The inner, psychological journey that the hero takes is just as important – if not more so – than the outer quest of the physical path. The two are linked, and from a metaphysical viewpoint, the outer journey could be seen as a necessary requirement to solve the inner need of the main character. The external action is what the story is about; the inner journey is what the story is really about.
An Outer Goal and an Inner Need:
The ‘Hero’ in Joseph Campbell’s universal mono-myth, as with every character in a movie, represents a particular person, with a unique psychology, who faces inner as well as outer challenges. The outer goal is the external journey or quest, while the inner need could be overcoming a negative belief, confronting a chronic fear, or healing a past trauma.
The inner need and the outer goal seem to co-exist independently at first, but at a critical point in the story, the inner challenge rises to the front and must be immediately faced and overcome. Only then, is the hero able to achieve the outer goal.
In wisdom stories, the particular challenges in the outer world are somehow directly related to and best suited for the character to learn and grow inside. Often the character is faced with the exact fear to overcome, as when Indiana Jones needed to be trapped in a snake pit in order to properly address and conquer his fear of snakes. This relationship between the inner and outer worlds has long been known as evidenced by the ancient Hermetic and Alchemical formula, “As above, so below.”
Sometimes the inner and outer worlds share a simultaneous event, such as thinking or talking about a song and then it comes on the radio. This is known as what Dr. Jung termed ‘synchronicity’.
Most stories and movies involve some sort of change in the main character as a result of going through the journey and facing the challenges. The exceptions are with serials such as the James Bond movies (he has to stay 007, he will never settle down with Moneypenny, etc.) or television ‘situation comedies’ (Gilligan could never be rescued or the series would be over) that require characters and their conditions to remain constant.
This transformation can be subtle or a profound change as it was with Scrooge, and it always has a significant impact on the story. Such change requires a ‘letting go’ or willingness to release what was once a deeply-held or defended position. This is a total surrender, or “the appointment with death” in the Hero’s Journey; letting something die off so that a new life and a new strength can arise. Shamans of the Americas use the metaphor of a serpent shedding her skin, at once and in its entirety, in order to grow.
Dr. Carl Jung called this process of becoming whole, or your true Self, ‘Individuation’.
In clearest terms, the transformational character arc of any story is:
“A goes through B to become C.”
This A+B=C model works best when B (the challenge of the situation) requires skills that are different than or beyond the capabilities of the character, A, at the beginning of the story. After rising to meet the needs of both inner and outer challenges, B, the character has now changed, or transformed, into C by the end of the film.
For example, the difficult court case in “The Verdict” required a sharp, ethical and moral attorney, but the main character was a washed up ambulance chasing lawyer with a drinking problem. The legal challenge forced him to become better than he was to take on something bigger than himself.
This is a classic, or archetypal, theme that we see in many forms: a fish out of water, an unlikely hero, the ordinary person in an extraordinary situation. The biblical Moses was “slow of tongue” but spoke to an entire people, similar to the vocally-challenged monarch in the movie, “The King’s Speech.” In fact, many of the so-called heroes of myth and movies resemble everyday people more than Hercules or Thor.