Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Hero's Journey: Bruce Almighty

It seems that some of the most popular posts I've done for the blog center around the Hero's Journey stages. Maybe it's just the fact that people are searching for ways it fits in to their favorite stories for an assignment or project. Maybe it's a deep interest in the structure itself. Either way, I still find it amazing in the way it resonates at the core of our consciousness, story structure built into our DNA. And so without further ado, I present the Hero's Journey stages for one of my favorite films, Bruce Almighty.

1. Ordinary World: Meet Bruce Nolan. Bruce is a television news reporter who just can't seem to get ahead in this world, at least not to the extent that he wants to. While he has a wonderful girlfriend and a great job, it's still not enough. He wants more, to be greater. He wants a promotion to the position of anchor, but when it doesn't go his way, he loses his temper on-air and gets fired. He blames the only person he can think of: God. In Bruce's world, everything is God's fault, and he believes that God is just playing with humans as toys. If only God would be more fair...

2. Call To Adventure: After cursing God for his unfairness, Bruce literally gets a call on his pager one day.

3. Refusal of the Call: Seeing as he doesn't recognize the number, he ignores it. Yet, it continually goes off, and it gets to the point where Bruce tosses it out the window. But even while broken, the pager still functions, displaying the number. Reluctantly, Bruce calls it and learns where he must go.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: Bruce arrives at the address, a warehouse. Entering, he meets a single man cleaning, played by Morgan Freeman. Bruce takes the elevator up to the seventh floor, and is surprised to find the same man there again. Morgan Freeman claims that he is God, and he's had enough of Bruce's complaining. He proves it, too, showing Bruce a file cabinet detailing his whole life. God makes Bruce an offer: if Bruce thinks he can do a better job at running things, God will give Bruce his powers for a short time.

5. Crossing the Threshold: Bruce can't believe it, but accepts. As he walks outside, the same puddle he stepped in on the way into the warehouse he now walks on top of. He's now in the "Special World" that is the opposite of the world he started in.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: Bruce learns to use his new-found abilities. At first, he has fun with them, parting his soup like Moses and making his dog use a toilet instead of urinating all over the apartment. He uses the abilities to further his career, propelling him back into the limelight.He is rehired at the station.

7. Approach: Things start to get more difficult for Bruce as reality sets in. Suddenly, he is overwhelmed with voices as he hears prayers being sent his way. He tries different ways to deal with them, ultimately giving everybody what they want. However, as his fame rises, he notices that he is growing apart from his girlfriend, Grace. Their relationship ultimately ends when another woman from his work tempts him, and Grace catches them together. His world begins crumbling.

8. Ordeal: Now Bruce faces his biggest challenge. By trying to give everyone what they want, he discovers that they still aren't satisfied. Everyone prayed to win the lottery, and they all did... but had to split the winnings so that they basically won nothing. Chaos ensues, rioting hits the streets, and Bruce finds himself calling out to God for help. He realizes that he can't do it all himself.

9. Reward: God meets Bruce in the same building where it all started. He tells Bruce that the beauty of a mess is that it can always be cleaned up, and that sometimes, he wants people to be the answer to their own prayers. Instead of always asking for a miracle, sometimes they need to be the miracle themselves. In doing so, they gain a sense of independence and pride. Bruce listens to God, and is rewarded when things get cleaned up as they work together.

10. The Road Back: Bruce embraces his new sense of independence, and realizes he can do things for himself now, not using God's powers. Bruce attempts to "clean up" his own life, making amends with those around him, setting everything as it should be as he tries to return to his normal life as it was before. But things don't all change; Grace won't come back to him. He even listens to the "backlog" of all of Grace's prayers, most of them about him. He desperately wants to find a way to win her back. While driving at night, sincerely asking God for some sign or way to win her back, he gets into a wreck, gets out of his car, and is struck.

11. Resurrection: We get a real Resurrection scene here, both literal and symbolically as the hero finds himself in Heaven with God again. He seeks wisdom from God, and realizes that no matter what, he wants Grace to find happiness. After a failed attempt at a prayer, spouting out religious phrases, Bruce prays before God a genuine, heartfelt, sincere prayer. This time, his prayer is unselfish and the opposite of a prayer he would have made at the start of the film. In this Resurrection scene, we see that the old Bruce has died, both symbolically and literally, and a new Bruce Nolan has been reborn.

12. Return with the Elixir: Back in the real world, Bruce is revived by paramedics. He is alive, but has a new purpose in life. Using the lessons he learned on his journey, Bruce continues as a feature reporter, this time with a focus on teaching his audience how to "be the miracle."

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