Joseph Campbell’s ‘Monomyth’

Joseph Campbell was an extraordinary man with an extensive knowledge on world mythology, symbolism and psychology; he borrowed elements from Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, and his concept of archetypes, and used them both to help bridge a gap between East and West and all of the world religions and rituals. Joseph Campbell is most famous for his formulation of the fascinating and widely studied ‘monomyth’ theory, which states that all myths and stories – whether they be from religious texts or fiction novels – follow the same narrative structure, which he called the ‘the hero’s journey’. This structure was outlined step by step in Campbell’s best selling book, ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’, and is referred to as the ‘monomyth’, or one-myth, which is an archetypal journey or transformation that is repeated in every story told by man, in an endless circular pattern. The reason this theory is so popular, is that it touches on that intuitive element found in every man, that nothing is really separate, and that man and the universe is really interconnected in every way.

Zelda

1). The Call to Adventure
2). Crossing of the Threshold (Entering the Unknown)
3). Trials and Tribulations of the Journey
4). Attainment of Enlightenment
5). Return of the Hero

Take a good look at any myth, story, novel or movie, and chances are you can see all of the same elements, simply wearing a different mask. The short video below shows one such example of the ‘monomyth’, found in the great sci fi masterpiece: ‘The Matrix’.

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Oldboy: Interpretation

Interpretation

“My Name, Oh Dae-Su, means getting through one day at a time. That’s what “Oh Dae-Su” means. But, God… Why can’t I get through today?”

By Michael Cunningham
What you are about to read is my interpretation of the movie Oldboy. If you haven’t watched it yet then please do, it’s one of the best movies ever made. But be warned: it’s not for weak stomachs.

Quick synopsis: the film follows Oh Dae-Su who is released into the world after being locked up for 15 years for no apparent reason by an unknown captor. This is a revenge film which obliterates any that came before it, except maybe The Count of Monte Cristo. The movie holds a 80% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes out of 127 reviews and Roger Ebert called it ‘a powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths  of the human heart which is strips bare.’ Spike Lee is also planning on making a joint out of it, so be sure to watch it before he does. This interpretation came to me like a vision after I had watched the film and struggled to fall asleep. Shuffling around in bed I was reflecting on the final scene in the snow, and was wondering why the lady was touched by the words ‘Even though I’m no better than a beast, don’t I have the right to live?’ written on Oh Dae-Su’s letter. Then it hit me, BAM, right in the face! I rushed to wake my cousin up, who I had watched it with, but he was dead. So I started writing frantically, desperate to catch my train of thought before it left the station. What follows is the interpretation

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I Spit on Your Grave Analysis (1978-2010)

Lisa the Vegetarian

This essay examines the exploitation film I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and its recent remake (2010), and how both these films make strong comments about the culture which they were released in and the context which they were interpreted. The original film was visually enhanced and re-released on Blu-Ray this year, and therefore, along with its remake stands as a contemporary text. The essay focuses on the cultural significance of the previously banned movie being remade for a modern audience, and the voyeuristic aspects of both films. The way the film represents meaning to the audience through sound and image will also be discussed, representation being defined as the ‘process by which meaning is produced and exchanged between members of a culture… [involving] the use of language… signs and images which stand for or represent things’ (1997, p. 15). The aim of this essay is to shed light on the social and cultural significance of horror films, which are braver in their exploration of society’s taboos, and the reasons why society needs these films, as evidenced by the recent trend of their remakes. The essay also aims to explore the feminist qualities I Spit on Your Grave contain, for the purpose of this essay feminism can be defined as ‘the advocacy of equality for the sexes, in opposition to patriarchy and sexism’ (Macionis & Plummer, 2008, p. 883).

 In the last decade swarms of horror films have risen from the ground in the form of remakes, these include:

(2003), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(2005), The Amityville Horror
(2006), The Hills Have Eyes
(2007), Halloween
(2009),
Friday the 13th
(2009), The Last House on the Left, and most recently
(2010), I Spit on Your Grave

Lizardi (2010, p.114-115) offers two suggestions as to why these films are being remade, one is that remakes are ‘commercial products that repeat successful formulas in order to minimize risk and secure profits in the market place’, while the other reason is that horror remakes have the potential ‘to reveal something to us about our recurrent fears, anxieties and hopes for the future’. Becker (2006, p. 47) contends with this view by suggesting that horror films represent ‘society’s collective nightmare’, which contain repressed issues that must be confronted and resolved.  It is worth noting that the original versions of these horror remakes mostly stem from the period of slasher films made in the 1970s, an era which was known for the carefree hippie generation and the contrasting bloodshed of the Vietnam War. Considering that ‘films are best understood in relation to the periods in which they were produced and consumed’ (Lizardi, 2010, p. 115), it is necessary for me to explore the culture that the original slasher films were unleashed upon, culture being defined simply as ‘the beliefs, values, behaviour and material objects that constitute a people’s way of life’ (Macionis & Plummer 2008, p. 882).

