The 17 Steps of The Hero’s Journey and Their Manifestations in Film

6. Kevin Reynolds’ The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) and “The Road of Trials”


The Stage

The Road of Trials is simply a series of tests or obstacles that the hero overcomes in order to prepare for finishing the quest.

At first glance, it is easy to confuse the road of trials for the actual plot itself, or as other frameworks phrase it, for the “rising action” of the story. So we must take time to differentiate the two.

Stories are all based on one thing: the protagonist’s will to overcome obstacles thrown in their way of achieving a goal. This makes tension, and tension makes drama. The difference is this: The road of trials is always a part of the rising action, but rising action is not always the road of trials, as Campbell is using it. To go further into differences, “the road of trials” provides the character with experience and often other intangible assets that they will use later on down the road. They need what they obtained in the road of trials in order to overcome ever mounting obstacles. The obstacles only get more difficult as the story progresses, and often times the hero needs help beyond what they originally possessed at the start of the journey.


The Scene

Edmond Dantes has been wrongfully thrown in prison. His whole life was stripped away from him for reasons he fully does not understand. He is left to wallow in despair and loneliness for all eternity. They awarded him no points, and may God have mercy on his soul.

Only the prospect of revenge keeps him alive and keeps him hoping. This motivation will be the whole focus of the movie. In order to achieve revenge though, Edmund must learn several things; how to escape from prison being the initial quandary.

Fortunately he is cellmates with an apparent warrior monk who wants to impart on Edmund several gifts: knowledge, combat skill, wisdom, etc. Edmund spends years training, learning skills, and perfecting his plot for revenge. All of these skills he will use later on in the movie to overcome increasingly difficult obstacles, and to exact revenge; thus receiving his “boon”.



7. Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander (1986) and “Meeting the Mentor”


The Stage

Our hero often needs a strong mentoring force to guide them in their quest to teach them something important, so that they are not seduced into becoming the very monsters they set out to destroy. Villains are often shadows of the heroes; they are people who failed to balance and focus their skills and who didn’t listen to their mentors.

There are countless examples of the mentor, but I am going to throw a little curve ball here and subvert an obvious temptation.


The Scene: Connor Meets Heather, not Ramirez

Connor McLeod is the Highlander. He is immortal, and has only recently found out that he is very different. He experienced ‘first death’, and his own people marked him as a demon and banished him. It would be very easy for McLeod to be a bitter and cynical beast in the castle like character. If only he had some strong powerful force keeping him on the straight and narrow. This force is not just Sean Connery….


Don’t worry, he comes up later…in an even more ridiculous outfit

But it is also his true love, Heather.


Is it normal that he is grasping a sheep while kissing her?

Heather loves him for who he is. She accepts that he cannot age, or die. She even accepts that she will get old and die without children, because he is infertile. She accepts a life of isolation and being different, just because she chooses to love Connor for who he is.

This love means so much to Connor, that hundreds of years later, even though he is a bitter, cynical, and lonely man, he still chooses to fight for good and lights a candle for her on her birthday. He doesn’t light a candle for Sean Connery.


Heather’s love keeps him on the right path. Sean Connery’s training just gave him a start and the audience exposition. Connor becomes an even deadlier warrior long after Sean Connery dies, but his love with Heather is what prevents him from becoming just like the Kurgan. This is not to say that Ramirez did not act as a mentor. Truly, Connery plays the role of the mentor very well. Heather though, is actually the greater mentoring force to Connor throughout the movie. She is not just the love interest either, as that role is assumed by Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart). If anything, this demonstrates the flexibility in using this framework.


8. Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (1997) and “Temptation”


The Stage

The journey is progressed by the hero’s will being more powerful than the obstacles he faces. What obstacle is more potent than self-doubt? The hero will almost always be tempted with the prospect of quitting the journey and returning home. Much of the journey is internal and psychological, so this step is critical for the hero to overcome.


The Scene: Johnny Almost Resigns

Johnny Rico was excelling in the military. He was overcoming the road of trials like a champ and was even made to be a “squad leader” at boot camp. He was being built up only to be torn down again.

