The following excerpt is Chapter One of the book Spun: 101 Movies to Recreate Your Reality. If you enjoy what you have read, please consider supporting this work.
CHAPTER 1 – REEL LIFE
What if you were granted one wish – anything you can imagine – what would you wish for? How would this wish rewrite the script of your life? How would it change you as a person? Does your new life more closely resemble reel life, or real life? What’s stopping you from living the life of your dreams, right now?
The truth about wishes is that most people do not believe that theirs will ever come true. They are afraid to dream for fear of being disappointed. They believe any kind of magic only happens in reel life, where a fairy godmother waves her wand and the hero instantly gets whatever she desires. In the real world, they do not get the guy, or girl. They live from paycheck to paycheck. They are stuck in dead-end jobs. Life is a perpetual struggle.
Yet, we know the good life is possible even if we do not live it ourselves. So, why aren’t we all experiencing it? Is it even possible to attain it? Is there a secret formula for creating it? We always have more questions than answers. It’s no wonder why we turn to the movies for escape. But, like Cinderella at the ball, once the movie ends and the credits begin rolling, we return to our mundane lives and forget the golden nuggets of wisdom hidden in plain sight.
What insight does the reel world offer for creating the good life? How are the main characters able to move from rags to riches, pain to pleasure, or defeat to victory? Good movies present myriad possibilities about how we can recreate our reality. If you pay close attention, you will notice that the heroes follow a specific formula to achieve their goals. Once you gain an understanding of the reel world, it will help you better navigate the real world.
Why do we find movies so appealing? It may be that their stories speak about universal themes that resonate with us. They orient us as to what is valuable and essential in real life: family, faith, freedom, love, honor, courage, goodness and justice. They teach us the right way to act in the world. They give us glimpses into the potentialities of life. They evoke emotions that inspire us to change, so that we too can create the good life.
Therein lies the magic of movies. For one intense moment, we come alive and forget our problems. We become the hero. We are a Jedi knight in Star Wars, battling the dark forces of the universe, or a queen in Elizabeth, fighting to save the realm. One moment, we are Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and the next, Erin Brokovich, fighting to bring corporate polluters to justice. Whatever your fantasy, there’s surely a movie for you.
If you take a closer look at the movies, you will notice there is more to reel life than meets the eye. In fact, it almost mirrors real life in that the plot is based upon the law of cause and effect, which means that the hero first desires something and then must take action to obtain it. The ensuing story reveals the goal she is motivated to pursue, the actions she takes to achieve it, the price she pays for it, and how she is transformed by the experience.
What drives the story forward is the unfolding narrative of the hero’s pursuit of his or her goal. We become drawn to the outcome as a moth to a flame. We align with the hero and become willing participants in the drama onscreen as we recognize different aspects of ourselves. Whatever obstacles he encounters and fights to overcome, elicit similar emotions in us. When he suffers, we suffer. When he loves, we love. When he wins, we win.
What should be appreciated is that when a screenwriter sits down to write a screenplay, he is, in fact, attempting to play God. Out of his imagination is born an entirely new universe that never existed before. He decides what that world will look like and by what rules it will be governed. He decides what story will be told and the moral vision that will serve as its guiding principle. He decides which characters will live and which ones will die.
In fact, it is the screenwriter who determines the DNA code of the hero. He has a specific story to share with the world and only a special kind of hero can bring it forth. He selects the hour of the hero’s birth and the family that will raise him. He chooses the society and environment that will shape the hero’s psyche. Depending on how well the reel world is constructed, we respond viscerally to the story. This emotional connection that we feel with the hero is the reason why we have a hard time separating reel from real.
At least, in theory, that’s how one expects the reel world to operate. In reality, a curious thing happens during the writing process. The characters take on a life of their own, and the writer becomes a vessel out of which the lifeblood of the story pours forth. She then serves as a mythical water bearer, drawing knowledge from an infinite well, in an attempt to quench her audience’s neverending thirst for entertainment and enlightenment.
