Study Guide

Goodfellas 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

Brooklyn is Henry's home turf. Like most teens who aren't international pop stars, he lives at home with his mom, dad, and siblings.

Call to Adventure

Henry is called to adventure when he gazes below at the cabstand through his window blinds. There, he sees wiseguys in flashy suits, puffing on cigars, maxin', relaxin', and generally having a swell time. Before you can say "taxi," he gets a part-time job there.

Refusal of the Call

When Henry's dad finds out his son has been skipping school for months, working at the cabstand instead, he beats up Henry. Henry then goes to Tuddy and says he has to quit before his dad turns his face into ground beef.

Meeting the Mentor

Henry's first real encounter with Paulie, including his first taste of Paulie's power, comes when Paulie has his guys pop Henry's mailman's head into the pizza oven at La Bella Vista. Thanks to Paulie, Henry's household never gets a letter from his truant officer again.

Crossing the Threshold

When Henry refuses to rat out his pals after getting pinched selling stolen cigarettes, the whole crew is at the courthouse to celebrate. Jimmy even slips Henry some cash, calling it his "graduation present." After that, it's crystal clear that Henry is part of the gang.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Henry's rise through the mob's ranks is filled with obstacles and tests. There's the Air France robbery, hiding Billy Batts' body, re-hiding Billy Batts' body, keeping his wife and his girlfriend happy, a four-year stint in jail, and the infamous Lufthansa heist.

For Henry and his crew, these challenges are a family affair. Jimmy and Tommy are with Henry all along the way, and they're often joined by an assortment of other allies, most of them gangsters, like Frank. But, as Frank's murder proves, in mobland, an ally can become an enemy in an instant.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

This is the step in the journey where the hero makes his final preparations before jumping headfirst into his greatest danger. For Henry, that's when he lies to Paulie about the drugs. Paulie tells Henry to knock it off with the trafficking, and Henry says he will. Then, he goes right back to pushing cocaine. Even worse, he enlists Tommy and Jimmy to help him behind Paulie's back.


Henry's supreme ordeal stretches on for an entire day: Sunday, May 11, 1980. He has errands to run, a brother to pick up, a helicopter to evade, sauce to stir—oh, and lots of drugs to get to his contacts in Pittsburgh. His challenge? Do all of that without burning the sauce and getting busted. Because, after lying to Paulie and roping in Tommy and Jimmy, if Henry gets busted, he's a dead man.

Reward (Seizing the Sword)

Henry may be the hero of this tale, but, objectively, he's not a very good guy. Therefore, his Hero's Journey is different—so different, in fact, that he doesn't get a reward. He doesn't win. He just gets arrested by narcs in his driveway.

Of course, you could argue that Henry's prize for getting arrested is that he gets a chance to start over and try being a fine, upstanding citizen, without having to worry about getting whacked. But, Henry probably would consider that more of a punishment than a reward, wouldn't he?

The Road Back

The Road Back is the reverse of Crossing the Threshold. For Henry, his is through the courtroom, where he rats out Jimmy and Paulie in order to avoid jail time. In the eyes of the law, this is about as close as the lifelong criminal can get to being forgiven.


After testifying against his former BFFs, Henry goes into the Witness Protection Program and is resurrected as a whole new person.

Return With the Elixir

This stage in the Hero's Journey is usually when the hero returns home to his Ordinary World as a changed man. In Henry's case, he's definitely a changed man at the end of the movie—heck, he even has a shiny new identity, thanks to the Witness Protection Program—but he doesn't go home. He can never go home. His new Ordinary World is suburban Nowhere, USA. There, his problems are solved for the most part, and he and his family are forced to start over and gain a fresh perspective on life as a family of average schnooks.

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