A horrible training accident results in the death of one of his squad members and the resignation of another. Rico, like any good leader, feels responsible. He decides to quit. He lets all the negativity get into his head and he convinces himself that he is not cut out for this journey. He is overcome with guilt, shame, and a total loss in confidence. He isn’t quitting because it is easy or that he secretly wants to. He has just always been the best, and it is revealed that he isn’t. He doesn’t know how to handle failure, as this is probably the first time he has experienced it. He also questions his original motives for joining the Mobile Infantry, which revolved around a love interest who just dumped him. What reason does he have to stay now?


Yep, we’re all thinking it…”your name is Toby!”

Every hero overcomes the temptation, though. No one wants a story about a quitter. Johnny Rico is spurred back into action when the Bugs throw an asteroid at his family’s city killing everyone he knows and loves. He decides that instead of being a quitter that he wants to go murder some bugs on another planet. I guess it’s a positive way to channel aggression and to keep the hero on the path to enlightenment….


9. James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta (2006) and “Atonement”


The Stage

The hero, in order to be fully initiated into society, must fully embrace the ultimate power in their life. They must accept death, be reborn, and fully understand themselves and the world around them. This is the closet stage of the journey to a traditional ‘climax’. If the story is closely following the Hero’s Journey, it will most likely have all the events lead to this point. After all, Campbell is proposing that most stories are actually allegories for humans transitioning into fully functioning members of their society. So it makes sense that this is the ‘‘climax’’.


The Scene: Evey’s Rebirth

Evey Hammond has been V’s protégé and V wants to show Evey how to truly be free. So he decides to fake kidnap her to have her learn the same way he did: through intense psychological torture. Some people go on hikes in the woods, others build elaborate prisons and role play scenarios.

The ultimate power in her life is her own ability to be internally free; free to love and live. After being torn down in “prison” and exposed to the heartwarming story of a lesbian writing memoirs on toilet paper, she has an epiphany in a thunderstorm, and is finally at peace with the world.


Holy crucifixion reference Batman, I think it’s Easter in London.


10. Henry Selick’s A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and “Apotheosis”


The Stage

This is the moment in the journey where the hero has a brief period of rest and reflection before going forward. This can be before or after the climax where the hero has either obtained, or is on the brink of obtaining “The Boon” for his people. He rests before either returning to his people or confronting the great evil facing them.


The Scene: Jack in the Cemetery After Being Shot Down

Jack Skellington has been trying the whole movie to amalgamate Christmas into his own world and culture. He just terrified children across America and was shot down by WW2 era anti-aircraft artillery and landed in a cemetery. This obvious symbolism for the lowest point is countered by images of Jack rising from the ashes more enlightened and motivated than ever to set things right.

The whole scene is his meditation on all of the events that have gone on, and his understanding of what he has learned and how he changed as a person. His “boon” is not what he originally thought it would be. The whole movie he longs for self-realization and being at peace with what and who he is, but he was putting his efforts in the wrong place and messed everything up. The original “boon” he set out to achieve was an illusion, and the journey brought him another, more profound internal reward.

Fully self-aware and confident now, he next sets out to save Christmas, Santa Claus, and defeat the villain.


ESL students never responded to this movie as well as I wanted them too…hard to believe


11. Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and “The Ultimate Boon”


The Stage

Quite simply, this stage is the ultimate payoff. It is reaching Mt. Doom, it is going the distance with Apollo, and it is finding the princess in the correct castle. The hero obtains enlightenment, or the elixir, or turns off the nuclear device, or does whatever it is they were setting out to do. Now they can return to their people with this ‘boon’, even if it is just experience, and be an enriching member of society.


The Scene: Andy’s Escape

Andy Dufresne has been sentenced to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He has been subject to violence, rape, exploitation, extreme loneliness, and despair. He has been looking for forgiveness, freedom, and….redemption! He finally achieves his freedom through an elaborate escape plan, and leaves the hell that is Shawshank to live a much fuller life elsewhere.


Hollywood loves it some Jesus on the Cross symbolism.