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.)
Taylor's ordinary world is the nice comfortable life of a college in the United States. By the time we meet Taylor he has already left this world behind in order to serve his country in Vietnam.
Call To Adventure
Fed up with the fact that only the poor kids were suffering, and the rich were getting away with everything, Taylor enlists in the army. He tells his grandmother in one of his letters that he enlisted because he wanted to serve his country just like his grandfather and father did in the world wars.
Refusal Of The Call
During his first night patrol, Chris Taylor is about as incompetent as it gets. He forgets to turn the safety off on his Claymore mine and is thus unable to help initially. In a way, this is his unintentional refusal to kill people in battle, to participate in the adventure he signed up for.
Meeting The Mentor
After his first patrol running point, Taylor passes out from heat exhaustion and fatigues. Elias comes over and gives him some coaching—Taylor is carrying too much stuff. Thus begins a short but important relationship for Chris Taylor.
Crossing The Threshold
By the time the platoon gets to the village, Taylor is a convert. He has no problem screaming at a villager and making him "dance" around the bullets of his machine gun. Taylor is starting to act like other veterans.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Taylor alienates some of his fellow soldiers when he rescues the girl they are raping. Once he figures out Barnes killed Elias, and tries to beat the tar out of Barnes, he makes an enemy out of him too.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
The "cave" in this one is almost a real cave—it's an underground drug den and hangout where all sorts of illicit activities take place. It is here that Taylor realizes the truth about Elias' death, and also decides he wants to kill Barnes. He even attacks Barnes, unsuccessfully.
In the second half of the film, Taylor faces two, major ordeals: survival and Barnes. He must figure what to do about Barnes (and avenge Elias' death) before Barnes figures out what to do with him, and he has to stay alive so he can get home, so he can undo his "mistake."
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
Instead of a sword it's a gun, and Chris Taylor picks one up after he miraculously survives a near death experience (the aerial bombardment). A wounded Barnes is nearby and Taylor is able to avenge Elias' death by killing Barnes and making it out of the war.
The Road Back
After killing Barnes, it's all downhill for Taylor ("all gravy," as King might say). He can go back and wait to get picked up and shipped home because the war is over him. That second wound he during the aerial bombardment is his ticket home.
Taylor survives the aerial bombardment, and he defeats Barnes. In the process, he's wounded, which means he gets to leave Vietnam, having successfully negotiated both "ordeals."
Return With The Elixir
At the end of the film, Chris leaves Vietnam on a chopper, never to return (having been wounded twice, he has earned his ticket home). The war has changed him, and he knows he will carry its lessons and responsibilities with him forever. So much for the happy ending.