Study Guide

Bonnie and Clyde 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

At the beginning of the story, Bonnie's world is dull and boring. She craves adventure and excitement, but she doesn't know how to go about finding it.

Call To Adventure

Clyde is Bonnie's call to adventure. He's a handsome young man, which appeals to Bonnie's sexual appetite. He's also dangerous: he's been in jail, he's continued to be a thief, and he carries a gun. All this is super alluring to our bored Bonnie.

Refusal Of The Call

Bonnie doesn't take much time refusing. She is lured to Clyde right from the start. She does need to learn a bit about him before she does anything too rash, though. So, she and Clyde chat for a bit before he robs a store and effectively "wins" her.

Meeting The Mentor

Taking this approach, yes, the mentor has to be Clyde. (It certainly isn't going to be Blanche.) Bonnie wants the kind of adventure and excitement that a life of crime on the run will offer, and Clyde—because he's an experienced thief who knows how to use a gun—can offer her that. When they're first together, Clyde shows Bonnie the ropes—how to shoot a gun, pull off a robbery, etc.

Crossing The Threshold

The threshold here is the threshold between staying within the law and becoming an outlaw. Bonnie crosses the threshold as soon as she runs away with Clyde. At this point, she's committed both to him and a life of crime.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Bonnie has to undergo tests, forge alliances, and deal the enemies during the story. For example, she must learn to keep her head during bank robberies, during car chases, and when she and the others in the gang are being shot at.

She forges alliances both with Clyde and C.W., whom she recruits for the gang. She also has to contend with enemies—ranging from all the law enforcement after her to Blanche, who dislikes her.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Rather than any specific robbery or ordeal the gang goes through to survive, the inmost cave here refers to the inevitability of death—a death that will likely be coming soon and will likely be violent.

Bonnie increasingly handles this with a sense of acceptance and calm.

Ordeal

We can see the ordeal as the full arc of Bonnie's life of crime. When it begins, it's lots of fun for both her and Clyde. They get away with robbery after robbery and have a great time doing this. They even humiliate the dogged Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.

But, as their robberies continue, the whole situation becomes increasingly grim. The law's bearing down on the gang, and it's increasingly clear that Hamer and others want Bonnie and Clyde dead. As the violent encounters become more frequent and more ghastly, Bonnie's ordeal intensifies.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Bonnie doesn't seize the sword in any traditional King Arthur or Lord of the Rings way. Her reward is really twofold. First, she comes to terms with her destiny. While her life may not be a long one, she has done what many people never do—pursued the kind of life she wants to pursue and achieved a level of celebrity.

Second, she's also reached a level of peace and happiness with Clyde. During their last moments together in the film, both are sublimely happy.

The Road Back

There really isn't a road back for Bonnie, unfortunately. While she's reached a level of peace and happiness, she still has to face her comeuppance.

Resurrection

Ditto here. Bonnie's grown in the course of the story is her resurrection. She chooses a path, taken it, and made peace with the consequences.

Return With The Elixir

The elixir in this case might just be the realization that she has chosen her own path, found love along the way, and in the end lived the kind of life she wanted to live. In the end, that's all that anyone can hope for.

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