The Hero's Journey in Modern Film

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Countless quest narratives – ranging from modern texts all the way back to ancient texts – have all conformed to a certain archetypal structure. Christopher Vogler writes:

All stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies. They are known collectively as The Hero’s Journey. Understanding these elements and their use in modern writing is the object of our quest. Used wisely, these ancient tools of the storytellers craft still have tremendous power to heal our people and make the world a better place (xxvii).

Being one of the world’s most popular art forms, it was inevitable that these archetypes would find their way into film as well. In this essay I will argue that the films Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver, Watership Down, and Trainspotting are all versions of The Hero’s Journey, consequently demonstrating just how prevalent these archetypes have become in modern cinema. And that mythology and storytelling are important parts of each culture because they prevent the darkness in our hearts from spreading.

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell argues that most of the world’s mythologies and stories that feature a protagonist, or “hero,” going on a journey share an eerily similar structure. Campbell dubs this structure the “monomyth,” which he describes as follows: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (30). What is most important, however, is the purpose behind this journey. Campbell writes that the “modern hero-deed must be that of questing...

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...e thing. Mark Renton learns that the life he once thought of as boring is actually preferable to a life of addiction. From this one can learn not to, similar to the gangster world, romanticize drug culture and the drug world.

Each of these films, with release dates ranging from 1976 to 1996 (Taxi Driver and Trainspotting, respectively), have the same, eerily similar structure. This goes for more than just film. Any art form that contains narrative contains examples of this same monomyth structure, and film and literature alike will never cease in producing works that fit this structure. This is because, as previously stated, storytelling and mythology are integral parts of all human culture. They can show us the darkness that lies in wait for us, threatening to corrupt us, thus protecting us from it. Narrative, in this sense, acts as an instruction booklet for life.
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