Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Monomyth and Avatar's "Hero's Journey"

Figure 1. Poster for Avatar  (2012)

   The basis of any heroic story is a myth or a legend. Different peoples had and have different legends, but despite different cultures, the structure of the narrative of these legends and myths largely converges. Thanks to this, the viewer on the unconscious level can easily understand the story of the character.
   Joseph Campbell analysed all these stories, myths and legends and derived a general formula. The anthropologist called it "monomyth" or "Hero's Journey" an archetype of epic stories. It is described in detail in his book "A Hero with a Thousand Faces".

Figure 2. Joseph Campbell's monomyth structure  (2015)

   Monomyth - a single structure for any mythology, of the hero's life construction of life and wanderings. When the hero of a story passes the same tests, the same life path that can be broken down into certain stages. Cinematography is also quite actively using this archetype .Heroes of cinema and ancient legends are different variations of the same.
   In fact, films uses this narrative structure so often that viewers sometimes can predict what will happen next, but as George Lucas, (2016) the creator of "Star Wars" saga said:  "Don’t avoid the clichés—they are clichés because they work!"
   It is worth noting that not all the stories in the movies follow the monomyth structure strictly according to the points. The narrative mechanism is quite diverse, however in all cases the monomyth has three unchanged basic stages: Departure, Initiation and Return.
   In film avatar, which will be analyzed in this review, there are almost all the stages of the classical monomyth.
   Most highest-grossing films in the history of cinematography, the one that still leads that list's highest position, "Avatar" a 2009 American science fiction cult film by James Cameron.
Figure 3. World of Pandora  (2012)

   The plot of the film "Avatar" unfolds in the year of 2154. A special mission is carried out on a planet called Pandora by soldiers and scientists from Earth. Their task is to replenish precious Pandorian mineral - "unobtanium ". Mission breaks down because of the local aborigines - fierce three-meter blue-skinned humanoids with feline grace and with an excellent physical form called Na'vi. To get what they want inhabitants of the Earth decided to infiltrate their people to the ranks of the Na'vi using avatars where the human consciousness is loaded. When a person is placed in a unique device, his mind and consciousness transfer into an avatar of Na'vi, which he can control.
   The first stage shows our main hero, Jake Sully, in his "Ordinary World" living his ordinary life as a marine disabled veteran, who is, at the right moment, just going through a personal crisis associated with self-determination and self-realization. He cannot confidently go further into his future, both mentally and physically.
    Jake receives an offer to replace his dead twin brother in controlling the avatar. The death of Jake’s twin brother is a sign, a call, a chance, which Jake cannot miss – his Call to Adventure. Jake agrees, because he has not "found himself" yet, disabled and lost, our hero holds onto this opportunity. He did not refuse this important Call.
   After arriving on Pandora Jake meets up with two of his mentors"father" figure in the person of strong-willed Commander and "mother" figure in the person of Grace. Firstly, Jake obeys the Commander and acknowledges only his authority, Commander teaches Jake stiffness and strength. However Grace teaches our soldier the understanding and feeling of the inner peace and world. She is a counterbalance to a simple physical strength.
   When Jake enters a world of Pandora through his avatar he crosses the Threshold of the Worlds. Within this new world, world full of beauty and danger, our hero starts to rethink himself, his values and beliefs.
   Jake found himself in the environment where he never been before - in nature, among the local "jungle" and the wild beasts. Dangerous world – Belly of the Whale. Our soldier nearly died there, only Neytiri, a native Na'vi girl, helps Jack to survive. From this moment, begins his contact with the Na’vi tribe. Hero’s avatar is accepted into her clan, and he learns to be one of them, which includes The Road of Trials - passing numerous tests and tasks. Jake starts to understand and adapt to Na’vi life, he learns to respect the beautiful and harmonious world of Pandora.
   Goddess for Jake are both Neytiri and Nature itself - Eywa. Sully ceases to see the source of resources in deified Nature and adopts new rules of life. Neytiri provides a connection between Jake and Eywa.
   The Commander offers Jake to collect intelligence information about the Na’vi clan. In return, he promises to pay for the treatment of Jake’s spine. Jake is being tempted by this offer, however, now soldier’s views on life are different -The world of Na'vi seems to him a reality, but the person in a wheelchair - a dream.
   Alien clan lost all trust in Jake, and humans consider him as a traitor. During the escape from humans, Grace, mentor and Jake’s „mother” figure dies.
   Apotheosis happens when our main hero repeats the feat of the legendary hero "Toruk Macto", by riding and taming the supreme flying predator toruk, than returns the trust of Na’vi clan. He is now the greatest warrior. Jake calls to gather the tribes and drive away the the colonists. Our soldier is ready to protect what is dear to him. He is ready to face his greatest fear. It is his Ultimate Boon.
   But, realizing that chances of them winning are slim, Sully makes a Magic Flight, he escapes and prays to nature, to Eywa, to help them.
   Rescue from Without happens when the battle is almost lost, but nature turns against the colonists - the whole fauna attacks and overcomes the people of Earth.
   Crossing the Return Threshold happens when the Commander and Jake Sully fights for the last time. Hero wins.
   Jake now is a Master of Two Worlds, human race is no longer a threat to the Pandorians. The hero now stands on the free border between humans and Na’vi. Our soldier finally acquired the opportunity to move freely in his life, now he is the leader of the clan, he is Toruk Makto. Jake Sully sees his new world with the eyes of his Avatar, it is his Freedom to live.

1. Friscia, J. (2016) Don’t avoid the clichés… At: (Accessed on 3 October 2017) 
1.   Figure 1.(2012)[Film Poster], accessed on 4 October 2017.
2. Figure 2.(2015)[Illustration], accessed on 4 October 2017.
3. Figure 3.(2012)[Film Still], accessed on 4 October 2017.

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