Myth and the Movies: Hollywood's Latest Craze

and Oldest Inspiration

Joseph Campbell's Monomyth for action-adventure films:

The Call to Adventure(II),
The Refusal of the Call,
Supernatural Aid,
Crossing the First Threshold (pp1),
Belly of the Whale,
The Road of Trials,
Meeting of the Goddess,
Atonement with the Father,
The Ultimate Boon,
Refusal of the Return,
The Magic Flight,
Rescue from Without,
Crossing of the Return Threshold,
Master of Two Worlds (resolution)

Instead of Field's linear line, Christopher Vogler likes to see the journey as circular with the transformative character arc running pace with the hero's journey:

1) limited awareness of problem ORDINARY WORLD

2) increased awareness

3) reluctance to change REFUSAL

4) overcoming reluctance

5) committing to change


6) experimenting with first change TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES
7) preparing for big change APPROACH TO INMOST CAVE
8) attempting big change ORDEAL (Midpoint)
9) consequences of the attempt REWARD (Seizing the Sword) (improvements and setbacks)
10) rededication to change THE ROAD BACK (PP2)
11) final attempt at big change RESURRECTION (Crisis/Climax)
12) final mastery of the problem RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR (Resolution)

Don't forget catharsis is really vomiting in Greek. But you must stretch out the crisis beforehand. The crisis is the point in a drama when the hostile forces are in their tensest state of opposition. Stretch those bands as long as you can until they break into the climax, and make sure that climax is strong enough to allow your audience's undigested emotions to vomit forth in a true catharsis. Good drama gives the audience a taste of death. Even comedy has a taste of some kind of death. Death helps the audience appreciate life more and fear their own demise less. To keep the story going for 2 hours, make sure you tease the audience with appearances of death and take them on a treacherous roller coaster ride. While the hero undergoes a momentous transformation as a result of this journey, the other characters serve as archetypes to further this journey, and must fulfill roles such as MENTOR(wise old person offering gifts, motivation, inspiration, guidance, training), THRESHOLD GUARDIAN (obstacle at the gateway to the new world), HERALD (issues challenges and announces the coming of significant change), SHAPESHIFTER (the protean force that creates surprise, suspense, obstacles and keeps the audience and the hero guessing, the animus/a of the hero), SHADOW (the dark side of self but also the villain), TRICKSTER (challenges authority through laughter, helps hero and audience see the truth by laughing at it), and of course the hero's HIGHER SELF, in true 12 step fashion. These types can change masks the way the shapeshifter does, but on the deepest level, and Hollywood is trying to get "deeper" in the twenty first century, they represent parts of the buried psyche of the hero. Hence any journey is ultimately a journey inward as the villains are projections from the hero's id. The HERO must elicit empathy/sympathy in the audience so they are willing to immerse themselves in his journey; he must have human flaws, needs, desires and capacity for growth-- rather, an almost inhuman capacity for growth because it has to happen in less than 2 hours. He should be fully active, decisive, capable of SACRIFICE for his ideals. In this way he shows us how to deal with death, whether it is literal death or death of a loved one, an idea, a part of oneself. A hero can journey from the ordinary to the special world and back or from the wilderness to civilisation and back or anywhere and back as long as something is learned. This means that Hollywood may be ready to start accepting tragedy as a genre (especially after 9/11) as long as the hero learns something and the community is restored and made whole in some way.

Notice how phallic this entire journey is, particularly with the approach to the inmost cave, passing through the "belly of the whale," as Campbell would say. If women were truly free to create their journey, how would it differ? (Dancing with Wolves?) Maybe the climax is not going into the secret cave but rather dancing with a wolf and beating him. Maybe it is similar to what I felt when I was wriestling men and had to win every time as part of the choreography. Maybe it is moving into a larger space where the light is brighter and the mountains are higher. In the pits of the cave, in the muddy, murky miasma of anima, the hero faces an elusive, ephemeral death. But in the open the heroine battles the strong, powerful male villain by dancing with him. At the end of the male journey, there is an apotheosis, a step up from enthusiasm where the hero becomes god by letting go of his ego. Men like to go on adventures and come back to the hearth. Women might stay at the hearth but for those who go on adventures, what are their journeys like? Are there two kinds of women?

Stuart Voytilla in Myth and the Movies (Wiese 99) analyzes films in terms of Vogler's and Campbell's structures and divides genre differently from Dancyger, in this order:

Action Adventure, Western, Horror with Silence of the Lambs here, Thriller, War, Drama, Romance, Romantic Comedy, Comedy, Sci Fi/Fantasy.

All Quiet on the Western Front George Abbott's screenplay of 1931

Innocence is the first casualty of war. THE CALL TO ARMS takes Paul and his classmates onto the great battlefield for their rite of passage. But their dreams of heroic sacrifice are shattered by the sobering reality of death. Each of the journey's stages is an Ordeal. Each death that Paul faces rewards him with love of life, and the growing realization of war's waste. Tragically, the Ordinary World refuses Paul's elixir and sends him back to the Special World where he must join his classmates and his Mentor.