Even though these characters may appear real, they could not have existed without first being conceived in the mind of a creator. They have no reality or personality independent of the screenwriter, who breathes vitality and life into their being. In fact, they represent the very life force of the screenwriter, who ultimately is able to find meaning and creative self-expression through them.
To be sure, a screenwriter may feel inspired to write a screenplay based on a germ of an idea that becomes planted in the mind. Out of that seed will sprout a particular theme, story world and cast of characters that fulfill the needs of this blossoming concept. Whatever is the central conflict in the story, the perfect hero soon emerges to find a resolution for it.
Thus, the hero cannot exist without this particular conflict to resolve. One cannot exist without the other. The story is an outgrowth of the hero, and vice versa. Each defines the other. This is why the hero, Jake Sully, is more suited to his role in Avatar, than he would be in Blood Diamond, and why Vivian Ward, is better in her role as Pretty Woman, than she would be in Working Girl.
Once the hero becomes a living, breathing, and thinking entity, the character seemingly wrests control of the reins of the story. The hero behaves as though the world she occupies is totally real and it’s all the screenwriter can do to keep her confined within the parameters of the story. Of course, the perfect balance is struck when the actions of the hero arise organically out of the story, and is not subject to the writer’s agenda.
What does it take to be a hero? A hero is the one who dares to participate in the eternal drama of life. He is the one who ventures forth alone and willingly sacrifices his life for others. He is the one who can be counted on to act nobly and courageously in the face of incredible odds. He is the one who affirms life by willingly facing it. He is the one who leads the way for others to follow. He is the one who sheds light on the darkness and makes the world less terrifying. Ultimately, the hero is the one who scales the wall between the conscious and unconscious mind and steals fire from the gods.
The Hero’s Journey is a concept that originated with Joseph Campbell. In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), he describes a commonality of hidden patterns found in myths and stories around the world. This monomyth consists of a series of individual stages that the hero undergoes during an epic quest: separation – initiation – return. These principles not only govern our storytelling, but how we conduct life. Stories can be interpreted as metaphors for the human condition. It is why Campbell says to “follow your bliss.” It is the starting point for the Hero’s Journey.
The formula used in the Hero’s Journey is further explored and adapted for the traditional three-act structure of movies in the book, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler. It offers a practical guide for writers by applying the principles of the monomyth espoused by Campbell to screenwriting and modern storytelling.
Ordinary World – At the beginning of the story, the hero is living an ordinary life and is not expecting a sudden change in circumstances.
Call to Adventure – An inciting incident occurs that signals an imminent change in the hero’s everyday existence.
Refusal of the Call – The hero may be reluctant to leave his comfortable world and face the dangers ahead. It may take another disaster to set him on his quest.
Meeting with the Mentor – The hero receives special training and guidance or other magical gifts from a Mentor to help him on his quest.
Crossing the First Threshold – The hero crosses the first threshold into the Special World and begins his adventure. It’s the point of no return.
Tests, Allies and Enemies – The hero quickly learns the rules of the Special World. He undergoes a series of tests, meets new allies, and confronts enemies.
Approach to the Inmost Cave – He enters the cave where the treasure is hidden, or must descend into the bowels of hell to rescue a victim.
The Ordeal – It is a life-and-death struggle for the hero as he is pitted against a deadly foe. It is his darkest hour. By facing death he is imbued with greater powers.
The Reward – The hero slays the dragon and takes possession of the treasure or defeats the villain and obtains the elixir that he seeks.
The Road Back – The hero is chased by evil forces seeking to reclaim the elixir and prevent it from reaching the Ordinary World.
The Resurrection – His enemies seize the elixir and the hero must engage in a final battle to recover it, drawing upon all that he has learned. He dies and is reborn. This transformation grants him greater powers and deeper insights.
Return with the Elixir – The hero returns home with the elixir that has the power to heal the wounded land. His transformation to heroic status is complete. He reclaims his place in the Ordinary World. It’s a time for celebration as balance is restored to the world.
