I’ve discussed Spielberg’s use of red as a representation of danger in Temple of Doom in a previous post, but red isn’t the only colour he uses; Spielberg puts light, earthy colours to use as a representation of good.
1. As mentioned in the red post, Indy and Willie are seen in Club Obi Wan at the start of the film and they are associated with the colour red. Willie wears a red and gold sequin dress, Indy wears a red carnation that stands out against his white tuxedo. This outfit contrasts sharply with his usual brown outfit and symbolises his obsession with ‘fortune and glory’.
2. Having left Shanghai behind, Indy crash lands in India and Spielberg’s frame is dominated by browns, muted greens, blues and whites. The Indian characters are dressed in similar colours, and Indy - back to his usual clothes - is aligned with their goodness.
3. During the banquet sequence, Indy discusses Indian history with British Captain Philip Blumburtt and Prime Minister Chattar Lal. Indy is again dressed in earthy tones, but the Captain, a representation of Empire and control, is dressed in blood red. The Prime Minister, meanwhile, is neither earthy nor red - he’s dressed in a neutral gray that marks his ambiguity. Despite here insisting that the Thugees do not exist, Lal later turns out to be a member of the cult.
4. Once Indy is poisoned in the Temple, it’s telling that his shirt and hat are removed, leaving just a thin red string draped across his chest, almost as if he’s been slashed across the heart. Indy has now turned to the dark side.
5. It’s ironic that fire brings Indy round, but notable that the fire Short Round burns him with with is not the blood red fire we see elsewhere in the Temple, but a paler shade of whitish-orange.
6. Back to normal, Indy resolves to defeat the Thugees and free the child slaves, and Spielberg marks the moment with brilliant white light and the return of Indy’s familiar garb. The man in the hat is back.
7. But the threat isn’t over yet. Indy, Willie and Short Round still have to escape through the mine cart system, and as they do, Shorty begs Indy to turn left rather than right when they arrive at a spike in the track. How does he know which way to go? One tunnel (the wrong tunnel) is bathed in red light, the other (the correct one) is bathed in white light.
8. The trio escape the Temple and eventually the Thugees, but not without the help of Blumburtt and his army. Here though, the character isn’t dressed in red, but more earthy tones similar to Indy’s traditional get-up. Evil has been beaten and Spielberg has communicated the battle through colour.