The Hero’s Journey On Screen
The Hero’s Journey, or the monomyth, is one of the biggest storytelling devices in the literary world. When translated to the big screen and married with flashing lights and other-worldly action, the results are epic.
Joseph Campbell coined The Hero’s Journey as such:
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.
Several big-name films utilize this device in fantastical settings: Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord of The Rings come to mind. As excited as these legendary tales get me, I’ve been quite interested in the everyday protagonist as of late:
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed tells the true story of a woman (played by Reese Witherspoon) with no outdoors experience who backpacks the arduous Pacific Crest trail as a metaphor to her own life’s journey.
- Eat Pray Love (Julia Roberts) was my flagship favorite which showed one person’s journey around three countries as she mourns her divorce.
- The Way hurls an untrained man (Martin Sheen) onto The Way of St. James, a renowned pilgrimage, after losing his son (Emilio Estevez) on this trail.
The Hero’s Journey In Real Life
The Hero’s Journey is also why we find ourselves rooting for those average Joes who set out to accomplish goals larger than life. I truly believe seeing another accomplish their dreams despite the odds speaks to that cavern inside us—that place we stuff the hopes of our childhood into, guarded by the naysaying of our grown-up selves. For this reason, I love a story I just read today: ‘Fat Guy Across America’ Hits New York. Dude bikes across the country after he gained a daunting amount of weight and his wife left him. What’s sad to me is the negativity of today’s jaded society. “He’s just doing this for the money”, they say. “He’s cheating”. Critics point out that he’s still smoking and eating unhealthily, pointing to this as evidence that he “doesn’t really want to change”. His wife even took back her decision and rejoined him on the trail to rekindle their love, which made the doubter in me wonder if she is just doing this for the fame.
Then I recalled the book A Million Miles in A Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Miller claims that people often revert to their vices—drugs, divorce, faulty “love”, etc.—because they aren’t playing a better role in a worthwhile story. He tells the story of a friend, Jason, whose daughter is dating a jerk. Jason announces that he’s decided they, as a family, will need to raise thousands of dollars to build a house for families in need in Mexico. Although his wife and daughter are in shock at first, his wife later embraces him and tells him she’s never been so proud of him as she was then, rekindling an intimacy they hadn’t experienced in months—even years. Jason’s daughter breaks up with her jerk boyfriend and gets excited finding ways to fundraise for the house.
“No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”
Life is a Beautiful Journey
As I prepare to leave in 10 days for my 6-month discipleship training and missions outreach program, these stories resonate with me even more personally. According to the diagram above, I’m 10 days away from crossing into the unknown, aided supernaturally and also practically from guardians who have contributed overwhelming amounts of money, prayer, and encouragement as I’ve wavered in my confidence to go.
So it was quite perfect that Will Rosenberg, who is involved in the circuit I’m stepping into (YWAM), painted this on a mug for me:
Life is a Beautiful Journey. Fear Not.
So often I’m wrapped up in marking off a checkbox on my to-do list, I don’t take the time to really immerse myself in the moment, or the lesson. I get impatient with the task at hand, and myself. To any of you who struggle the same, I encourage you: Trust the journey. Live in the moment. Breathe in His presence at the present, for God is knitting a tapestry far greater than we could ever appreciate in the thread of that moment.