Monday, June 1, 2009

The Mythology Structure - Part 2

(SPOILERS:  Star Wars, The Matrix)

Last time I talked about the stages of the mythology structure that tend to fall in Act I.  This time I’ll discuss the ones that usually fall in Acts II and III.

If you’ll recall, Act I ends with the hero entering a “Special World” that is unfamiliar to the hero.  This special world can be an actual place (the dangerous realm of Imperial controlled outer space in the case of Star Wars – written by George Lucas) or an emotional state or even an ideological situation.  Once in the special world, we reach the stage known as… 

Allies & Enemies:  The hero goes through an initial period where they explore the special world and learn about it.  This includes meeting allies and enemies that will help and hinder them along the course of their journey.  In Star Wars, Luke meets Han Solo and Chewbacca and personally encounters Storm Troopers for the first time.

Visiting the Oracle:  In some movies the hero makes a visit to an oracle.  Don’t confuse this with a mentor character.  An oracle is someone with information the hero needs, but not someone who is really coaching or guiding the hero.  The hero has to journey to the oracle and sometimes even pass a test in order to get the information.  Star Wars doesn’t have this stage, but one of my favorite Oracle scenes is in The Silence of the Lambs (screenplay by Ted Tally).  In it, Clarice must go to a museum to get some entomologists to identify a cocoon that is a crucial clue.  Those entomologists are oracles!

The Innermost Cave:  At some point the characters enter the deepest heart of the special world.  In a romantic comedy this might be the love interest’s bedroom.  In Star Wars it’s the detention level of the Death Star.  In Imperial controlled outer space, the prison at the center of the most powerful Imperial space ship is the most dangerous place imaginable.

Supreme Ordeal:  In the innermost cave the hero faces a supreme ordeal.  Personally, I don’t care for this term because it implies it is the biggest moment in the movie and that should actually be the climax.  But the idea is the hero faces a big challenge.  In Star Wars, that challenge is rescuing Princess Leia and fighting off the Storm Troopers. 

Seizing the Elixir:  When the hero succeeds at the supreme ordeal, he is given a reward.  This reward is the thing he will ultimately need to solve his problem.  He may not realize that fact at this point, however.  The Elixir can be an item but it can also be a crucial piece of knowledge, a person, or an emotional revelation.  In Star Wars the elixir is Princess Leia.  She is what Luke needs to get the information out of R2D2 that will reveal the flaw in the Death Star design.

Death and Resurrection:  Somewhere in here the hero experiences some kind of death and resurrection.  It can be a near death experience or a metaphorical death, such as a loss of virginity, the destruction of a home or the hero passing out.  The point of this scene is to reflect the character’s change.  It’s the death of the old character and the birth of the new.

In Star Wars this stage comes in the trash compactor scene when Luke is dragged underwater and we fear he might be dead.  In Star Wars the death and resurrection are purely metaphorical, but sometimes the death scene is actually tied to the character’s change.  For example, in The Matrix (written by Andy & Larry Wachowski) Neo actually appears to die but then comes back to life as the One as a direct result of the experience.  Other times the character may have to demonstrate or prove their changed thinking to “resurrect” themselves.

Return to the Normal World:  Act II ends with some kind of return to the normal world.  In Star Wars, Luke and company escape the Death Star and reach the rebel base.  This isn’t the normal world Luke started out in, but it is a safe, friendly environment where he fits in.  This is often the case - the character doesn’t exactly go back to the beginning, but goes instead to some similarly comfortable place or state of mind.

Final Conflict:  The hero must now face the final challenge which will mean ultimate success or failure.  This is the climax of the movie.  In Star Wars, Luke must destroy the Death Star.

Master of Both Worlds:  When the hero wins the final conflict he now becomes master of both worlds - the normal and special.  In Star Wars, Luke has become a successful space adventurer and also has formed a new family, which we see in the denouement at the end when he is united with Leia, Han, Chewie, and the robots at the medal ceremony.

Next time I’ll discuss the archetypal characters of the hero’s journey.


pmottaz said...

For "Star Wars," couldn't the oracle be Luke training on the Falcon? It's the first time he uses the Force and Obi-Wan even says something about him taking his first step into a larger world. It's all gonna help him down the line.

Doug Eboch said...

I would say that's more a part of the mentor process. Usually the hero has to make a journey to see the oracle. The line between mentor and oracle is admittedly blurry, though.