The Hero and the Perennial Journey Home in American Film

The Hero and the Perennial Journey Home in American Film

The Hero and the Perennial Journey Home in American Film

The Hero and the Perennial Journey Home in American Film

Synopsis

In contemporary America, myths find expression primarily in film. What's more, many of the highest-grossing American movies of the past several decades have been rooted in one of the most fundamental mythic narratives, the hero quest. Why is the hero quest so persistently renewed and retold? In what ways does this universal myth manifest itself in American cinema? And what is the significance of the popularity of these modern myths?

The Hero and the Perennial Journey Home in American Film by Susan Mackey-Kallis is an exploration of the appeal of films that re-create and reinterpret this mythic structure. She closely analyzes such films as E.T., the Star Wars trilogy, It's a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz, The Lion King, Field of Dreams, The Piano, Thelma and Louise, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Elements of the quest mythology made popular by Joseph Campbell, Homer's Odyssey, the perennial philosophy of Aldous Huxley, and Jungian psychology all contribute to the compelling interpretive frameworkin which Mackey-Kallis crafts her study. She argues that the purpose of the hero quest is not limited to the discovery of some boon or holy grail, but also involves finding oneself and finding a home in the universe. The home that is sought is simultaneously the literal home from which the hero sets out and the terminus of the personal growth he or she undergoes during the journey back. Thus the quest, Mackey-Kallis asserts, is an outward journey into the world of action and events which eventually requires a journey inward if the hero is to grow, and ultimately necessitates a journey homeward if the hero is to understand the grail and share it with the culture at large. Finally, she examinesthe value of mythic criticism and addresses questions about myth currently being debated in the field of communication studies.

Excerpt

Many of the top-grossing films in the American cinema have been based, however loosely, on the hero quest. Such a quest does not involve simply the hero’s discovery of some boon or Holy Grail, however; it also involves finding him-or herself, which ultimately means finding a home in the universe. Home is often the literal home from which the hero sets out, but more significantly, it is a state of mind or a way of seeing not possible before the hero departs. The hero’s journey, in Joseph Campbell’s words, “is a labor not of attainment but of reattainment, not discovery but rediscovery. The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time.” The hero’s quest, then, is a double quest that often requires a journey home not only to the place from whence the hero departed but to a state of being or consciousness that was within the hero’s heart all along. To put it simply, the hero’s journey outward into the world of action and events eventually requires a journey inward—if the hero is to grow— and ultimately necessitates a journey homeward—if the hero is to understand his or her grail or boon and is to share it with the culture at large. This book is an attempt to trace the story of this quest and its various permutations as it has been told and retold again and again in some of the most popular films in contemporary American cinema.

Some of the films discussed in this book trace the circular path taken by protagonists as they journey from home and back. The most obvious examples are Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, E.T. in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Roy Hobbs in The Natural, Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, and Simba in The Lion King. Other films take their protagonists to a transcendent home, a home often not of this world, but a home, nevertheless, for which they have been searching and to which they have been moving all . . .

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