Transformation in the Hero’s Journey – Part Two

In many stories, the hero’s transformation is represented by a death and rebirth sequence that signifies the new person who emerges. The death and rebirth can happen anywhere in the story (beginning, middle, or end). While this death and rebirth can be literal, it is more often symbolic.

Think of the stories you love. How many “death and rebirth” examples can you think of?

Please leave comments to add to my list of examples!

  • Major League: Honestly, I don’t see this in the film. Sorry. I’ll add a “bonus film” at the bottom of this post.
  • The Godfather: Michael has a kind of death and rebirth when he disappears from New York after killing Sollozzo. He is missing for several years and his girlfriend Kay has no idea where he is. When he finally returns and sees her, it is like he has come back from the dead. Of course, he has returned as a new man— no longer the Michael she fell in love with, but a hardened and heartless mafia leader.
  • Harry Potter: We could probably find dozens of examples in the Harry Potter series, but the most obvious are the evil Voldemort’s return from death (which happens in book 4 after several failed attempts) and Harry’s sacrifice + rebirth in the final story.
  • Lord of the Rings: How many deaths and rebirths can one story have?
    • In book/film one, Frodo is stabbed, falls unconscious, and nearly dies (a kind of death and rebirth). Much later, Frodo is cocooned by a giant spider (the cocoon is a symbol of change—like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly). Frodo is hardened by his journey and like Harry Potter, gets quite a bit darker. In the end, Frodo fails because he is taken over by his darker nature and the evil ring that has been influencing him. When he returns to the Shire, he cannot find happiness any longer.
    • Gandalf the Gray falls into a dark chasm and returns as Gandalf the White.
    • Aragorn is thought dead in the film version of The Two Towers, floats in water (a symbol of life and rebirth—as in baptism) and returns. In the final book/movie, he enters the Paths of the Dead (entering into the realm of death) and emerges (having beaten death). This scene is also when he finally accepts who he is and becomes the leader the world needs.
    • The entire group of the Fellowship enters the Dwarf mines of Moria—a vast cave that has become a den of goblins, ogres, and demons. Surviving this “hell” is a kind of death and rebirth (though this is actually where Gandalf falls into the pit and “dies”).
  • Batman: Bruce Wayne/Batman’s death and rebirth in Batman Begins occurs as he returns to Gotham City after a seven year absence. On the flight home, he finds out that he has been legally declared dead and must therefore “come back from the dead” once he arrives home. His death and rebirth in The Dark Knight Rises is far more obvious as he is defeated and broken, left in a dark pit to suffer (a kind of hell), climbs out of the dark pit, and returns in time to save the city. During that entire time, the people in Gotham assume that he is dead, so to them his return is a resurrection. At the end of that film/trilogy, we also have the idea that anyone can become Batman and that he will live on despite the fact that Bruce Wayne is gone – Batman will be reborn with a new person taking up that mantle.
  • Star Wars: “Rebirth” is a major theme in the Star Wars saga. After all, the main character is Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader who “dies” in Episode III when the Jedi known as Anakin falls and becomes the evil Darth Vader, but he gets a rebirth in Episode VI when he returns to “good” (which is why his spirit is allowed to stand and smile with the spirits of the other nice Jedi). Additionally, the end of the 6 episode saga is about the rebirth of the Jedi Knights and of democracy. Another character who has a nice “death and rebirth” sequence is Han Solo. In The Empire Strikes Back, he is frozen in carbonite and is in a kind of suspended animation. In the next film, he is thawed out/rescued from this half-life and is therefore reborn or given a second chance at life.
  • Captain America: (Bonus Film). Although Cap/Steve Rogers doesn’t change that much in the film (he starts off as a brave and moral guy and ends up the same way), he actually has THREE deaths/rebirths in this one movie
      • When skinny Steve becomes the super-soldier, he literally transforms in a metallic cocoon-like pod. The old Steve is gone, and the new super-hero Steve emerges.
      • When he is declared dead on the battlefield and then moments later reappears with nearly 200 soldiers he rescued from the enemy camp.
      • At the end of the film, Cap “dies” in the arctic when his plane crashes, but really he is just frozen for 70 years. When he is revived in modern day, he has come back to life . . . again.
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