THE JOURNEY: A small German town at the dawn of WWI. Townspeople cheer the German soldiers marching off to war, while inside a classroom, Prof Kantorek fervently rallies Paul and his classmates to fight and die for the Fatherland. The global, visual CALL of the parade reinforces this MENTOR/HERALDiS personal CALL. The boys' vision of glory (their INNER PROBLEMS) show little reluctance; however, they do have to convince their classmate, Behm. Soon they march out of the classroom ready to sacrifice themselves for their country, their OUTER PROBLEM. Their new drill sergeant, HIMMELSTOSS, a merciless THRESHOLD GUARDIAN, blocks their passage to the Front and the battlefield. The meek postal carrier suffers an inflated ego with his RESURRECTION into his new rank and uniform, and delights in drilling his unti through the mud. Soon enough the unit gets its CALL to the Front, and the boys leave their FALSE MENTOR in the mud. They begin their THRESHOLD SEQUENCE arriving at the Front in the confusion of an enemy attack. They take cover in an abandoned factory where they meet seasoned and cynical veterans. They meet an important MENTOR, the veteran "Kat" Katczinsky, who prepares their THRESHOLD to the battlefield and takes them out on "wiring duty." Unlike Himmelstoss, Kat is a true MENTOR and patriarch figure for these boys, teaching them how to accept their fear and how to survive on thhe battlefield.

They complete their passage THROUGH THE THRESHOLD when they witness the death of their own, the RELUCTANT Behm. This first taste of death irritates Paul into his special world of death and destruction. Paul's journey through this SPECIAL WORLD is a series of three ORDEALS, each bringing death closer to the HERO, and rewarding him with a deeper understanding of war's waste of youth. FIRST ORDEAL: PAUL WITNESSES WAR'S DESTRUCTION The unit survives days trapped in an underground bunker awaiting the signal to attack (APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE.) Kemmerick cannot accept the stifling quarters. He flees and gets shot in the leg. The signal to attack comes, and they suffer trench warfare. (ORDEAL). The ferocious seesaw battle between French and Germans yields no change in battle lines, at the cost of thousands of young men's olives. The survivors share wine and bread, and later eat rations for the living and the dead (REWARD). With bloated stomachs, they question the cause of war and blame the French, maintaining a dehumanization of the ENEMY. SECOND ORDEAL: PAUL WITNESSES HIS FRIEND'S DEATH Paul visits Kemmerick, who cannot accept the loss of his leg. (APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE.) Overwhelmed with casualties, the doctors cannot help Kemmerick, and Paul witnesses his friend's death. Paul leaves the ordeal overpowered by an appreciation of life (REWARD). THIRD ORDEAL: PAUL KILLS A SOLDIER Paul and his unit question their training as they await their next attack. Paul remembers the fallen and realizes that most of his classmates have suffered in this SPECIAL WORLD (APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE). The Germans launch an attack turning a church cemetery into a battlefield. Paul finds refuge in a shell-hole and stabs a French soldier (ORDEAL). Paul suffers the Frenchman's long, painful death.

Coming face to face with the enemy, Paul denounces the war and sees his victim no longer as the "enemy" or "them" but as "brother." MENTOR Kat assures Paul that soldiers kill, quickly easing Pual of his uncomfortable REWARD of guilt. If killing is a part of being a soldier, then Paul has crossed that THRESHOLD of "manhood" and lost innocence. Paul additionally crosses the sexual THRESHOLD of manhood, losing his innocence to a French farm girl, a REWARD. With this celebration of life, Paul is equipped for his ROAD BACK, where he faces his own death. A sudden attack leaves Paul wounded. While his firend Albert loses his leg, Paul survives a near-fatal wound and receives temporary leave to go home, the ROAD BACK. Paul can now return to his ORDINARY WORLD with the ELIXIR of his lessons. But his ELIXIR is repeatedly refused, pushing Paul to return to the SPECIAL WORLD of the battlefield and death. His bedridden mother refuses to believe her son has returned. He changes into his old clothes and looks at the mounted butterfly collection, a symbol of his boyhood innocence. Later, his father toasts his son as a war hero but his father's friends insult Paul, blaming the soldiers for the sacrifices that must be made at home. Paul visits his old classroom, where Prof Kanotrek continues to push romantic ideals of heroism to rally support to save the Fatherland. He convinces Paul to speak to the students, and Paul tells them the bitter reality of fighting for their Fatherland. He deonouces Kantorek's CALL to die for one's country, and the youths reject this coward's ELIXIR with boos and hisses. Paul confesses to Kantorek that he never should have returned; his place remains in the SPECIAL WORLD.

Paul returns to the Front, almost with relief. But few remain in his unit. The dead have been replaced by "green" sixteen-year-olds who only know how to die. Paul finds his true MENTOR and friend, Kat, gathering food for the young recruits. Paul tells of his bitter rejection at home, but Kat cannot ease his pain and tells Paul that they are up against a huge ENEMY. A sudden air attack strikes down the MENTOR. Reciting his MENTOR'S lessons, Paul carries Kat back but his friend is already dead. Perhaps Paul can have hope that the MENTOR'S death signals the end of the war. During a quiet lull, Paul sits alone in a trench. He sees a butterfly and reaches for it, a RESURRECTION of his boyhood innocence. A sniper gunshot rings out. Paul's hand goes still. Quiet returns to the Front. We are left with a corpse-strewn hill, and the haunting ghosts of Paul and his classmates marching into eternity, a bitter ELIXIR. Their innocence and lives are lost forever.

The Campbell /Vogler journey is phallic-- a trip to the cave and back. Women might go to waterfalls to be showered with the sperm of life. They run with wolves, embrace their anima, fight animals. A thriller must be an intriguing puzzle, something to keep the audience mentally alert, and on the edge of their seats. Hollywood is slowly beginning to embrace the tragedy and now America is ready, after 9/11. The hero of INSOMNIA dies and the female prodigy takes over. Shakespeare's tragedies are not completely tragic because they overthrow a monarch and expose his faults, something many people would want to do, consciously or unconsciously. We don't have monarchs. WAG THE DOG made fun of the president but we don't venerate the leader the way other cultures did. Our leader is our court jester in that movie. The American story is the little guy makes good-- the Rocky myth-- and that is also an immigrant's story, but now America is ready for other myths and Hollywood is greedy to maintain its hegemony on the global storytelling market.