 With the hippie revolution dissipating, and the war in Vietnam alive and well, the American culture was slowly descending towards ‘the sinister, the heavy, and the darkly forbidden’ (Becker, 2006, p. 48). During these times, the catchy pop songs of the early 60s had been cancelled out by the dark sounds of The Doors and Led Zeppelin, while the film industry turned to horror with films like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). These films revealed ‘a shift in the worldview of the hippie counterculture, which had its considerable hopes in the possibility of significant progressive social change undercut by immense social traumas of the late 1960s and early 1970s’ (Becker, 2006, p. 43). In the opening scene of Wes Craven’s infamous Last House On The Left (1972) one of the two female protagonists – before leaving to a Bloodlust concert – is given a necklace by her father, the camera zooms in as she puts it around her neck, revealing a silver peace symbol, a cultural icon of the hippie movement. The camera holds onto this image before fading into a fixed shot of a forest, showing the two girls frolicking towards the camera, serene music playing softly in the background. This scene is later juxtaposed when the two girls are kidnapped; the terror on the girls’ faces are shown in extreme close ups during the scenes of their rape and torture. The progression of violence is eventually capped off by showing a close up of the intestines of one of the girls being pulled out of her body; throughout all these scenes the camera is static and the music is dark and synthesized. This strong contrasting imagery represented the death of the hippie movement, and is a consistent motif of the horror films of the 70s. It was the filmmakers way of getting to the ‘guts’ of their films message, which was ‘there is a war going on, and blood is being spilled.’ A reality that was swept under the rug in the ignorant bliss of the 60s hippie counterculture.

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The Panopticon – Big Brother is Watching, Probably

This Week’s reading is an excerpt from Michel Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish which explores the prison system and how it was born out of the security imposed upon the ‘plague-stricken town’ of the seventeenth century (Foucault, 1997, p.205). Foucault also introduces the reader to Bentham’s design of the Panopticon – a cylindrical wall of prison cells with a large tower at its centre. In this analysis of the week’s reading I will outline the basic points that Foucault has made and make some connections of my own drawing from media and literature sources. I will also add to Foucault’s discussion of the Panopticon by drawing on its symbolic connotations and how they relate to the prison system, the individual and society as a whole. Word?

The reading begins with Foucault describing a typical scene of a seventeenth century town that has been contaminated with the plague. The writer vividly illustrates the process of security that is put in place to avoid further contamination, and in doing so sets up the reader to notice similarities between what is being described, and what we know of the modern day prison system through books, movies, and crazies on the street. Foucault states that every town inhabitant must stay indoors while the front door is locked from the outside; ‘each individual is fixed in his place. And if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment… only the intendants, syndics and guards will move about the streets’ (Foucault, 1997, p. 195). This is very similar to what is done in prisons during ‘lights out’, where all the prisoners are made to go back into their cell, which is then locked, leaving only the patrolling guards and officials on the prison grounds. Foucault (1997, p. 196) continues his description of the plague stricken town by mentioning the guards stationed in observation towers at each of the town gates, in the town hall and in every quarter. This is to ensure that the town people are obedient and comply to the rules, and ‘also to observe all disorder, theft and extortion’. It is clearer than sky now that the prison was born out of this seventeenth century scene, which even has townspeople being summoned to their windows for the daily roll call. Prior to reading this weeks reading the word plague had always conjured up funny images of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) ‘bring out your dead’ scene, but never images of a disciplined society reminiscent of a prison. Thanks a lot Foucault!

