Study Guide

The Artist Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

George Valentin's everyday life may seem extraordinary to us, but being a major celebrity and media darling is what he knows and loves.

His days are full of excitement and adventure, but at the end of the day he returns to his cavernous mansion and his (dissatisfied) wife, and, like the rest of us, feels a bit lonely at times.

Call to Adventure

When Zimmer invites George into his screening room and shows him some raw footage of a new "talkie" he's working on, George is presented with a chance to keep up with the times and segue from silent film to sound.

Refusal of the Call

It's unclear why George is so hesitant to embrace the changing movie scene. Perhaps he feels he's not up to the challenge of changing his acting style. (Silent films required a greater physical prowess and exaggerated facial expressions, whereas sound films necessitated a subtler, more nuanced acting style.)

Maybe he doesn't believe the world around him will really change that much. Either way, George laughs talkies off as a passing trend.

Meeting the Mentor

It's hard to say who George's mentor is. Is it Clifton, the loyal chauffeur who sticks by him no matter what? Or Jack, the loyal Jack Russell terrier who's always at his side? Or is it Peppy, who embraces this new world with an ease George could only wish for? (This is complicated because, in many ways, George is also Peppy's mentor—getting her a job, inventing her beauty spot, encouraging her…)

Peppy's the first person George sees after he tells Zimmer he quit. She is excited, having just been hired by Kinograph, and represents the kind of confidence George needs but lacks. She gives George her number and tells him to call her.

Crossing the Threshold

Rather than ring up Peppy and attempt to follow in her footsteps, George uses the tools he's picked up over the course of his career to embark on a new adventure—making a movie of his own. It's painful to watch George cling to silent films (and burn through all his funds making one) while everyone around him is going gaga for talkies.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

When George's film fails at the box office and his wife leaves him, everything around him seems to crumble. Like the protagonist of Tears of Love, George is sinking in (metaphorical) quicksand…and it's his own fault. The only thing he has left is his pride, which also takes a hit when he overhears Peppy bad-mouthing silent film actors for a radio interview.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

With a deflated ego and no prospects for success, George moves beyond self-pity into full-on depression. Without film work his days are aimless and unproductive; unable to escape into the fantasy of acting, George is forced to face what it means to inhabit one's own self. Confronted with his own failures, he turns to alcoholism and then to self-loathing and nihilism.

Ordeal

In a drunken stupor, George decides to erase all traces of his past, lighting his film reels on fire. As the flames engulf his home, George begins to panic, suddenly realizing the gravity of what he has done, and clings to the only film reel that hasn't been destroyed. It seems certain that George will die in the fire.

Reward (Seizing the Sword)

After surviving the house fire, George is glad to be alive and he and Peppy are reunited when she takes him home from the hospital to help him recover.

The Road Back

As Peppy nurses George back to health, he's challenged to let down his guard and accept her help. He laughs and talks with Peppy, basking in the glow of her affection, and begins to see himself through her eyes. Even though Clifton advises him not to be "stubborn," his confidence is still shaky and he's aware of the power shift between him and Peppy as she goes off to work and he stays in bed.

Resurrection

After discovering that Peppy has made a museum-like room in her house, containing all the things that used to belong to him, George feels betrayed and humiliated. In a last impulsive move, George finds himself staring down the barrel of a gun. Once again, Peppy saves him from his fate. Finally, George realizes how selfish he's been.

Return With the Elixir

It's only once George is able to admit to his insecurities and play by the rules of the new world that he is restored to his rightful place on the set of a film. Finally, George and Peppy get to perform together, and we finally understand why George has been so resistant to speaking in movies—his accented voice—which he embraces once and for all.

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