and lower him into the flaming crevice while the glazed-eyed devotees kneel, chanting incantations and rocking back and forth. Yeah, ok, I guess we forgot about that part.
Click. Chris pressed stop for good, and we each consoled a sobbing child while wondering how exactly a kid’s thirst for blood and terror could be so completely diluted in only a generation or two.
So we ejected the movie from the DVD player and put on good ol’ Netflix, where we cleansed our palate with our 3000th viewing of Despicable Me. We did this partly as penance, and partly because we don’t want two kids sleeping in our bed every night for the next five years.
But questions remain.
Didn’t we love this shit at their age? I saw Temple of Doom and Jaws 3D in the theatre with my dad, and by then I had already seen Children of the Corn, The Shining, The Hitcher (remember that? Rutger Hauer was truly scary) and lots of other terrifying movies. Sure I still loved The Muppets at that age, but there was room in my budding cinephile’s lexicon for a variety of genres. My kids’ viewing tastes are hemmed in by Phineas and Ferb on one end and Drake and Josh on the other.
My children are carefree and live lives completely devoid of fear and stress. For this we are thankful, but in our quest to allow them to remain innocent, have we built a bubble around them, impenetrable by neither parental nostalgia nor dashing fictional adventurer?
Should we have started slower? If we think about it, our exposure to Jaws 3D or human sacrifice was gradual – we were weaned on horrible cop shows and the soap operas we crept halfway down the stairs to sneak-watch when we were supposed to be napping. But my kids – well, the most tension they see on TV is when the Kratt brothers argue over which one of them is going to clean up the mess after they open the door to their over-stuffed closet in Animal Junction.
Baby steps, we’ve decided. No more Indiana Jones for a while, and maybe not even Star Wars, which was going to be next. ET, maybe. Or – The Princess Bride! I cry, triumphant – there, there’s a movie from our youth that is not animated and may be safely shared with children of our own. The Princess Bride!
No, says Chris. We tried that one, remember? We had to turn it off at the part with the Rodents of Unusual Size.
Gah! We need to start the desensitization process, I tell Chris. We need them to be more … more …
More like we were? Chris offers.
I think about that for a second; about what that really means, and if the sum total of my pop culture exposure as a young person led me to the experiences I had during my teenage years and beyond. Um …
How does The Muppets Take Manhattan sound? I ask.
My husband smiles. Perfect.