Study Guide

The Matrix 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 meet Neo, he's nodded off on his computer with his headphones on. His room is messy and minimally lit, and on the monitor we see a random jumbling of news articles.

In the seconds it takes for us to take this in we learn exactly who Neo is. He's your typical hermit-type computer nerd who doesn't see enough of the sun…but who also happens to be a hacker who's relentlessly searching for something until he literally can't keep his eyes open.

Call To Adventure

We doubt ol' Joe Campbell was being literal with the "call to adventure" stage, but that's exactly what Neo gets. After he takes Trinity's bait on the computer and follows the white rabbit to the club, and after he meets Trinity who whispers about the mysterious entity known as Morpheus, he gets a call on a cellphone from the big man himself.

This is it; after years of searching, Neo's time has finally come.

Refusal Of The Call

Or has it? As excited as Neo is upon hearing Morpheus' voice, he can't do what Morpheus asks him to do.

He follows instructions closely at first, but when he has to open the window and clamber around the outside of the skyscraper, it's just too much for our scaredy-cat hacker to handle.

Meeting The Mentor

Perhaps the most famous scene in the whole movies is Neo's first meeting with Morpheus: the big leather armchairs, the colored pills, the aviator shades and awesome trench coat.

And Morpheus has just as much impact on Neo as he has on the audience. Neo wants to make heads and tails of the Matrix and Morpheus is the man who will guide him toward enlightenment.

But, uhh, it might hurt a little.

Crossing The Threshold

Maybe having a hallucinogenic metallic liquid cover your body and rush down your throat isn't the ideal way to start an adventure but, unfortunately for Neo, his journey across the threshold doesn't get any easier when he's in the real world.

Neo wakes up in his body, is detached and discarded by a giant bug robot, and then craned up into a hovercraft where he passes out. But hey, he finally made it.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Neo is taken through a variety of exercises to learn what he's capable of inside a computer program like the Matrix. He spars Morpheus in a dojo, jumps (or fails to jump) between city buildings, and learns about the danger of agents and red dresses.

He also gets to meet the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar and adjust to life in the future…or, present.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

But it's only fun and games and downloading jiu jitsu for so long before Neo is confronted with some real trouble.

We're not talking about the agents yet; Neo's approach to the inmost cave is his talk with the Oracle. This is the place where Neo's doubts and fears are manifested.

He's told that he isn't The One and is turned away, having come up short. Of course, seeing the Oracle meant entering the Matrix, and it's in the program that was his old reality where Neo will face his first real (well, simulated) challenge.


The main event of The Matrix comes when Neo decides to head back into the Matrix to rescue Morpheus. Bringing Trinity and a lot of guns with him, he storms Agent Smith's hideout, kills all the guards and grabs Morpheus with a helicopter.

But it's the climax of this battle that matters most. When Neo is finally put head to head with the agents, he discovers that he's able to move just as fast as they are, dodging bullets like no tomorrow.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Unfortunately, Neo doesn't get to seize the sword for very long. Yes, his newfound incredible speed is…incredible, but with Cypher's betrayal, things are about to get a lot worse before Neo can finish his journey.

The Road Back

The road back home is slogged by deceit. Cypher kills Dozer and wounds Tank before he starts unplugging Switch and the rest of the crew. Tank puts an end to it just before Neo is a goner, but then he's stuck alone in the Matrix, fighting Smith with no back up.


After failing to kill Agent Smith in the subway, Neo decides to make a run for it. But the agents are too fast for him and eventually track him down, shooting him dead in an apartment hallway.

But what with Trinity confessing her love to his unconscious body, Neo has a very literal resurrection. He wakes up and is done dodging bullets. He stops them in midair then dives inside of Smith, blowing him to green Smith-ereens.

Return With The Elixir

The elixir that Neo returns with is himself.

He's shown that he is truly The One. He brings with him a hope for finally ending the war with the Machines and unplugging the rest of the helpless humans from the Matrix. The Ordeal and Resurrection haven't just proved Neo a capable fighter, but a savior for mankind.

Oh, and he can fly now.