Before reading this text, write down a list of the ten best movies you have ever watched. How many of them have a woman as a strong leading character? I bet that there is a disproportion and that there are more movies in which a man is the leading character than a woman. We know that The Hero’s Journey is behind many (or even all the) plots. Thus, if we cannot find movies that follow this structure and have women as the main characters, it can be said that this journey does not include heroines. This was what Maureen Murdock, one of Campbell’s student, concluded. Murdock created a different theory to bridge the gap of the previous one and published her book called The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness (1990).
The Heroine’s Journey is composed of ten stages:
In order to explain and illustrate this theory, I chose to present it using Brave (2012) as an example. Brave is a production of Disney and Pixar and it innovates on different levels. One is the princess’ appearance, Merida is the first ginger and curly Disney princess (you can see it in the beginning of this post). The other and most important to our analysis is in terms of plot. We are going to see that this story is peculiar and very different from other Disney princess movies and it has to do with the Heroine’s Journey.
The first stage is The Separation from Feminine. To begin with, it is important to clarify what “feminine” stands for here. Traditionally, women are considered sensitive creatures who have as the main social function motherhood and marriage. This view has changed during time. However, not only until recently can we see this change portrayed in movies. Brave was one of the first animated movies that showed a princess declining this role. Merida, the princess, does not want to get married and starts a big fight with her mother. The queen, Elinor, has raised Merida to become the perfect princess, therefore she does not accept Merida’s rebellion.
The following stage represents The Identification with the Masculine. This idea comes from the structure of our modern society. In addition to the traditional role, women also need to work and compete with men for a career. To be successful, women acquire characteristics considered masculine such as aggressiveness, assertiveness, and confidence. When Merida starts to compete for her own hand as if she was one of the princes, this heroine is clearly in this stage.
Once she had won the archery competition, Merida and her mother have a big fight after which Merida flees into the forest. This is the third stage, The Road of Trials. In this stage, the heroine faces the tasks that will make her develop her ego. In this moment of the story, Merida meets a witch that offers her a solution to her problem.
The enchanted cake Merida receives from the witch represents The Illusory Boon of Success. Acting as “man”, Merida found what she believes to be the perfect solution to change her fate. However, this is not true, the spell transforms her mother into a bear.
This moment is also the mark of the next stage, The Initiation and Descent to the Goddess. According to Murdock, “the task here is to reclaim the discarded parts of the self that were split off in the original separation from the feminine–– parts that have been ignored, devalued, and repressed, words and feelings swallowed in her quest for success”. Therefore, Merida gets back to the witch’s cottage and discovers that she needs to “mend the bond torn by pride”.
Merida realizes her Urgent Yearning to Reconnect with the Feminine, in order words, she needs to reconnect with her mother until the second sunrise, otherwise Elinor is going to be a bear forever. The princess thinks automatically about the tapestry and goes back to fix it. For our analysis, we can think of the tapestry as the feminine side, and the archery as the male side.
This movie does not follow the stages chronologically and the stage nine comes before the stage number eight. Merida starts a speech to choose one of the suitors to get married, showing her wounded masculine and following the tradition, but her mother stops her. This sets Merida free from her fate as princess
After, as the Integration of Masculine and Feminine, we see Merida working on a new tapestry and later Merida riding a horse, combining male and female activities.
This structure, The Heroine's Journey, is not widely explored yet as The Hero’s Journey is. However, if you would like to see another example, I recommend The Hunger Games (2012). I believe it is important to have alternatives in which we can see women as a strong leading character, especially in movies that have children as the target audience. This representativeness is important and helpful because it allows our young girls to project a future in which their happiness is not measured by romantic relationships.
FREITAS, A. (2016). Jornada da heroína: como é a narrativa mítica baseada nas necessidades e aspirações da mulher. Retrieved from: https://www.nexojornal.com.br/expresso/2016/08/20/Jornada-da-hero%C3%ADna-como-%C3%A9-a-narrativa-m%C3%ADtica-baseada-nas-necessidades-e-aspira%C3%A7%C3%B5es-da-mulher
MURDOCK, M. (2016). The Heroine’s Journey. Retrieved from: http://www.maureenmurdock.com/articles/articles-the-heroines-journey/
SARAFIAN, K., & Andrews, M., Chapman, B. (2012) Brave. United States: Pixar Animation Studios.
THE HEROINE JOURNEYS PROJECT. (2016) Heroine’s Journey. Retrieved from: https://heroinejourneys.com/heroines-journey/
ZAYKOVA, A. (2015). The Heroine’s Journey in Fantasy Film – An Essay. Retrieved from: https://midnightmediamusings.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/the-heroines-journey-in-fantasy-film-an-essay/