Myths are stories that explain why the world is the way it is. Ancient people used stories to explain creation, animal instincts, and natural disasters. Later, myths were used to explain love and to teach morality, politics, and law. The stories that lasted did so because they touched the hearts and stirred the minds of all who listened. The myths that were concocted by tyrants, religious zealots, and cunning politicians as a means of brain washing the populace soon fell away as they lacked true substance.
The word myth is not to be construed as a term for a lie, but rather a metaphor for a greater truth of life. For instance, Cupid is the archer that shoots humans with painless arrows that cause the target to fall madly in love with the first person he sees. We know there is no invisible god that goes around shooting people with a love potion, but as humans, we experience the pangs of ardent desire as though we had been injected by some kind of love serum.
Every group of people in every land throughout the inhabited world told stories from generation-to-generation to preserve the wisdom of its culture.
If you have ever played the game of Telephone, you have experienced an important aspect of the natural evolution of a myth. Telephone is a game where a group of children sit in a circle. One of the children is chosen to be it. That child makes up story that is a sentence long and whispers the sentence into the ear of the child seated to her left. The listening child does his best to hear what has been said, but its not always easy to understand what is being whispered. He then tells the next child to his left and on the story sentence travels until it reaches the last child in the circle ... the child sitting to the right of the child who originated the sentence. That child then says out loud what he believes he has heard. The first child then states out loud her original sentence and everyone has a good belly laugh because the last sentence is so completely different from the original statement.
Fortunately, myths were told out loud from chief to tribe or parent to child. And they were told many times over many years, especially the ones that really touched the hearts of the listeners. No doubt each child had his favorite that he would request on every special occasion.
Still, the tradition of passing down a story orally is not the same as telling the story through the creation of a big Hollywood production that is easily available at any time for viewing through the magic of modern technology. So the myths changed a bit to suit the storyteller as she retold the myth to her children. However, if the myth stuck in the minds of the listeners, it was because it was a good story that answered a question for the soul.
Like a good joke that's funny because the joke teller knows the essential elements to keep in the joke, a good myth holds up through time because what's important has been preserved in the basic story.
Hollywood is built upon a foundation of myths. The essential elements that constitute a type of myth that is a romantic comedy are boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back by becoming a real man. An old western myth is often comprised of a bully that threatens a town, the town fights back to no avail, and a young stranger emerges as an unlikely hero that is able to out-think the figure and saves the town.
This is the same theme often found in fairy tales about the giant that relentlessly robs a kingdom. The king's forces are unable to defeat the giant so a proclamation is sent out to faraway lands for a hero. An odd stranger answers the plea and bargains for some land and the king's daughter's hand in marriage should he succeed. The stranger seems ill-prepared to take on the giant, but the king is desperate and readily agrees. Ordinarily, the king would never consider this odd bumpkin worthy of his daughter.
Just as a successful movie pivots around a central conflict, a good myth revolves around a central conflict as well. Shakespeare wrote that life is but a stage and the men and women of the world are but mere actors upon it. If our lives parallel art, and art is inspired by the stories of the ancients, then each of us re-enacts one of those primal themes in our own life. Being primal, the themes are bigger than we are and often difficult to see ... can't see the forest for the trees sort of thing.
In writing what you know, you sometimes can't see the whole screenplay in the same way we can't see our whole lifetime. We can't identify the twists of the plot and the key components of the conflict when they arise because we are too close to it.
When we see a complex movie for the first time, we are so intent upon grasping what is going on that we often miss a lot of the important details. It is only when we see that same movie a second time that we suddenly become aware of the screenwriter's agenda. We are able to relax and really enjoy the movie.
When we are able to identify the central myth that is playing itself out in our own life, we can create story lines and characters that stay true to the myth.
When you listen to an old person tell his story, you hear the purpose of his life. He is old enough to see the whole tale. A lot of the time he tells you that it didn't turn out the way he thought it would, but it turned out for the best. Sometimes he tells you of the opportunities he didn't see and bemoans his deepest regrets. Sometimes an individual recognizes his life theme early on and everything goes according to plan just as he anticipated it would.
What would the world be like if every one of us could have a conversation with our ninety-year-old self right when we turned thirty. The thirty-year-old would find out how the old self is doing. If she seemed content, the thirty-year-old could rest assured that everything turns out fine. If she seemed unhappy, the thirty-year-old could find out what happened and use that knowledge to pick a different path at the forks in the future. Now you have the bigger picture of the theme as you write your life into your script. The forks in the road are more obvious and now you know where each road leads. You know what is needed in order for your main character to grow and get what he needs. The archetypes within each character begin to speak to you and your story unfolds in its own consciousness.
