Study Guide

Brokeback Mountain Hero's Journey

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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

This world may be ordinary, but it's also stunningly beautiful. We're planning our Wyoming road trip now.

Apart from the fact that everything looks like a postcard, though, things are normal. There are two cowboys starting a summer job herding sheep—and there's no hint that either one will be exploring their sexuality on the mountain.

Call To Adventure

Watching sheep munch on pastures all day is the opposite of adventure. What's a sheep wrangler to do all by himself on a mountain? Well, Ennis and Jack aren't by themselves, and every day they grow closer to one another.

Refusal Of The Call

Steps 3, 4, and 5 happen in rapid succession inside the camp tent on a cold, cold night. When Jack asks Ennis to sleep inside the tent, he refuses. It snows, and Ennis enters the tent. Then Jack kisses Ennis, and Ennis pushes Jack away.

Meeting The Mentor

Jack can be seen as a mentor in this case, because he's more sexually experienced than Ennis is. He's a very willing guide, and Ennis is an apt pupil.

Crossing The Threshold

This is almost a literal crossing of the threshold: as soon as Ennis steps into the tent, he's moving into uncharted territory.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Long-distance relationships are hard today, and we have Snapchat. Jack and Ennis have to communicate via postcard, and keeping the passion alive is trying for the men. They lie to their wives, and while Jack's remains oblivious, Ennis's wife Alma turns antagonistic toward her lying, cheating husband.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Although the physical distance between the two remains the same, each time they bridge it, they become emotionally more distant. Brokeback Mountain turns from a symbol of love into a roadblock between them.


Jack suggests that Ennis move to Texas, but Ennis chooses his family over Jack. It's the last time the men will meet, and Jack seems to regret their whole relationship during the biggest argument they've ever had. This is the now-classic "I wish I knew how to quit you" moment.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

There's no reward in Brokeback Mountain. Jack is beaten to death, and Ennis must live with the consequences, knowing that if he and Jack had chosen to be together, Jack's life wouldn't have ended this way.

Or maybe they both would have died this way, if Jack's death was actually a hate crime. There is no way to know.

The Road Back

Ennis attempts to return Jack's ashes to Brokeback Mountain, where their love affair began, but Jack's parents deny Ennis the remains. There's little solace for Ennis after Jack's death.


Ennis's glimmer of hope comes from his daughter, Alma Jr. Ennis agrees to attend her wedding. Maybe he'll meet someone at the wedding. Or at the very least continue to be a part of his daughter's life. Either way, there is a chance he won't be a sad loner for the rest of his days.

Return With The Elixir

The only small bit of comfort Ennis receives is from his and Jack's shirts, which Jack saved, and Ennis retrieves from his closet. The shirts serve as a concrete reminder that someone loved Ennis, and he loved that man in return.

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