Essay on The Hero's Journey: Matthew McConaughey Rock-hard Abs and Saving the Universe

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In 1949, American Professor of Literature, Joseph Campbell, came up with The Hero's Journey, a supposed sequence of characteristics, in some form or another, present in all heroic stories. So, does this theory hold up? Or is it just another idea that your English teacher told you was important, but you're never really going to use it? You might be surprised to know that it holds some water.

The general theory behind The Hero's Journey goes like this. A call to adventure: the hero is called to leave home and go on his quest. Supernatural aid: our hero is helped by some unnatural force. Crossing the threshold: the hero must cross into unknown territory. Challenge: our hero must overcome some adversary, be it physical or mental. Revelation and Transformation: the hero comes to a realization for better or worse. Atonement/Return journey: our hero, having finished their quest, returns, ending our tale and/or leaving them better than when they started.

But does every narrative follow this pattern? Let's look at a modern film as an example;

2014's Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey, as Cooper, our hero. Cooper lives on a dying earth on his farm with his daughter Murph and son Tom. As a former NASA astronaut, he is called in for humanity's last-ditch effort in ensuring its survival. This mission will, however, separate him from his family for an extended period.

Cooper decides that to save his family, he will embark on said mission. Still hoping to return afterwards, he loses years away from his family. After many challenges and internal conflict, he makes the decision to never see his family again in order to ensure humanity's survival, foregoing his desire to return.

Now whilst our society of today can somewhat relate to these themes of space travel and dying ecosystems, our ancestors may not. So, for the sake of historical relevance, let's look at a more ancient example:

Over a thousand years ago, Anglo-Saxon Vikings told the story of Beowulf, an epic hero. A man whose life story reads like a photocopy of Joseph Campbell's 'Hero's Journey'.

Beowulf is a noble individual who enjoys drinking and combat, a classic Viking. His story begins with a call to adventure; after hearing of a foreign king's demon problem, he sets out to help. Killing monsters along the way, he arrives and Kills the king's monster barehanded. He then kills the monster's mother and is rewarded by both the foreign king and his own.

Many years after, now King, Beowulf faces off against a dragon in defence of his kingdom and sacrifices himself to protect his people.

Now, Beowulf is the example of a classic hero, someone noble and courageous; willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. If you think about it, he's not that different from Interstellar's Cooper. Cooper is willing to delve into uncharted space and risk his life and personal attachments for humanity's survival.

Of course, other aspects aren't comparable or maybe even still valued as highly. Like Beowulf's inhuman strength and ability to rip someone's arm clean off, which aren't seen as heroic but a display of physical strength. And his likeness for drinking and partying, despite being synonymous with the Norse culture of his time, it isn't necessarily admirable behaviour. One might even argue that nowadays you'd be seen as an alcoholic or rogue.

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Cooper may not be able to rip people's arms off, nor always up for a party, however, his characteristics translate our modern values into those of old. Cooper is a family man, a man of great intelligence and according to a large portion of the female population, easy on the eyes.

The heroes present in human literature are reflective of the society in which they were born. Beowulf is from approximately 500-1000 AD and was created by the Anglo-Saxon people. As such, his traits would be quite different to our 21st century, first world and globalised civilization.

Beowulf is a boastful individual, Cooper is not. Beowulf is a well-toned beast, Cooper aka Matthew McConaughey, whilst more fit than the average man, is not a hulking behemoth. Can Cooper swim for days in a lake and kill a demon's mother? Probably not. The point is, we think both are heroes.

Now, whilst our societal values may have changed throughout time, the basic premise of who is and who isn't a hero remains mostly intact. People value someone who can sacrifice their wellbeing for someone else and all societies have someone like this.

The interpretation of masculinity today is much different from the post roman empire Viking mentality of 500 AD. Back in those times, Beowulf was an above-average man, someone who was not only a strong protector of his people and was confident in his abilities, but someone who would risk life and limb to do so.

Cooper embodies our modernised version of this. Like Beowulf, Cooper is strong-willed and isn't afraid to take risks to achieve. Cooper is also valued for his intellect and intuition, not just charging headfirst into things like Beowulf. You might call Cooper the brains and Beowulf the brawn which is reflective of their time's values.

Now whilst they aren't confined to these 'brain and brawn' categories, it's just a general statement for societal needs throughout time. For example, the people we see as heroes in real life often show this self-sacrifice

Many consider our very own Steve Irwin to be a national hero. Risking personal safety to rescue animals, a goal that eventually spelled his end. There's also Martin Luther King Jr, who advocated for civil rights in the USA. He risked both ridicule and safety to do so and was eventually assassinated because of it.

In Beowulf and Cooper's instances, they're just the heroes that each of their society's needs, roles that needed filling. In Steve Irwin's time, he saw struggling animals and decided to risk his safety to benefit them. Again, in Martin Luther's case, he saw the inequality among his society and took action, despite the consequences.

In Beowulf's society, the harsh and battle-hardened Norse culture of old, Beowulf's characteristics would've come in handy. Strong, Level-headed bravery and a knack for fighting to boot, this guy's great. And in Cooper's case, a scientifically and mentally challenging voyage that threatens Earth's survival. Copper's smart, level-headed and he's an expert at space travel, why wouldn't he be a draft pick?

So, this shaping of Hero's to the society in which they live can be partially attributed to the qualities a society either lacks or desires. With this in mind, every hero can be boiled down to our already outlined criteria of self-sacrifice and service of others' mentality. Furthermore, the only real difference is that they might have a different appearance or quality that's indicative of the society they're from.

So clearly, you can see that the two society's heroes are related because of their self-sacrificing attributes. I mean who would've known that Matthew McConaughey and a walking six-pack were related to an American Literary professor and his theories on the heroes we love.

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Essay on The Hero’s Journey: Matthew McConaughey Rock-hard Abs and Saving the Universe. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from
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