Archive for June, 2010
The Virgin and the Hero are the yin and the yang of story structure. They are very different from each other yet they fit together to make the two halves of a whole.
Traditionally, story structure involves a Hero who is called upon to right a wrong (Beverly Hills Cop), save the village from impending doom by bringing in something needed from the outside world (Blood Diamonds), or stopping evil in its tracks before it reaches the village (the Matrix).
To be successful the Hero must be rugged. He must give up the comforts of home and travel to a place where he is facing unfamiliar danger at every turn. He must also learn to be strong, hold his resolve in the face of psychological and physical tests, and develop skills that improve his chances of survival. You keep loading on the impediments and dangers as the Hero drives towards his goal. We’ve all seen this thrilling movie. It’s a very masculine storyline with a clear destination, and ideal for the mechanistic values of the 20th century.
Rather than being self-sacrificing, the Virgin is learning to be self-fulfilling. This is a fundamentally different journey which requires a playful search for joy, through creative (Shakespeare in Love), spiritual (Avatar and Pretty Woman) and sexual (Brokeback Mountain) awakening. The growth occurs in a Secret World – a sanctuary away from the pressures of time and fear. You need to create this space in a Virgin story before she joins her dependent world and all hell breaks loose.
She doesn’t have a clear idea of where she is going to end up. She just knows she has to be true to herself. There may not be a truly evil force working against her, just a community that fails to recognize her right to be authentic. The community (also the antagonist) often grows out of love for the Virgin rather than gets annihilated. She doesn’t fear death, she fears psychological loss like depression and insanity.
So, when you are facing a life problem, or a story problem (same thing), and you’re wondering ‘Is this a case where I have to dig down and be rugged, tough my way through it’ or ‘Is this a time to find some space to nurture myself and let my natural creativity surface’ the answer lies in the question: are you on a Hero’s Journey or discovering the Virgin’s Promise? They flourish in very different environments.
According to the theory, archetypes have existed in our collective unconscious since the beginning of time, waiting to emmerge through creative acts. They are the human instinct for transformation. This means there are really old Virgin stories in addition to the recent movies I have been mentioning lately.
I think one of the most famous Virgin’s in literature is Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ophelia is a sweet, dutiful daughter who is used to increase the family fortune. When Ophelia’s father notices she has caught the eye of Hamlet he sends her to seduce him. Hamlet first is infatuated by Ophelia and later scorns her, labelling her a whore, when he discovers Ophelia’s father’s plan. What nobody, including Ophelia, seems to take much notice of is Ophelia’s true feelings and intrinsic value. Instead she becomes the scapegoat, as the whore so often does. This is a Virgin tragedy!
Looking at movies, Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt is a great Virgin story. Charlie is feeling a malaise because her life lacks excitement and strong male figures. She bemoans her hard working mother’s lack of joy and dreads it as her own future. She decides to invite her Uncle Charlie to come and spark up their life. Through the movie she recognizes Uncle Charlie as a dangerous wolf and her blindness to the good qualities in the men around her. Her journey is towards a genuine sensual awakening that replaces the schoolgirl fantasy of excitement. And along the way a murderer is brough to justice and her mother is saved from a broken heart. The Children’s Hour is the Brokeback Mountain of 1961. It is a story of bringing your true sexual nature to life despite severe cultural disapproval and danger to their livlihood. Audrye Hepburn, Shirley McLean and James garner are fantastic in this one.
Two really fun Virgin movies are Roman Holiday and Houseboat. It’s all about the Secret World and finding the joy.In Houseboat , Cinzia is a dutiful daughter who longs to break free and experience some real American life. She finds a Secret world with Cary Grant (lucky dog) and grows in her sense of self and ability to generate love.
In Roman Holiday, Princess Ann breaks free from her duties as a princess to experience life just as herself. She uses this experience to strengthen her ability to be a good monarch. She has to have fun to replenish her resources to do her duty. I’ve already talked about the old fairytales that are Virgin stories. You could even say that Adam and Eve are the Hero and the Virgin. Eve ate from the tree of knowledge (know thyself) and it brought sexual awakening and before Adam could challenge the immortality of the gods thay were banished to a foreign land. Can’t get much more timeless than that.
In one of my talks a student suggested that technology is making us feel like aliens in our communities. A protagonist that goes against his community to regain his humanity would be a Virgin. I learned the best things from students!
Since it was a vfs student, I think District 9 is a great example to this kind of Virgin. Although District 9 has many elements of a Hero story, as Wikus and the Prawn-With-the-Red-Vest battle to save the Prawns, there is also Wikus’ story of waking up to what is wrong with his community and causing chaos as he struggles to be authentic with himself. So, in the beginning, Wikus is conforming to the values of his culture and he’s a dweeb (Price of Conformity). He’s trying to perform up to the expectations of his job and his father-in-law/boss (Dependent World). When he is contaminated with Prawn juice he starts to transform into a Prawn (Dresses the Part) and becomes aware of their integrity and intelligence (Opportunity to Shine). Wikus quickly realizes he can only hide in District 9 with the Prawns as he gradually transforms and moves back and forth between the world of the Prawns (Secret World) and his Dependent World (buying weapons and phone calls with his wife).
From here the movie takes on a Hero’s journey as they battle to get to the spaceship and go home to gain the power to free all the Prawns on Earth. Clearly we are gearing up for a sequel. There has yet to be a final battle where the Prawns are safely returned to their planet. I hope the sequel also includes an ending to the Virgin story. Wikus needs to align himself with the best in humanity (his black friend is a representation of this) and lobby against the mentality that degrades Prawns. In so doing his wife aligns with him as a man (Re-order/Rescue) and Earth changes its policies towards Prawns (Kingdom is Brighter). Combine this type of structure with the genius of the creators of District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, Peter Robert Gerber, Simon Hansom and Terri Tatchell) and you would have a great sequel.