To be human is to be constantly confronted by the duality of life. The Western story of creation in the Bible speaks of a time when humans lived in an eternal paradise. The good life was our birthright. Because Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit after being tempted by a serpent, they lost their innocence and were cast out of the Garden of Eden. This single act resulted in their descendants being brought into the polarities of life, namely, good and evil, right and wrong, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, heaven and hell.
The story of “The Fall” can be found in the mythologies of many cultures around the world. It tells how humans first lived in a utopian world, but were cast out for breaking one of the rules and are now living in exile in this natural world. In fact, our loneliness and nostalgia stem from a deep yearning to return home to our Spiritual Father. Therefore, one of the functions of religion is to guide us towards higher states of consciousness so that we can experience the state of bliss of our original nature.
Whether you believe in this creation story or not, we recognize there are four dimensions to our being – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Thus, the tales that are spun describe how we navigate and negotiate this reality. They also explore the polarities that we encounter in life and the degree to which they affect our reality. Hence, the hero’s function is not only to confront this apparent duality in the world and return balance to life, but, metaphorically, must rescue and redeem a lost humanity trapped in the web of space and time, with little memory of its true nature.
One reason why we are so captivated by the movies is watching how the hero changes over a specific period of time. The same evolutionary impulse that resides within humans and pushes us to become better versions of ourselves is what impels the hero to act. This impulse is triggered when an antagonist is introduced, who actively competes for the same goal as the hero. This opponent is there to test the hero and prevent him from achieving his goal. Such opposition acts like a force of nature to push the hero beyond his limit. Finally, it strips away the mask from the hero and forces him to confront his true identity.
Even though the hero springs forth from the imagination of the writer, she is most likely born with a backstory. Like us, the hero is part of a greater matrix that includes a family and community. Her temperament and ability to solve problems will largely be determined by her upbringing, socio-economic status, natural abilities, and belief system. This is the frame of reference that will inform any decisions and actions that she takes over the course of the movie.
Initially, the hero may be experiencing a certain lack in his life that requires him to take action. He may possess a character flaw or weakness that is keeping him from experiencing the good life. Since the hero was created to resolve a specific conflict, he can rest assured that concealed within the problem is the solution that will lead to his ultimate reward. It is only by losing himself in the drama, and playing his role authentically that he will achieve his goal and discover surprising truths about life.
It is like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz discovering that “there’s no place like home,” after being tossed into a strange and fantastic land, or Oliver Twist discovering that he is not an orphan but from a noble family, after being cast into a cold and hostile world. Similarly, it is like Harry Potter, learning that he is not a human Muggle, but a young wizard chosen to destroy the Dark Lord Voldemort who killed his family, or Neo learning that he is the Chosen One in The Matrix, who will fulfill a prophecy by ending the war between humans and the machines that are enslaving them.
Whether by chance, choice, or necessity, the hero finds himself wrestling with the same existential questions that we so often ask ourselves: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? More often than not, the hero forgets his purpose for being, once he enters the arena of battle. He becomes overwhelmed by the conflict at hand and suffers an existential crisis. Like us, he experiences loss, despair, grief, shame, guilt, fear, failure, loneliness and death. He comes face to face with the limitations of earthly life and realizes how precious life is, but, yet, how transient.
When the hero sets out on an outer journey in pursuit of his goal, he must necessarily embark on an inner journey. The outer journey takes place within a physical world that is visible to both the hero and audience. It is how we will gauge whether the hero succeeds or fails in achieving his goal. The outer world is where he will be challenged and forced to fight his battles, while the inner world is where he will confront and, hopefully, overcome his demons. The farther he travels in the outer world, the deeper he travels within the inner world. It is how he comes to know himself.
At some point, the moment arrives when the hero must confront his fears and slay the dragon barring him entry to the cave where the treasure is hidden. By boldly facing the series of tests along the way, he develops the physical and mental capacity to face any final opposition. By overcoming his fear and slaying the dragon, he gains entry into his own soul. He experiences a moment of self-revelation and fulfills the destiny that was designated at the moment of conception.
