Discovering a heroine’s journey

While thinking about Pitch Perfect I thought it might be fun to examine it in the context of "The Hero's Journey" popularised by Joseph Campbell.

The idea is that stories can be linked back to stages in a "monomyth" - a single arc that describes events in just about all tales. Campbell identified 17 distinct stages but it is generally accepted that not all stories will feature all 17 whilst still following the general outline.

I just thought it would be interesting to examine what many would consider a low brow, throwaway movie in this way and see how it matches up. I used a typical template found online to compare it to.

There are obviously going to be some spoilers if you've never watched it.

The ordinary world: Beca, our lead, joins college.

The call to adventure: this comes first in Beca being asked to audition for the Barden Bellas a cappella group, then in her Dad telling her she can have wonderful experiences and make great memories at college. There are also echoes in the repeated attempts by Jesse, the love interest, to get Beca to expand her horizons.

Refusal of the call: Beca first declines to audition, tells her dad she's not interested in college and wants to move to L.A. and also repeatedly rebuffs Jesse.

Meeting with the mentor: this is the shower scene with Chloe where they sing together for the first time.

Crossing the threshold: Beca's reluctant agreement with her father to give college a try for a year, combined with the above shower scene, leading to her audition for the Barden Bellas.

Tests, allies and enemies: allies is obviously the rest of the Bellas, tests is the struggle to find her place in the group when she feels restricted by its leader, Aubrey, and enemies is clearly defined as the rival group The Treblemakers.

The ordeal: improvisation during a performance leads to an argument and Beca leaving the Bellas. There is also a big bust up with Jesse leading her to reassess how she is living.

The road back: Beca's return to the Bellas fuelled by her realisation that she's been pushing people away and needs to do something about it.

The reward: there are a couple of things here - getting to play her music on the college radio station (but this is a bit hollow in the context of the above) and the return to the Bellas in a position of authority. We might also consider her awakening to her mental state as a reward.

The resurrection: when the Bellas turn to Beca and say "what do we do?" thus putting her in charge.

Return with the elixir: Beca and the Barden Bellas winning the a cappella contest.

This may all seem a bit overkill for such a film, and we certainly don't think about this when we sit down to enjoy it, but being able to relate back to such core tenets helps to explain why we do enjoy it and why it works so well as a story.

  1. vasta says: #
    @colinwalker What a fantastic breakdown of the film! I’ve been wondering what made it so compelling (aside from the singing, of course) and breaking it down in the component parts of the heroine’s journey makes it a lot clearer.
  2. colinwalker says: #
    @vasta It’s quite surprising how it all comes together when you really think about it. It’s something we do unconsciously and don’t even realise.
  3. Zak says: #
    @colinwalker Well, that was a facinating, albeit unexpected, analysis of Pitch Perfect. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch that movie the same way again.