Study Guide

Fargo 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

When we first see Marge, a pregnant police chief in Brainerd, MN, we're already pretty deep into the movie. We've witnessed Jerry's plot play out and observed the inept kidnapping attempt and the triple-homicide that Carl and Gaear commit.

We shift gears suddenly, and see Marge lying peacefully in bed with Norm, the evidence of his mallard duck art project nearby. It's a vision of domestic bliss and stability, outside of Jerry, Carl, and Gaear's world.

Call To Adventure

Suddenly, Marge—being the chief of police—gets a phone call about a triple-homicide out on the highway. One of the murder victims is a state trooper, and the others are an unfortunate couple that were just passing by at the wrong time. She yanks herself out of bed and heads over.

Refusal Of The Call

Marge doesn't refuse the call—she's too awesome. But she does have to drag herself out of bed, which can be difficult when you're seven months pregnant.

Meeting The Mentor

Marge doesn't really have a mentor. She's pretty much the most competent person in the entire movie. Nevertheless, the movie does sort of fill in the "Mentor" stage when Marge meets with Officer Lou at the crime scene.

Lou's not really a mentor, but he's able to fill her in on some of the details. Yet Marge politely demonstrates her superior competence by correcting his police work. She's the chief, after all.

Crossing The Threshold

A little later, they learn that the car the bad guys were using—a Ciera—was parked at the Blue Ox Motel, a trucker joint where the perps slept with prostitutes. Marge is able to interview the two sex workers, but gets nothing useful from them—until they tell her that the two criminals were headed to the Twin Cities.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

After interviewing the prostitutes, Marge tries to pry information out of Shep Proudfoot and Jerry Lundegaard himself. At first, Jerry's able to avoid helping her by denying that any Ciera is missing from his lot.

Also, she has a weird dinner with Mike Yanagita, a former classmate who claims his wife died from leukemia, when, in reality, he doesn't have a wife. He was just stalking the woman he claimed to have married (who's still alive). This was a personal test for Marge, who believes his story and only finds out later that he was lying to her. This is just about her only failure in the film.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Marge visits Jerry again to ask him about the Ciera. This time, Jerry gets "snippy," finally agrees to do an inventory on his car lot, but instead flees the interview. Effectively, he's identified himself as the perpetrator. Meanwhile, one of Marge's officers, Olson, talks to a local bartender, Mr. Mohra, who says that he talked to a suspicious guy who claimed to be a murderer. This leads Marge out to Moose Lake, where Carl and Gaear are staying.

Ordeal

Marge spots the Ciera at Carl and Gaear's cabin, arriving just in time to see Gaear stuffing the last of Carl's corpse into a wood chipper. At first, Gaear can't hear her over the noise of the chipper, but when he does, he throws a block of wood at her and tries to run away.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Marge shoots Gaear in the leg as he tries to run out onto the lake. She successfully arrests him, surveys the casualties at the cabin, and takes him away in her police car.

The Road Back

Marge drives Gaear back to the station in her police car. She lectures him, saying that she doesn't understand how he and Carl could've murdered so many people just for a little money.

Resurrection

Marge is triumphant—she's cracked the case, and arrested the surviving perp. At the same time, police officers track Jerry down and arrest him at a motel. Unfortunately, a long trail of bloodshed has led up to this point. Jean, Carl, Wade, a parking lot attendant, an innocent couple, and a state trooper have all been murdered.

But Marge herself has definitely succeeded. It's not necessarily a resurrection, because Marge has never really changed in the course of the story. She just gets back in bed with Norm where she was when we met her, and for now, her world is back in its comfortable routine.

Return With The Elixir

At the end, Marge watches TV in bed with Norm. He's disappointed that his duck painting is only making it onto a three-cent stamp, but Marge optimistically points out that people buy those whenever the postage is raised. She's able to comfort him effectively, and seems really proud of him. They both contentedly await the birth of their child.

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