SKYFALL (James Bond) and the Hero’s Journey

SKYFALL, the latest installment in the James Bond series, is so ridiculously amazing I must henceforth add it to those movies I generally use in analyzing particular stages of the Hero’s Journey and Archetypes. If you haven’t seen the film, do so now! If you read any further, I will spoil the movie—and then I will have violated one of my biggest pet peeves! So go rent it before reading on!

Feel free to check my old posts on “Ordinary VS Sacred Worlds,” “The Call & Refusal,” and both my posts on “Transformation” to get caught up. Just click the CATAGORIES link for “Archetypes & the Hero’s Journey.”

I will cover the previously mentioned aspects of the hero’s journey as we see it in SKYFALL right here. The rest of my SKYFALL archetype analysis will unfold in the coming months, so stay tuned!

Side Note: I think it is saying something about our collective affection for the hero’s journey that Bond # 23 has more archetypal elements than any of the previous 22 films and it is widely regarded as the best in the entire series. If you still doubt the power of archetypes, this film’s success should give you something on which to chew.

ORDINARY VS SACRED WORLDS: The opening fight sequence establishes that Bond is already immersed in the sacred world of espionage (as all Bond openings do). He is a relentless secret agent whose courage and skill is obvious. However, the scene ends with Bond failing, which leads to the overall question about whether or not he’s lost his edge or if he still has a place in this sacred world. Indeed, the sacred world itself has changed. Bond is a physical kind of spy and according to the plot and villain, the espionage game has moved to a more technological kind of board. Therefore, Bond must prove that he is, in fact, still relevant in this new sacred world where technology is the weapon of choice and the villains remain in the shadows. By defeating the bad guy, Bond established his credentials in this new world (but does he really defeat the bad guy? Hmm.).
Interestingly, Skyfall also gives us more information about Bond’s early life than any of the other films. He returns to his family home (presumably) for the first time since his parents’ deaths. We therefore see what his ordinary world was before he ever became a member of MI 6. We also see how painful that place and those memories are for him and though few details are given, we can feel the weight of that place and that event on our hero’s psyche.

THE CALL & REFUSAL: Bond isn’t one to refuse a call, but after the opening fight sequence he is presumed dead and allows MI 6 to believe this for a spell. Of course, when he sees that England and his boss, M, are under attack, he returns home and accepts a new mission.

THE TRANSFORMATION: Where to begin? In these films, Bond rarely has a significant transformation—such is the nature of a serial: the hero has to be basically the same at the end as he was in the beginning so that the stories can be seen in just about any order and a viewer can even get by with missing several. SKYFALL does this, yet we learn far more about our hero than ever before. Not only do we get details about Bond’s childhood trauma, but we also gain a better understanding of who he is and why he is the distant womanizer we’ve all come to know. Most Bond films show us that he doesn’t generally love the women he seduces. CASINO ROYALE (Daniel Craig’s 1st outing as Bond) goes further by actually having Bond fall in love with a woman who later betrays him before she dies, hurting Bond and giving him major trust issues, therefore providing more reason for Bond to remain unattached. Although never stated, SKYFALL hints that he probably learned that detachment “defense” after his parents’ deaths. It was that harrowing ordeal that forged him into the man he is. We are told that after hearing the awful news, young James Bond hid for two days and when he emerged he wasn’t a boy any longer. This of course is why M means so much to him: she has become his surrogate parent. When she dies in the chapel beside his parents’ own graves, Bond shows true emotion, crying for another lost parent. This scene shows us that he does care, quite deeply, and that he tries to deny this part of himself for his own emotional protection. In this sense his transformation is really a revelation, but the end result is the same for the audience because we see him differently by the film’s conclusion.

