Screenwriting Meta View: Return

In order to return home, the Protagonist must endure a Final Struggle, one almost always tied to the resolution of Want and Need.

In writing a screenplay, we go into the story. That’s critical in order to connect with the characters and immerse ourselves in the story universe. But we also need to balance that by stepping outside the story universe and take a meta view of the narrative.

I like to do that by thinking of five ‘passages,’ broad movements in the Protagonist’s or key characters’ experience. Those are:

  • Life before FADE IN
  • Separation
  • Initiation
  • Return
  • Life after FADE OUT

The middle three come straight from Joseph Campbell and his articulation of the Hero’s Journey:

“The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation-initiation-return: which might be named the nuclear unit to the monomyth.” — Joseph Campbell

The monomyth is another term for the Hero’s Journey. The comparison to a rite of passage is instructive. Campbell claimed the whole point, symbolically and psychologically, of the Hero’s Journey is transformation. The person passes through the “test of fire” and in that process is made “new”. To accomplish that, they need to go through a separation.

Today: Return

In order to return home, the Protagonist must endure a Final Struggle, one almost always tied to the resolution of Want and Need.

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Before Ripley could return home, she had a final showdown with the creature in ‘Alien’

In taking on the Final Struggle, the Protagonist’s only chance of success is to be fully united, Want and Need, Body and Soul, and through their success mark the full emergence of the New Self.

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Simba confronts his Nemesis Scar in ‘The Lion King’

Then and only then can they return home. Oftentimes victors. Sometimes not. And sometimes the Unity state they achieve derives only through physical death.

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Maximus is reunited with his wife and son after he dies in ‘Gladiator’

The Protagonist has passed through fire and emerged a transformed individual, now freed from the shackles of their Old Self:

“Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back — not contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other — is the talent of the master. The Cosmic Dancer…” — Joseph Campbell

To be a Cosmic Dancer is an expression of a fully realized self. Speaking psychologically, the Protagonist begins their journey as a child, then separates from that stage, and their initiation marks a shift into adolescence, then their return is symbolic of their emergence as an adult.

We see this pattern over and over and over again in movies, multiple, even endless variations, reflective of the ubiquitous nature the Hero’s Journey.

Tomorrow: Life after FADE OUT.

For Part 1: Life Before FADE IN, go here.

For Part 2: Separation, go here.

For Part 3: Initiation, go here.

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