Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Screenwriting 103 - Vogler's Hero's Journey

Literary Professor Joseph Campbell came up with the Monomyth of the Hero's Journey in 1949 with his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. He said that essentially all stories are the same story. Just as Vladimir Propp analysed thousands of Fairy Tales, Campbell analysed stories from across the globe, looking at cross-culture tales and looking for what made them the same (amongst all the guff).
In 1992, Christopher Vogler took Campbell's idea and ran away with it. He was a Story Exectutive at the time for Disney, but he placed Campbell's paradigm against films, and the 3 Act Structure. By writing the Writer's Journey Vogler made Campbell's paradigm more accessible to a wider audience. In actual fact, like Hauge, Vogler considers that we really have a 4 Act Structure to the stories we tell (again by splitting up Act 2... in two).
But Vogler also took Campbell's Archetypes as well (a more comprehensive version of Hauge's 4 primary characters). However, whereas Hauge states that the characters remain as their chosen type, Vogler argues that character roles may shift, as if the characters are wearing masks, and change their face throughout the story, to assume different roles. In this way, characters serve different functions at different times. Take Han Solo, for example, at first he could be either friend or foe. He is the trickster, out for himself, and the protagonist, Luke Skywalker, doesn't know whether he's trust worthy.

Undertaking the Hero's Journey

It is often the case these days that although Vogler states we begin in the Ordinary World, it is the Extraordinary World in which the tale opens. Like a prologue, it is a quick way into the story, making a promise to the audience about what is to come. In Star Wars, we open in the extraordinary world of Space, a Space battle, Darth Vader, stolen plans, a Princess, Droids on the run... and only twenty minutes in do we meet Luke Skywalker in his ordinary world. Indiana Jones always opens in the extraordinary world. In the Matrix, we open on the Police and the Agents tracking down Trinity. She pulls some funky, world-defying moves and bends reality with her skills, all before we settle back into Neo's ordinary world.

Note: In the case of the Matrix, the beginning opens with a voiceover between Cypher and Trinity, in which Cypher questions Trinity on watching 'him'. So we are given a nugget, possibly about our coming protagonist.

So, using the Matrix:

The Ordinary World ... limited awareness of the problem
We find Neo asleep (a metaphor for his real world situation). Neo is at home, surrounded by his hacker stuff, and we know this is his OW. However, thanks to the prologue we know he's going to up against that EW.

Call To Adventure ... Increased awareness
The Matrix has several calls to adventure. Neo is told to follow the White Rabbit; Trinity tells him he is close to answering "What is the Matrix" and the phone call by Morpheus to save him from the agents, resulting in Neo clambering onto the scaffold and...

Refusing The Call ... Reluctance to Change
Despite Neo's motivation to free himself and learn, he can't commit himself to the danger of escape. He refuses to climb out of the building and onto the scaffold, and is caught by the agents.

Meeting with the Mentor ... Overcoming Reluctance
The Mentor, Morpheus. Mentor comes from the Greek word Menos, encompassing the meanings: Intention, Force, Purpose, Mind and Courage. Here Neo, receives his final call to adventure, and takes it.

Crossing the First Threshold ... Committing to Change
This can be either physical or mental, direct or subtle. In the case of the Matrix, Neo steps free of the construct and emerges from his battery-womb, and comes face-to-face with reality.

Tests, Allies, Enemies ... Experimenting with the First Change
Neo undergoes a number of tests, meeting new friends, and potential enemies (who is the traitor? Is there one?) and a number of trials, again in the Matrix seen physically as the fight with Morpheus, the Lady in Red and the Jump program. The relevance of these tests and meetings often represent foreshadowing of later events, providing the audience with enough information to accept later developments or character abilities.

Approaching the Innermost Cave ... Preparing for Big Change
Here we close on the midpoint of the film. Often this is a symbolic cave. In the Matrix, Morpheus leads Neo back into the construct and Neo confronts the life he had. They then progress to the Oracle, going into a block of flats, then an elevator, until, in a dark corridor, it is up to Neo to go through the door.

The Supreme Ordeal ... Attempting Big Change
This is the midpoint of the film. The moment of death and ressurection. Our protagonist, or group, must come up against their greatest ordeal so far, and seemingly fail against insurmountable odds. Morpheus is captured by the agents, Apoc and Switch die, Cypher has betrayed them... all seems lost.

Reward (Seizing the Sword) ... Consequences of the attempt
This is the moment of improvement and setback for the protagonist, the point at which our hero chooses to make their stand and commit to their needs and wants. Having been told by the Oracle that he must choose between his life and Morpheus's, Neo stops Tank from pulling the plug. Neo finally sees his own potential and the possibilities of what he could do. This bit ends - clearly - with "Lots of guns".

The Road Back ... Re-dedication to Change
Our intrepid hero, taking the symbolic sword with him, chooses to go forward, not back. In the case of the Matrix, Neo and Trinity enter the heavily-guarded building and kick ass, committing themselves to pursuing their ultimate goal.

Resurrection ... Final Attempt at Big Change
In the Matrix, this occurs in two parts. Firstly, Neo accepts what must be done, and fights Agent Smith. Secondly, after he makes a dash for the phone, Smith guns him down, and kills him (I hope I'm not ruining this for anyone - rhetorical, don't answer that). Through Trinity's kiss he is resurrected, and literally stops the bullets.

Return with the Elixir ... Final Mastery of the Problem
Neo returns to the construct at the very end of the film. He looks around him, his eyes are open (in much the same way Mayo looks back on himself at the beginning of An Officer and a Gentleman) and we see how far Neo has come. He is now Master of Both Worlds. He then uncovers his most potent ability yet - to fly.

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