The Story of the Hero

This post comes courtesy of a tenth grade student from Texas.  Darcy Smith’s teacher asked the class to consider the attributes of three movie heroes and then come up with a formula for success if she was making her own movie.  I loved her response and she agreed to let me share it with you here.  Did I mention she’s in tenth grade?  My faith in our youth has been restored.

First of all, I would like to state that a hero is a hero, no matter if they are conscious of it or not, no matter if they appear in the mainstream media or in small film festivals. If there is an argument and a point to be made, then it doesn’t matter how savvy the hero is, how easy the hero is to relate to, or how often the hero appears in the mainstream media.

If we observe every story out there, we can easily point a finger at a hero. There will always be someone who is depended upon to unfold the ending of the story for the audience and to save someone or something. The aspect that catches us off guard and makes us question if this character is a hero, is if they go on an easily identifiable journey. In “The Beijing Bicycle,” the entire plot exists over a few days. It is difficult to recognize this hero’s journey because he never actually saves anybody but himself and his newly acquainted friend, Jian, and ends up being beat up by a gang of hoodlums. Something interesting to mull over: the hero was pummeled? However, we cannot deny that he ends up trumping all suits because he morally improves himself and turns his desperation to find his bike into courage to weather his future, therefore taking on all hindrances with pride.

The protagonist, Paikea, from a personal favourite film of mine, “Whale Rider,” appears to be a little person of no importance towards any other character in the plot, the unwanted child who killed her mother in child birth. She stays in her small province of New Zealand, but towards the end of the movie, is never seen as the same girl ever again, in terms of respect and authority.

In my third story, we are led to believe that the one wearing the mask and slaying antagonists is the hero, but in actuality, the hero is the girl who is helping the brave, outspoken freedom-fighter. My third movie is “V for Vendetta”, where Evey is entranced by a wise, driven mystery man, the character we are to interpret as the hero. We never see “V” before he rises to his call of duty, so to speak, but he’s the character that carries the sword, so we can automatically jump to conclusions. Humans being the humans that we are, we subconsciously single out the hero/heroine as the one who slashes the dragon and defeats the dark magic, but we forget that there are important heroes who don’t defeat any evil villains who wear capes. Some of them just defeat a specific cogitation or mindset, but this type of defeat always matches the importance of defeating an adversary, or sometimes surpasses it.

First of all, we notice that a hero is always just an ordinary person until approached by an unpredictable force/opposition/person seeking help. Nothing particularly interesting about our ordinary person, except they carry a certain lineage, unknown knowledge (Shia Lebeouf in “Transformers” comes to mind), or a trait that is needed to resolve conflict in the plot. As well as being oblivious to their potential power to resolve or sometimes even just help someone else, the hero is most often reluctant to take the plunge into being necessary and needed. Someone who is content with their current state of affairs would often be unwilling to forfeit their past life for it to be completely changed. When Evey is approached by V for the first time, she is hesitant to let him take her to hear his “music”. Then after Evey is released from her fake jail cell, she wants nothing but to return to her original state of being and to rid herself of V’s help. In the end, though, she ends up returning and leaving an impression upon V and vice versa.

The next piece of the formula for our hero is the opponent. Where is the interest held if there is no conflict? Conflict is simply in the formula for all stories. The hero’s opponent appears in many shapes and most of the time isn’t necessarily another human at all. It might be an entire government, or in “Whale Rider,” it’s a belief that women can’t lead Paikea’s tribe. However, Paikea harnesses her strength to overcome this sexism and forever change her grandfather and the other citizens in the story. The majority of the time, the adversary in a hero’s story doesn’t prevail. The exception is in the story of a tragic hero, when we witness a dramatic climb to the top of the mountain before the villain gets there, and just before we are able to peak over the cliff, the villain is there to step on the hero’s feet and send him falling.

Typically, the hero is greeted by a friendly aid willing to buttress them in their efforts to restore moral balance in their scenario. Possibly a person with wise information, a person who serves no purpose but comic relief in the story or perhaps not even a person. Then this aid will travel with them in a mutual cooperation, working together, overall strengthening their chances of beating the enemy.

Now we see our heroes walking along a tightrope. At some point in their inching across the line, they begin to wobble and lose their balance, leaving them hanging onto the wire with their last few fingers. Guei recovers his bike from the schoolboy and begins to head back to work after wandering around Beijing for days. Then, (to our utter surprise) he is face to face with the boy who stole his bike, and eventually winds up spending hours in a car park with Jian and his stubborn friends, trying to uncover the truth of who the bike truly belongs to. In this journey that Guei makes, it doesn’t appear that he is saving anybody. Little does he know that his determination is speaking for all the defenseless and innocent people out there. Paikea summons the ancient ancestor whales, soon to find that they actually answered her call and had beached themselves. When trying to help, she is turned away from the whales, being blamed for their rapidly occurring death, but this doesn’t stop her. She visits the biggest whale, gathers her bravery and rides the whale back into the sea, willing to die on the whale’s back. After the hero comes to his/her senses and gathers courage once more, they hoist themselves back onto the tightrope and thrust forward at full speed, aiming for the eye of the adversary.

At last, the final shebang. Hero/Heroine is being fueled by their newly acquired confidence and is rapidly charging towards evil opponent. Evil opponent is baffled by the glow of extemporaneous energy and is defeated by Hero/Heroine. Hooray! Finally, we witness the excitement emitted by the thankful people or at least see the spark of a new revolution (V for Vendetta) created by our hero/heroine.

Lastly, the hero returns back to the realm which they began the journey in, the world they knew before they changed completely forever. The audience is reminded once more that this hero started from scratch, which subconsciously nudges us into believing that we too can achieve greatness that isn’t supernatural.

Final formula:
Ordinary person + beckon to adventure + discovery of aspect in themselves useful towards saving “the day” + meeting of aid and adversary + small mis-footing + regaining energy for final battle + defeat (or epic downfall) = millions of dollars at box office.

2 Responses to The Story of the Hero

  1. Elena September 5, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    wow. i’m very impressed! Darcy did a great job, has a very engaging writing style, intelligent things to say, and picked some great examples to illustrate her thesis. Well done Darcy! I picked up a few ideas to help me on my own journey as a perpetually fledgling writer.

  2. Emma Newman September 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm #

    Whoa. Tenth grade?! I’m astounded. I’m also impressed at the teacher even asking this question. I used to teach (in the UK) and was dismayed at who my teenage students pointed to as their rolemodels. Honestly – fake blondes with foul surgery and empty lives, so depressing. So thank you for posting this here – it has restored some of my faith too!