In two weeks there is going to be a new nine-screen movie theater opening up near my apartment, so I’m pretty excited. One of my favorite things to do on the weekends is to catch a good matinee. Recently there haven’t been too many good movies out, at least in my neck of the woods. Hopefully in a couple weeks they’ll be some decent ones to see. One thing that I’m particularly looking forward to is that because the new theater is opening in an existing mall, there is already a coffee shop underneath the place.
If there’s a decent place to hang out for a couple hours reading in a coffee shop, then heading upstairs to turn off my brain and take in a good movie, I can’t think of too many more enjoyable ways to spend an afternoon. Especially if I happen to be reading a good book, and the movie is one that I’ve been particularly looking forward to.
The history of movies is kind of interesting. It’s been through a lot of iterations, and ups and downs. One thing that I wasn’t aware of until recently is that even during the great depression, the movie industry was booming. For a few dollars, or back then a few cents, you could completely escape the stresses and anxieties of every day life and lose yourself in a story. People tend to have a real desire to be told a story. But not just any story, a story with a particular structure.
If you step back and take a look at the basic structure of most movies, you’ll notice they follow the same pattern, more or less. (Except for movies like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet.) Obviously there has to be some kind of problem that is set up, and a character that we can root for to overcome the problem. The movie is basically us going along for the ride with the character to see how he or she solves the problem. Psychologists tell us that by watching the character overcome problems, we get some kind of vicarious benefit. The Greeks called it catharsis.
There is one particular structure that has always been popular. And when I saw always, I mean for the past several thousand years always. Ten or twenty, or even more thousand years always. This was described beautifully by Joseph Campbell in many of his books.
He traveled and studied mythology from various cultures from various times. And he found they more often than not followed a specific pattern. They usually start out with a regular character, a guy or girl we can identify with. Then something happens, and the main character is called to go on some journey, or voyage, or quest. Sometimes the character agrees, but usually they don’t. Then they are forced to go along. And along their journey, or quest, they meet up with new people, form a team, and they must face some bad guy. Together with their new team, they defeat the bad guy, and return back to their home a much stronger, better and more worldly person. Campbell called this “The Hero’s Journey.”
Likely the most famous here’s journey story is Star Wars, and it’s not secret that George Lucas depended heavily on Campbell in the making of the first trilogy (The first trilogy release, not the first chronological trilogy.) Other popular movies have also followed this basic structure. Spiderman, Harry Potter, Transformers, The Matrix. All involve a normal guy, who was called on a journey, and through the journey was transformed, and either given special powers (Spiderman, The Matrix) or found out hey had special powers all along (Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz).
At the risk of offending my Christian readers, I suggest that the greatest story ever told, namely that of Jesus of Nazareth follows this same structure exactly. A normal guy, a carpenter, gets called on a mission. He collects a new team (The Twelve Disciples), tries to refuse the hero’s call in the Garden of Gethsemane (Father, let this cup pass me, but If it is Your will, then it shall be done) and finally accepts the challenge. Then when he returns (The Transfiguration) he has special powers. The ultimate special power. He is the Risen Christ, the Son of God; the Creator of all that is, was and will be. The Alpha and the Omega.
As a quick side note, if you are into hypnotic language patterns, Jesus delivers a doozy in the temple. He starts reading from a scroll from the Old Testament (then called something else), and the elders question his authority, as back in those days, you had to be pretty old to that. They ask him what he knows of Abraham, and he says:
“Before Abraham was, I am.”
Which of course alludes to the previous statement by God himself when Moses asks what to say when they ask who sent him:
“I Am Who Am.”
The technical term for what both God and Jesus used would be a temporal shift, but I digress.
The most interesting question is why is that structure so powerful? Why are we so captivated, as moviegoers, when Peter Parker, Neo, Dorothy, Harry, and Luke go through the same Hero’s Journey? Why do we feel so much “rapport” with them when they get called on a journey that they probably feel deep down is the right thing to do, but donâ€™t quite have enough courage to accept the offer?
Because we’ve all gone through the same journey. We’ve all been called, resisted, and due to forces beyond our control, were thrust into a journey that forced us to sink or swim. And we all made it. Every last one of us. What is that journey, you ask?
That structure, the hero’s journey is imprinted on every single living human being on a deep, deep unconscious level, as we went through that exact procedure when we came into this world. (Unless you happen to be a clone or an alien).
When we were in the womb, the comfortable, safe womb, we were just like Harry Potter in his Uncles closet, or Dorothy on the farm, or Luke on his farm. Then the birth contractions started. We felt called to a journey that we weren’t quite ready to go on, and we resisted as much as possible. But then when we couldnâ€™t resist any more, life called us forward. Literally kicking and screaming.
The path to life is the Hero’s journey. A journey that repeats itself every time you start a new job, or make a new friend, or enter in a new relationship.
The hero’s journey becomes life itself.
And the hero, is you.
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