A missive: on films riding the Hero's Journey

A missive: on films riding the Hero's Journey
Photo by Finding Dan | Dan Grinwis / Unsplash

From time to time, I have the opportunity to teach classes where I get to talk about Joseph Campbell's "The Hero's Journey." In those stories, the deeper themes are always hinged on the idea that the individual is the focal point and that the individual needs to surrender the stranglehold on whatever individual obsession/belief/passion/limitation that they believe defines them and then surrender that notion to something greater (or someone else beyond themselves).

Popular storylines in American media make their money off this story arc. I just watched both parts of the recent Dune retelling and Civil War, and they both had those arcs. And both had similar sacrifices (I won't spoil the films for you). Most Disney films are built this way, and you can find examples of this in just about every tradition.

Yet, there are other ways to tell a story. For example, the novel that all other novels ape in some way is Don Quixote. (Seriously, you think post-modern gets funky? Read book two of Don Quixote when he's in a printing shop.)

Take A Thousand and One Nights for a spin for all the cliffhangers. Then There's Three Kingdoms, an epic about empire that I don't know has an emulator in English.

What does this have to do with anything? Every time I spend long stretches away from film, I'm always surprised that the shows that are recommended to me are ones that only follow the individual's hero's journey. Perhaps it's the US's favorite form. Perhaps it's our favorite form because we constantly need a reminder that there are people and ideas beyond ourselves that matter, too.