Watch enough movies, and their stories not only tend to blend together in your memory, but their similarities in structure, character, and theme become apparent. According to one online video essayist, that’s not a surprise — since, at their core, all stories rest on the same fundamental building blocks.
In a YouTube essay posted before Thanksgiving called “Every Story is the Same” (via Slashfilm; watch it above), Will Schoder argues that, when you strip them down to their essence, every narrative — be it in film, books, TV, or even sports — ascribes to an identical template rooted in what Joseph Campbell dubbed “the Monomyth,” or “Hero’s Journey.” That thesis, which is supported by Community creator Dan Harmon (heard in Schoder’s post in audio clips), states that all stories are comprised of a few basic components, irrespective of religion, race, time, or geography. Campbell’s ideas have been widely influential to artists and philosophers of the 20th century, and Harmon himself is such an adherent that he further distilled the “Hero’s Journey” into an eight-step “story circle,” which features the following segments:
- A character is in a zone of comfort
- But they want something
- They enter an unfamiliar situation
- Adapt to it
- Get what they wanted
- Pay a heavy price for it
- Then return to their familiar situation
- Having changed
Using a variety of clips from popular films from the past few decades (including Star Wars: Episode IV, which has long been labeled as a Campbell-influenced work), Schoder’s argument proves to be a compelling one — and anyone who’s consumed enough fiction will already recognize that it’s true, and that there are a few essential storytelling elements and patterns that are repeated, incessantly, by new storytellers. As a work of art criticism, “Every Story is the Same” is a clearly argued and informative primer that may open your eyes to the way narratives are constructed — and, as a result, to the way in which, no matter who we are or where we’re from, we’re all thinking (and dreaming) in harmony.
Joseph Campbell: ‘The Hero’s Journey’: