Study Guide

Home Alone 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 encounter Kevin, he's an eight-year-old kid who can't pack his own suitcase—it seems like an incredibly daunting task to him. He bothers his mom while she tries to prepare for the family's trip to France, and catches beef with his family members—trying to tackle his brother Buzz, after Buzz greedily devours a plain cheese pizza set-aside for Kevin, and inadvertently spilling soda on his Uncle Frank.

He's a pest in everyone else's eyes, and he seems unable to fend for himself. He also acts bratty, telling his mom that he wishes he didn't have a family and that he was completely alone.

Call To Adventure

When they accidentally miscount the number of kids in the van headed to the airport, Kevin's family forgets to bring him along. This provides him with an opportunity to fend for himself—exactly what he wanted. At first, he goes bananas, gorging on ice cream and watching violent movies.

But, gradually, he realizes he needs to try to survive—he can't continue to be helpless and irresponsible. He has to become the Bear Grylls of suburban Chicago.

Refusal Of The Call

When the burglars Marv and Harry come and try to break in, Kevin scares them away by turning on the basement light. But, he also freaks out and hides under the bed. In a way, it's not that big of a "refusal"—he still got them to leave.

Yet, at the same time, he feels like he was wimping out. Summoning all his resources of courage, Kevin runs outside yelling, "I'm not afraid anymore!" But Old Man Marley approaches, carrying his snow-shovel, and Kevin—believing Buzz's earlier lie about Marley being a serial killer—runs away.

Meeting The Mentor

Is Marley Kevin's mentor? Sort of…but not really. Kevin doesn't get to talk to Marley until later in the movie, when he realizes that Marley's actually a good guy. And Marley shares some wisdom with Kevin, and Kevin shares some wisdom with him.

Yet Kevin's already learned most of his important lessons at that point: he misses his family, wants them back, and is preparing to defeat the two criminals. So, no one's ever showed him the ropes, or instructed him on how to fend for himself. Rather, the challenges Kevin faces, and the need to survive, teach him everything he needs to know.

Crossing The Threshold

After an initial "fun and games" period, Kevin gets down to the difficult business of survival. He raids his brother's life savings, and uses the money to buy food, toothpaste, fabric softener, and more.

He even does laundry and confronts the scary furnace in the basement—and later, he successfully orders a pizza (although he stiffs the pizza boy on the tip). He's embraced the challenge of being home alone, and is on his way to becoming a real mensch.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Meanwhile, the burglars are still waiting to make their move. Kevin fakes them out with the silhouettes from a mannequin and a cardboard cut-out in the window, and later uses the VHS tape of a violent movie (Angels with Filthy Souls) to make Marv think a gangster is killing someone in Kevin's house.

Also, a cop chases him after he (Kevin) steals a tube of toothpaste from a convenience store. But, there is at least one ally: when Kevin goes to church, he sees Old Man Marley. They talk, and Kevin tells him how he's sad about the way he treated his family. Turns out, Marley has an estranged son and Kevin urges him to reconcile with him.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Kevin starts to regret making his family disappear (he doesn't realize that they've gone to France without him and that his mother is trying to get back to Chicago). Remorseful, he visits a Santa at a local Christmas display, where kids can come and tell Santa what they want.

Although the Santa is eager to get to a holiday get-together, Kevin tells him to ask the real Santa to bring Kevin's family back. The Santa (assuming Kevin's family is dead or something) says he'll do what he can, and gives Kevin some Tic-Tacs.

Ordeal

After lodging his request with Santa and chatting with Marley at church, Kevin prepares for the burglars who are planning on coming back to his house at 9 p.m. Kevin overheard them plotting outside the house, after they realized that he is home alone.

Eager to defend his home and wreak vengeance on these two goons, Kevin crafts an elaborate maze of booby traps, complete with icy stairs, a boiling hot doorknob, a nail stuck on a staircase, and a clothing iron ready to smash you on the face.

His BB gun is locked and loaded: it's judgment day.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Kevin "seizes the sword" with the wrath of a Babylonian deity. He smites, he scourges—he nearly kills. As they attempt to break into his house, Marv and Harry barely have time to realize what hit them—Harry is burned on the head with an improvised blow-torch, after burning his hand on a flaming hot door knob and getting shot in the huevos with a BB gun; Marv slips down a flight of steps, gets smashed on the head with a clothes iron, steps on a strategically placed nail (which sticks directly into the soft instep arch of his foot), and further shreds his feet by stepping on Christmas ornaments...among other booby traps.

Where's all the blood?

The Road Back

Kevin almost escapes the burglars, but they intercept him at the absent neighbors' house. Harry's about to bite Kevin's fingers off, when Marley sneaks up from behind and smashes them in the head with the snow shovel.

For some unknown reason, Marley lets him go back to his (Kevin's) house alone, where Kevin waits to see if Santa will bring his family back. And Kevin's mom is on her way, traveling with a polka band led by an amiable guy named Gus Polinski (John Candy).

Resurrection

Waking up on Christmas, Kevin runs downstairs to see if his family has arrived. Initially, it appears like they haven't, and he's disappointed. But the polka band drops his mom off, she pops through the door, and they hug, all past grievances forgotten.

Then, unexpectedly, the rest of the family comes through the door—they've all arrived from France, having taken a flight Kevin's mom didn't want to wait for. Kevin's survived his encounter with the burglar, and has become a real, competent man. And his family's reappeared from the limbo (or France) into which Kevin had wished them.

Return With The Elixir

Everyone in the family's impressed by the way Kevin went shopping and managed to survive on his own for three days. They're all very complimentary. There's something different about him: he's got the juice.

When Kevin looks out the window, he sees Marley re-uniting with his and the son's family, picking up his granddaughter and hugging her. As he and Kevin exchange a wave and a smile, we realize that Marley found the courage to make-up with his son by talking with Kevin, who told him how to confront his fears.

Kevin's brought the fruits of his newfound maturity (the "elixir") into the future, beyond just fending off the burglars. We know he's more than ready to face new challenges—the first of which will be dealing with Buzz after he discovers that Kevin trashed his room.

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