One of the basic tenets of the Law of Attraction is that “thoughts become things” or “like attracts like.” It suggests that any dominant image held in the mind for an extended period of time will materialize in the physical world. Each thought attracts like thoughts to it. In short, you can manifest whatever you desire, once the intent is crystal clear and backed by intense emotions. This is possible because science tells us that everything is vibrating beneath the surface. You just have to tune into the right frequency and become a vibrational match for your desires.
In the book, The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, she writes: “Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it’s attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind. It’s what you’re thinking. Whatever is going on in your mind you are attracting to you.” Thus, the events and experiences we encounter in life are shaped by our thoughts, feelings and desires, which are primarily influenced by our belief system. Since our reality is based on how we perceive the world, we can deliberately reprogram our minds to create the kind of life we truly desire.
Therefore, the hero transcends her circumstances by recognizing that whatever she seeks is also seeking her. Like attracts like! Each desire creates a new storyline that will potentially change her life. It is this secret knowledge that enables her to unleash the dormant forces within her being and boldly confront any fate that might befall her. In so doing, she becomes a fearless warrior and the creator of her own reality.
Stories reveal hidden truths about the vast unrealized potential of the psyche. In short, the unconscious mind translates knowledge about its true nature into a symbolic language that is communicated to the imagination of a storyteller, who is able to bridge the gap between the conscious and unconscious mind. The characters, settings, actions, and themes found in stories become the symbols and metaphors that relay the essence of these transmissions. The wisdom contained in stories serves as a guide through the passages of life. Great stories offer powerful insights that act as crumbs leading down the path to enlightenment and ultimate fulfillment.
A great benefit of the reel world is that it opens a window onto the larger world for the audience to peer through. It shows us how others are coping with a range of complex issues in their lives. It reminds us that we are not alone. It exposes us to other cultures and lifestyles, thereby expanding our horizon. It challenges, or may even strengthen, our own value system. It allows us to dream about myriad possibilities for our own lives. Most important, it gives us a glimpse into the minds of our fellow human beings to see how they are making sense of the world. It broadens our frame of reference and imbues our lives with more meaning.
An important principle of the Law of Attraction is that to manifest a desire, one must feel the emotions of having it, right now. You have to imagine what achieving your goal will look and feel like, as if it were real. What does finding your true love feel like? What does winning that competition feel like? What does driving that new sports car feel like? You have to rise in consciousness to become one with the object of your desire, right now.
One advantage of the reel world is that it allows us to experience emotions we may not ordinarily feel in our daily lives. It also heightens our awareness of other people’s lives, which arouses a range of sensations. Since you need to feel the very emotions that correspond with the outcome of your desires, the movies become a veritable wellspring waiting to be tapped.
Where else can you go to experience the pure joy of living in a loving, close-knit family as in Meet Me in St. Louis, or have a beautiful celebrity fall in love with you as in Notting Hill? What about returning to the 1920s for a rendezvous with your favorite writers, artists and musicians from that era, as in Midnight in Paris, or attending a decadent party thrown by The Great Gatsby? How about playing God and having the power to answer prayers from billions of people as in Bruce Almighty, or feeling the thrill of victory, after beating incredible odds and winning a football game as in Remember the Titans?
You do not have to live two hundred years ago to realize that daily life today is far less difficult than it was for the richest person living in America during that period. At home, we enjoy many luxuries, including, electricity, indoor plumbing, telephone, television, modern appliances, just to name a few. Additionally, we have the Internet and cell phones, which provide us with easy access to the vast storehouse of human knowledge, and the ability to communicate with anyone around the world, instantly.