 The film Bad Boys (1983), a movie sadly swept under the rug due to Martin Lawrence and Will Smith’s movie of the same title, revolves around the actions of Sean Penn’s character Mick O’Brien, a boy who gets sent to a juvenile detention center for committing a crime (I will use this movie to make some comparisons with Foucault’s text). The movie contains all of the elements that are present in Foucault’s (1997, p. 196) description of the ‘system of permanent registration’ – the juvenile detention center has the lights out, the daily roll calls, the guards on patrol and keeping watch in the observation post, solitary confinement and also as Foucault (1997, p. 197) describes, ‘the process of purifying the houses one by one’ which takes the form of regular room inspections, in which the cells are purified of any contraband such as drugs and weapons. If the plague riddled town is a ‘compact model of the disciplinary system’ (Foucualt, 1997, p. 197), then the juvenile detention center serves as a small scale model. Foucault (1997, p. 198) makes a point that the plague gave rise to this model, while the leper, or plague infected person gave rise to the ‘great confinement’, which in modern times is referred to as solitary confinement. The idea of exiling the leper to solitary confinement stems from the fear that he might infect other townspeople, in the case of modern day prisons solitary confinement has a similar agenda; to make sure that the often violent nature of the individual in question is not at risk of tainting the minds of the other reforming criminals.

An obvious example of such treatment in modern media would be the film Silence of the Lambs (1991), which depicts the dangerous (and thankfully fictional) cannibal Dr Hannibal Lector completely isolated in a glass room, in which he can be observed safely and kept at a considerable distance from other people. Dr Hannibal was ‘cut off from all human contact’ (Foucault, 1997, p. 198) and treated as a plague-victim; a monster consumed by insanity. Due to the severity of his disease his cell was the only one in the prison to be made of glass. This process of ‘individualisation to mark exclusion’, as described by Foucault (1997, p. 198), was used frequently from the beginning of the nineteenth century in prisons and asylums. Binary division was also regularly exercised, which is the branding of a patient or prisoner as either being sane or insane, dangerous or harmless etc. In the film Dr Hannibal lector, an ex-psychiatrist, seems perfectly sane in the way he talks and presents himself when compared to some of the other prisoners; however, he is labelled as insane due to his violent behaviour. It begs the question: is it right to label someone based purely on their behaviour? The character Rachel Solando in Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island (2010) emphasises the branding predicament when she says ‘Once you’re declared insane, then anything you do is called part of that insanity, reasonable protests are denial. Valid fears, paranoia’.

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Hollywood Film Spectacle

This week’s reading by Geoff King, titled ‘“Just Like a Movie”?: 9/11 and Hollywoood Spectacle examines the events of September 11 through a Hollywood perspective by comparing the attack on the World Trade Center to action movies such as Independence Day (1996) and The Matrix (1999). In doing this King (2005, p.47) argues that ‘there are some overlaps between ‘real’ images … and fictional images, specifically those from a kind of Hollywood cinema.’ King goes to great lengths to establish the similarities between the 9/11 attacks and Hollywood action movies, using words such as ‘fireball’, ‘huge dust cloud’, ‘impact’, and ‘collapse’ to colour the falling of the twin towers which he often refers to as ‘scenes’ and ‘images’. By using this language to describe the events of 9/11 King helps to establish his comparison between the reality of the attacks and the unreality of ‘Hollywood fantasy’ (King, 2005, p. 47), but his evidence to support this idea is not very concrete, rather he coaches the reader into assuming his viewpoint by making statements such as ‘It did not take long for a villain, Osama Bin Laden, to be suggested… to create some kind of narrative context for the events’, the writer deliberately phrases Osama Bin Laden as a villain to make the events of reality seem like the construct of fiction, as though the 9/11 attacks were merely a scene from a Hollywood movie script. Just in case the reader hadn’t made this connection King (2005, p. 51) finishes off by saying ‘again, [this is] something that would be expected in a movie’ (King, 2005, p. 51).

