Believe it or not, the Love Interest is vital to any Hero’s Journey and is an essential Archetypal character. While we’re all used to lovers appearing in stories for the sole sake of having a romance element, the Lover does help the hero grow as part of his/her transformation (the most important part of any journey).
So here’s the deal: the Lover helps the hero better understand other people/humanity. By falling in love, the hero is made whole and his/her experience and knowledge base is made more complete. Of course, having a Lover will also give the hero something or someone to fight for (which is why the Lover is often taken hostage or at least the stakes of the quest are connected to the Lover’s future).
In a good story, the Lover does not exist simply to satisfy those members of the audience/readers who like romance. The Lover exists to show the hero new perspectives, open his/her eyes, add to his/her understanding of the world, give him/her someone worth fighting for, and give him/her the promise of a life worth living AFTER the journey is over.
The Lover may only appear in a few scenes. He/she doesn’t have to be a main character.
Before examining the Lovers in my normal movie list, lets consider a hero who does NOT get a lover and what happens as a result: Rambo. In the 1980s, David Morrell created John Rambo in a novel called First Blood (the character was famously portrayed by Sly Stallone in several films). Rambo is a Vietnam War Veteran who is trained to kill and then released back into the population where he is shunned and lost. Nobody loves him. As a result, he remains a broken killing machine. He never achieves peace or happiness—even when he defeats the bad guys. Now, if Rambo fell in love and someone truly accepted him, helping him get back in touch with his own humanity . . . he might have turned out very differently and would not be nearly as tragic a figure.
- Major League: Lynn Wells becomes Taylor’s love interest and helps him mature (which is important for him to do). While she gives him motivation to succeed, she also helps him transform into a more mature guy who will be able to find happiness after his baseball career ends.
- Stand By Me: None of the young boys has a lover. Maybe next year, kids.
- Harry Potter: Harry’s growing affection for Ginny Weasley serves a few functions. She helps Harry stay focused on what is important (saving the world). She is put in danger giving added motive for Harry to defeat the bad guys. In the end (spoiler alert!), we see that she and Harry marry, have children, and lead happy lives together. While Harry and Ginny spend significant time apart, their relationship is vital to Harry’s growth and eventual happiness.
- The Godfather: Kay tries to keep Michael on the side of light. Though Michael marries her, he also rejects her values and consequently falls into darkness. If he just listened to his wife. . . .
- Batman: In Batman Begins, Rachel Dawes is the one who shows Bruce the depth of Gotham’s problems. In a way, she is the Herald for his journey to becoming the city’s savior. It is important to note that Bruce looks forward to the time when Gotham doesn’t need Batman anymore and when he and Rachel can be together. Bruce knows that his life is incomplete without her. This is why her death hits so hard and why he spends eight years in mourning.
- Lord of the Rings: Aragorn is pretty centered due to his love for Arwen, but he retains a lot of doubt (until the final book/film). She has confidence in him and helps him see and accept his path. Without her strength, he never would have been able to become the King the world needed. In the end, they marry and live happily ever after.
- Star Wars: Poor Luke. He thought he had a love interest . . . but it was really his sister, so . . . yeah. The love plot goes to Han Solo. Leia certainly helps Han analyze his own character and encourages him to be a true hero rather than a mercenary. Han has to accept his true self (hero) and this never would have happened if not for Leia.
- Skyfall (James Bond): Bond is the closest hero in my list to Rambo because although he has plenty of lady friends, few are meaningful. Bond uses women and doesn’t let the too close (he got pretty burned in Casino Royale). Generally speaking, the Bond Girls are there for fun and games. In Skyfall, he really has no true love interest though he manages to find a few girls here and there. Instead, we see his love for M (who has become a surrogate mother to him). When M dies, Bond cries, and we see a rare glimpse of his humanity.