If you are writing about the bride who stands at the altar with her stomach all in knots, you can now hear her contemplating saying no. It's an exciting thought for her. She could be free. She's real for you. You know that she is thinking about all the people in the church. She convinces herself that it will be all right and if it's not, she will just get a divorce. You know that the altar is her fork in the road. You know that she needs to check in with her feelings as to where each road will take her. Two babies later, it's obvious she has to leave to save her sanity. The experience has given her a lot of wisdom, but at a price of a lot of pain. Her myth is Aphrodite Betrayed.
The purpose of her marriage was to recognize true love. She chose to get to wholeness by sacrificing her power to a husband. She made him the keeper of might and wisdom. He accepted the responsibility of determining her worthiness because he felt worshiped by her and he enjoyed the additional power, but in the process he lost his respect for her. The power she gave him to make her his queen is now turned against her as she falls from grace.
Had she chosen to stay single until she knew herself better, she would have discovered her own inner power to declare herself a queen. Both roads lead to wholeness, but one is full of hardship and the other is full of joy. If we view her choices as two movies, the first is Michelle Pfeiffer in Married to the Mob and the second is Cher in Moonstruck.
Recording myths has come a long way since the ancient Babylonian days of unwieldy containers filled with numbered, rectangular clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform. A philosopher needed several men to assist him in moving a book from its library shelf to the library table.
Thank goodness papyrus showed up around 3000 B.C. in Egypt. The Greeks imported papyrus from the port city of Byblos in Phoenicia. Unlike the Egyptians who rolled sheets of papyrus around a smooth wooden stick, the Greeks folded the sheets of papyrus into books that are similar to modern day. They named their books bibles after the city where the papyrus originated. The earliest bibles were the recordings of the Greek's mythologies, heroic legends, and stories of epic adventures.
Ever since Thomas Edison opened the first movie theater on April 14, 1894 on Broadway in New York City, mythic characters have appeared bigger than life on the silver screen. The literal projection of these archetypal figures for mass viewing does more for society than mere entertainment. It provides a means for an individual's inner conflict to be played out in way that he can see it. That explains why people are drawn to different movies. We are most attracted to themes that allow our own archetypes to project into the movie for us to see and hear. Movies are our modern-day version of the oral tradition of handing down mythology.
Most stories fall into one of six primary polarity themes. These six themes are:
independence versus union
attachment versus transformation
will versus freedom
security versus challenge
personal truth versus common good
rational thought versus intuition.
There are also three additional patterns of archetypal possession:
madness versus genius
addiction versus cosmic vision
self-sabotage versus the destruction of evil
In the first polarity pattern, independence versus union, we find stories that concern an individual's struggle to be whole while still fully participating as a partner. This is often the man who fears commitment because he believes a wife and children will be such a burden that he will lose his career edge.
Attachment versus transformation is about the human attachment to the comforts and luxuries of the earth and how holding onto such possessions or definitions of happiness eventually leads to the most feared experience: loss. This might be about a woman who defines herself by her beauty and the man she catches. Her self-esteem is based upon her big house, her beautiful clothes, her possessions, and eventually, upon her ability to produce beautiful children that cast a positive reflection upon her. She sees her husband and her children as an extension of herself and finds herself exhausted in her efforts to control their behaviors, seemingly for their own good. Her life is so out of balance with her expression of herself that she must be transformed by loss, which may come in the form of replacement by a younger version of herself, bankruptcy, or the death of her husband or one of her children.
Will versus freedom entails a philosophy. Will is like a magician that is searching for the ideal formula for success and happiness. It's about the very bright individual who starts life way ahead of his peers. He knows his destination and it is full of glamour, fast cars, witty repartee, hip culture, celebrities, trendy restaurants, and logic. He counts on what he has been taught to be a universal principle: if you are smart, look the part, say the right things, and work hard, you will succeed and be very rich.
All goes according to plan, except that there is no time to savor life. Who knew getting to the top would mean becoming so desensitized to the world that he thought he loved so much? The severe imbalance attracts a Divine Intervention in the form of a disaster. It may take the form of a glimpse of a greater truth, such as occurred in Jerry Maguire. Or it may be a disease or a betrayal or a loss of edge, like Albert Brooks experiences in The Muse.
In the fourth pattern of security versus challenge, we find the story of the individual who struggles with whether to play it safe or risk failure out in the world, like Meg Ryan in French Kiss. When the future safety becomes threatened, the character finds her courage to fight for what she wants and in the process, discovers her passion. Another example are Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick in Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The pursuit of personal happiness versus the common good. Here is the proverbial hero's journey as depicted by Frodo's conflict about whether to return to innocence in Hobbiton or deliver the ring to Mordor.
The sixth pattern of perfection versus the human condition illustrates the individual's struggle to know that he is perfect as he is in the bigger picture of creation, as portrayed by Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless.
Script consultation includes the initial reading, identification of the story's polarity theme and the archetypes portrayed by all of the characters, a meeting to discuss the findings, and a follow-up meeting to discuss the rewrites. An estimate is prepared for the author following a cursory review. The author receives a privacy guaranty at the time the script is delivered.
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