DEATH & REBIRTH: The obvious death & rebirth is that Bond is declared dead and then returns having “enjoyed death.” After that, he has to be reborn as an agent, going through several trials until he is declared fit for duty (which is questionable). Bond even tells the villain that his (Bond’s) hobby is “resurrection.” Indeed, this is a wink at the audience who knows that the Bond series has been resurrected many times and that six different actors have played the role. SKYFALL is simultaneously an ending and, in its final scenes, a resurrection of the entire James Bond mythos as it sets up many adventures to come with a new supporting cast.

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Heroic Traits – Archetypes

No matter the hero’s gender, age, culture, education, or anything else, he or she will often share many of the following characteristics. If you’re writing your own story, you can pick and choose which of these work within your framework OR make sure your hero has none of these—thereby making sure your story doesn’t fall into cliché territory.
In the Hero’s Journey, the common heroic traits or experiences are:
• There may be unusual circumstances of his birth.
• He may leave his true family and live with others.
• He may experience a traumatic event that in some way leads to his quest.
• He may receive a special weapon.
• He will (hopefully) prove himself during his quest.
• He may receive an “unhealable wound.” This may be physical or psychological (something that will haunt him for the rest of his days).
• He may achieve “atonement with the father” or some kind of reconciliation with his parents, heritage, family history, etc.
• If he succeeds in his quest, he may receive “spiritual apotheosis”—in which case he is raised, at least in the eyes of many, to divine status. Maybe he becomes a God or maybe people are in awe of him.
Since I will have separate posts about each of these traits, I will not provide examples from my normal set of stories and films. Instead, I suggest you pick a character or story you know particularly well and see how many of the above traits you can find. If writing your own story, see if you “unconsciously” put any of these traits in your novel.
More to come.
*P.S. – I hope nobody was offended that I simply used the masculine pronoun throughout the above bullet points. I like women. I really do. I was not trying to alienate anyone.

Rewriting — An experiment!

This may surprise other writers: Even though I’ve received praise from editors and beta-readers regarding the current draft of my novel, I’ve decided to simply start fresh and rewrite at least the first ½ of my story.

Do I need to do that? Nope. People have enjoyed my first half but agree it could be better. I don’t need to throw it out, just make some changes. A few editors from small presses have told me they would like me to do a rewrite and then resubmit. This would not require throwing away the first 150 pages.

So why am I? Because it’s an interesting challenge and once I started, I was having too much fun to stop.

What have I learned so far? Not only is this an exciting writing exercise/challenge, but I’m finding that the writing in this version is stronger. Maybe I’ve grown as a writer since I originally penned those pages or maybe I have internalized what I want to say so that it comes out with new grace. In any case, the words are flowing and, even when I read back over them a week later, these passages are often better than what I’ve written before!

Try this for yourself! You will be surprised and pleased!

My self-imposed rules:

  1. Though I am following a similar outline as my original, I cannot “copy and paste” from any of my previous drafts—everything has to be written as if for the first time.
  2. I must make at least one significant change to each chapter or scene.

The overall plot is not changing—it is still the same story with the same premise, character arcs, themes, etc. The individual scenes are significantly different, however, so the story will seem entirely new. Forcing myself to change things I loved in my previous draft is exciting! I’ve discovered what I’ve heard filmmakers claim for years: that restrictions and limitations only increase creativity. For example, ever since I first got the idea for my story, I’ve had a clear vision for the scene in which King Arthur pops up in modern day. Despite all my drafts, that one incident has remained fairly constant. Now I’ve reimagined how he might appear. I forced myself to do something different. And you know what? I think I like my alternate better!

So what can I do with the results? Simple. I’ll have two distinct versions of (at least) the first ½ of my novel. These versions will share many structural similarities (still writing many of the same scenes, with similar action and conversations), but the sentence to sentence similarities will be virtually non-existent. In the end, I’ll be able to “cherry pick” the best scenes, in some cases the best sentences or descriptive details, and then make a cohesive 3rd version that is the best of both and that still leads to a satisfying ending.

Is that possible? Yeah. I think so. And even if it doesn’t work out, I’m having a lot of fun re-imagining my scenes. Wish me luck and give it a try! Let me know what you think of your results!