 King attempts to explain the differences between the real news footage of the September 11 attacks and Hollywood movies by suggesting that real news footage is usually accompanied by interviews and commentary which help to distinguish it from fiction, he then doubts what he just wrote by saying ‘these are not absolute guarantors of authenticity, given that such devices are sometimes used in fictional works, precisely because of their power to evoke an impression of the real’ (King, 2005, p. 49). King (2005, p. 50) further suggests that ‘shaky camerawork, dodgy focus or awkward zooms… signify that events have not been staged’, however this is also not always the case. The notorious exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust (1980) directed by Ruggero Deodato uses these very camera techniques to tell the story of a missing group of documentary filmmakers who set out the film primitive cannibal tribes of the Amazon. The movie begins with an American anthropologist who finds the footage that the filmmakers had left behind in their trail; the rest of the movie takes place in a screening room where the anthropologist views the footage to discover the fate of the filmmakers. The footage utilises very amateur film techniques and due to this and its graphic content, viewers of the movie had a hard time distinguishing it from reality, shortly after its release the director was charged for making a snuff film and had to prove in court that the film was a work of fiction and not reality. While this example might not be very useful in the context given that it is not a Hollywood movie, it’s popularity did spawn a very famous Hollywood film called The Blair Witch Project (1999) which utilised the same amateur camera technique and narrative structure.

 This brings up an important question which King (2005, p. 47) briefly touches on when he mentions the ‘blurring of boundaries between the world of reality and that of media spectacle’, that is how do we distinguish fiction from reality? When we watch television where do we draw the line and say this is real and this is not? David Cronenberg’s film Videodrome (1983) explores this question and in doing so blurs the line significantly, the film follows Max, the president of a smut television channel who’s in search of something raw and cutting edge which will ‘break through’ and attract a larger audience. He stumbles upon a pirate leak of a snuff television broadcast, but he assumes it’s just ‘incredibly realistic’ and is eager to get it on his show, the rest of the movie shatters the audiences concept of what is real and what isn’t through Max’s obsession with the snuff show which takes his hold on reality. A character in the movie Prof. Brian Oblivion delivers a quote which sums up the movie’s message quite well, ‘the television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye… therefore whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore television is reality, and reality is less than television’ (Videodrome, 1983). This suggests that what we view on television may as well be reality, which explains why people are generally fascinated by watching grotesque and fantastical things on the big screen, because these are things that they can enjoy safely without having to actually experience it. Therefore television becomes ‘a harmless outlet for [our] fantasises and frustrations’ (Videodrome, 1983), this directly links up with King’s (2005, p. 48) point that Hollywood films ‘offer enjoyable fantasies of destruction: enjoyable precisely because they can be safely indulged in the arena of fantasy’.

References

Screen Narrative

This week’s reading by Stadler & McWilliam, titled Screen Narratives: Traditions and Trends, dissects the patterns and structures of film, television and game narratives. Stadler & McWilliam take the reader on a journey through the history of screen narrative, from the traditional three-act narrative to the fragmented and multi-strand narratives that have become increasingly popular since Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). Stadler & McWilliam differentiate between the terms plot and story, which are often confused as meaning the same thing, and they also introduce the structuralism technique for analysing narratives, using the movie Natural Born Killers (1994) as an example. The authors then compare film narrative with television narrative and finish off by exploring the narrative found in video games.

 Stadler & McWilliam (2009, p. 156) suggest that movies such as Crash (2004), Babel (2006) and Pulp Fiction (1994) indicate that screen narratives are ‘becoming more complex, adventurous and experimental’, compared to the classical narration style which typically follow a three-act structure (beginning, middle and end), fragmented narratives are often ‘broken up into jumbled segments featuring an array of characters in different places or non-sequential timelines’ (Stadler & McWilliam, 2009, p. 157). I’ll draw from the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) to illustrate this style of narrative structure. The movie begins with Jim Carrey’s character Joel Barish waking up in his bed, he then skips work and catches the train to Montauk. Upon arriving he sits on the beach and opens his diary only to notice pages missing that he doesn’t remember ripping out, ‘it appears this is my first entry in two years’ he thinks to himself. Later he meets a girl with blue hair called Clementine and they appear to hit it off.

 The audience would assume at this stage that the movie is running in a sequential order that is characteristic of the classical narration style, but this idea is shot down fairly suddenly. Joel is seen parked outside his girlfriend’s house when a man walks up to his car and asks him what he’s doing there, the scene then jumps to Joel driving in the night, crying over what we expect to be the eventual breakup of his new relationship. We eventually discover that he was crying because his girlfriend had her memory of their relationship completely erased, out of sadness and rage he goes to the clinic that erased her memory and asks them to do the same for him. Joel is asleep for the rest of the movie while scientists on computers attempt to erase his past relationship, the narrative then shifts from memory to memory of the good and bad times that they had together. Eventually he wakes up and has completely forgotten about Clementine, and the audience soon discovers that the sequence of events that then follow lead to the events of the beginning of the movie.

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