Myths and legends are arguably the oldest form of culture. Almost all regions of the world possess narratives of exceptional individuals who are able to triumph against tremendous odds and to live memorable and heroic lives. Crucially, in almost all of these stories, the heroic character embodies not only a set of exceptional physical attributes, but the sense of the fulfilment of a calling and a set mission or task. It is by accomplishing this, that mythical hero comes to not only embody an exceptional example of humanity, but are is also able to provide a paradigm for the potentially fulfilled life. If one is to consider the role the myths and storytelling play in contemporary life, art and cinema then both of these aspects of the heroic figure must be considered. If one does this, it becomes clear that only do heroes provide exciting stories and moral exemplars, but they may also serve as existential paradigms for those who would not usually consider themselves to be exceptional.
According to the film “Finding Joe” it is possible to one view one standard and basic story which stretches throughout world mythology and world literature. This is the story of the mythical hero, and specifically of this hero’s journey. The hero’s is a quest which is often undertaken at great risk and which may involve defeating an evil force or obtaining a magical and extremely precious object. While the nuance of the stories vary, what they hold in common is the suggestion that the hero is an individual who responds to a specific calling and who is willing to sacrifice everything in order to fulfil it. For example, the “Epic of Gilgamesh” and Homer’s “Iliad” both provide narratives of extraordinary individuals, Gilgamesh and Achilles, who must fulfil their destiny in a situation which involves a moment of commitment and decision, alongside extraordinary physical prowess. Throughout history, such heroic figures have been used to provide inspirational examples of great bravery and strength, together with providing examples of moral and existential integrity.
It is this combination of existential decision and physical power that defines the modern cinematic hero. Figures such as Superman and Batman are all shown to grapple with both their enemies and with their own conscience. Indeed, as in the case of the film the “Man of Steel,” it is often the hero’s ability to distinguish right from wrong and to make a difficult existential decision that actively separates them from a villain who may be equally powerful. Most modern cinematic heroes can also be seen to actively reflect the values of the culture in which they exist. Contemporary superheroes most often fight for law, order and democratic values and, in doing so, reflect the democratic societies that produce the stories in which they feature. This is especially true if one considers the comic book origins of figures such as Captain America who not only fought villains, but villains such the Red Skull who featured during the Cold War and were explicitly associated with communist ideology.
However, it is not simply the case that mythical hero provides a moral exemplar and an ideological mirror. Rather, “Finding Joe” also describes a process whereby the myth of the hero’s journey can be related directly to the lives of everyday people who have found a calling and have succeeded at it. The film discusses specific sport stars, musicians and artists whose lives can all be taken to be seen to provide a reflection of a heroic mythology. Such people have developed extraordinary skills and ability as the result of hard work and dedication, and as the result of firm self-belief that they were following a particular path or vocation. Without such a belief in their vocation, the film insists that the individuals would never have been able to achieve what they have done, and that, as such, the combination of existential commitment and technical skill can be seen to be as powerful for everyday individuals as it is for fictional superheroes.
It is this capacity for their story to apply to both exceptional and “ordinary” individuals that can explain both the purpose and the proliferation of heroic mythologies and of the story of the hero’s journey. Such stories speak to an essential aspect of human nature which may respond to challenges and which also seeks to find a personal sense of fulfilment in the world by accomplishing tasks which speak to a particular calling or vocation. “Finding Joe” is a film that makes this clear by featuring stories of such everyday individuals and also by insisting that every person possesses the capacity to embark upon their own heroic journey in order to achieve their desire and to grow and develop into the individual that they desire to be. Although such individuals may not appear to share characteristics with a particular culture’s dominant hero-figures, they can nonetheless be shown to follow a similar arc, and it is this arc that takes in challenge, adversity and the discovery of inner, as well as outer, strength that can be seen to at the heart of the heroic narrative itself.
In conclusion, therefore, mythologies, especially that of the hero’s journey, can seen to serve political and also moral ideologies by providing examples of exceptional conduct. On a deeper level, however, such mythologies speak to a particular way of viewing the world which is not restricted to traditionally heroic individuals, and to an existential journey that could potentially be undertaken by all people. It is this existential factor, and its capacity to appeal to all individuals which explains both the primary use and the predominance of hero-based mythologies in contemporary society, art and cinema.