Moreover, we can drive to the supermarket, which may be just a few blocks from our homes, to purchase food that we did not grow or hunt for ourselves. We can buy clothes instantly in a store, without waiting for them to be sewn. We can order goods and services online, at any time of the day or night. We can have entertainment streamed into our homes at the push of a button. Living in this millennium means that we can have instant gratification. It’s like having our own genie in a bottle, with him magically appearing before us to say, “Your wish is my command!” as depicted in the movie, Aladdin.
To be sure, the object of the hero’s desire is merely a means to an end. What he is really seeking is not so much the thing itself, but what his desire represents: happiness, security, respect, freedom, justice, love, validation, or fulfillment. The hero transcends his circumstances by daring to turn his vision of the good life into a reality. He sets his goal and takes the necessary steps to achieve it. He understands that it will not be handed to him on a silver platter and neither should he want it any other way. What’s most important is the journey. Apart from the wisdom he is sure to gain, he will experience such intense emotions and feel the rapture of being fully alive that his life will be transformed forever.
Initially, it is a burning desire for a particular goal, or an inciting incident that will force the hero out of his comfort zone. He may wish to gain the love of a woman, or win a particular competition. He may wish to prevent a bad event from taking place, or need to escape from some shady characters in pursuit of him. He may embark on a quest in search of treasure, or enlightenment. He may seek an elixir to heal a wounded land, or a broken heart. Whatever his objective, the hero must be fully committed to his goal, if he intends to succeed on his journey.
At first, the hero may refuse the Call to Adventure, which usually triggers an unpleasant event that forces him to reconsider. Once he commits to leaving the Ordinary World, it sets the wheels of the story in motion. A certain kind of magic begins to take place. A number of events begin happening, serendipitously. He meets a Mentor, who imparts special words of wisdom that will be needed at a critical moment on his journey. He receives a talisman with supernatural powers or other magical gifts. He receives special training that prepares him for a future battle. He receives words of encouragement that motivate him to persevere and not give up too easily.
After Crossing the First Threshold into the Special World, the hero attracts Allies that are willing to help him on his quest. They teach him the special rules of his new world. As he travels the Special World, he faces a series of Tests and confronts Enemies that prove his worthiness and commitment to his goal. The way he responds to these obstacles will reveal his true character. Thus, his major battle is not solely with his antagonist, who will stop at nothing to prevent him from achieving his goal. Rather, the contest will take place within himself, as he struggles to overcome his fears and flaws that will surface to prevent him from achieving his goal.
At some point, the hero will begin his Approach to the Inmost Cave to fight the dragon guarding the treasure that he seeks, or descend deep underground into the “belly of the beast” to rescue a victim. As he faces his supreme Ordeal, he will suffer an apparent defeat, when he believes all is lost. But, if he remains steadfast and uses his willpower to spin a different story to himself, even at the moment of what appears to be his certain doom, he will be victorious.
After seizing the treasure or elixir, the hero begins his journey on the Road Back home. His enemies will follow in hot pursuit seeking to retrieve the precious item in his possession. Their meeting becomes a life-and-death struggle where the hero willingly sacrifices his life. It is the turning point in the story when the hero dies and is reborn. This purification through self-sacrifice leads to his Resurrection. He incorporates all the wisdom that he has gained on his journey and finally defeats his opponent.
The lessons of the Hero’s Journey are intended to expand not only the consciousness of the hero, but the minds of the audience. During the climax, or highest point of the movie, the audience experiences a catharsis, or cleansing of the emotions. It is a Greek word meaning “purification” or “cleansing.” This term was used in the Poetics by Aristotle to describe the emotional impact of tragedy on an audience. A catharsis provides the audience with a moment of release from their pent-up stress and anxiety through an act of purgation or purification of the emotions.
Thus, the hero comes full circle and returns home with the Elixir to heal the wounded land and share his newfound knowledge with the community. He gains heroic status. Final rewards and punishments are handed out. A new relationship with a mate is forged, or a wedding ceremony takes place. It is a time for revelry and celebration. By participating authentically in the drama, the hero reaps the greatest reward. He not only gains the object of his desire, but something even more precious. He discovers his true power and fulfills his destiny.
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