I’ve got to hand it to Joss Whedon. Rather than letting his remarkable success with The Avengers go to his head, he’s pretty much consistently used the public scrutiny to discuss everything from female roles in the media to the problems of movies today. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly (via /Film), Whedon touched upon an issue that many critics have mentioned but no directors have yet really cared to address: pastiche and self-referentiality.
Whedon mentions Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a prime example of what’s wrong with cinema today:
A movie has to be complete within itself; it can’t just build off the first one or play variations. You know that thing in Temple of Doom where they revisit the shooting trick? … That’s what you don’t want. And I feel that’s what all of culture is becoming — it’s becoming that moment.
Whedon is of course referencing the repetition of the gag, originally seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones calmly shoots a swordsman rather than engaging in a drawn-out fight. The gag was repeated in Temple of Doom with two swordsmen, with Jones reaching for his gun only to find that it isn’t there. It’s a wink at the camera, a moment of self-reference and, at least in Whedon’s view, a lazy sort of filmmaking.
While others have pointed out that the joke in Temple of Doom is basically a clever aside that doesn’t have much to do with the content of the rest of the film, I think we’re missing Whedon’s point. He’s saying that ‘all of culture’ has become that clever aside, that moment of self-reference and repetition that loses its quality after the fourth or fifth time. Perhaps a better example might have been the entirety of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but the point is well-taken.
As The Huffington Post points out, the scene in Raiders was a result of circumstances (Harrison Ford had dysentery), while the scene in Temple is just a reference … to itself. With the number of reboots, remakes and sequels hitting cinemas right now, not to mention the endless pop culture references contained in almost every piece of media, Whedon has a good point. We’re repeating ourselves, rather than producing something new.
You can let us know what you think about Whedon’s analysis in the comments section below. Take some time to read the full interview with EW – it’s well worth it.