When you’ve seen as many movies as I have, you begin to see that they all follow a certain pattern. This is true not just of movies, but of all great stories ranging from those found in classic mythology and literature to modern TV series and video games. Joseph Campbell called it the monomyth or hero’s journey. It’s basically a series of steps that the protagonist must go through during the course of his or her adventure. In addition to this, there are also a number of spiritual principles that often find their way into storytelling. By combining these principles with the monomyth, you can pretty much figure out where just about any story is headed. While this skill has proven to be incredibly annoying to my wife, it’s come in very handy for me. Not because I’ve continually annoyed her with my usually correct movie and TV show predictions, but because I’ve noticed that these storytelling rules apply to more than just fictitious stories. They also apply to real life.
Ever since Darwin published his infamous On the Origin of the Species in 1859, science and theology have been at war over the theory of evolution. The irony is that evolution and all its aspects—natural selection, survival of the fittest, genetic mutations—all appear in the Bible as clear as day. In fact, even the missing link of the explanation that science has still not uncovered appears in there as well. Is it found in some lost book, obscure passage, cryptic verse, or esoteric translation? No, it appears in an entire story that everyone knows—the story of Noah’s Ark. And once I point out the metaphoric meaning of the story, you’ll wonder how on earth you never noticed it before. How? The church didn’t want you to notice. Because the truth takes power away from them and puts it where it rightfully belongs—to you.
Supposedly, nobody ever said life was fair. Well, I’m saying it right now. Maybe I’m a nobody so the adage still works but I’ve come to believe that life is absolutely fair. Yes, there are selfish jerks who seem to be rewarded while truly good, hardworking, selfless people seem to be punished. There are people who’ve lived like there’s no tomorrow that live long, healthy lives while people who ate healthy, exercised and did everything right have died young. There are innocent children who suffer with terminal illness while evil dictators enjoy the good life. So how is it that I can possibly believe that life is fair? Because most people only see life on a superficial level, but it’s time that we dig a little deeper.
You’ve seen it hundreds of times. Some guy is being interviewed by the local news after he helped prevent some crime or rescued someone in distress. The reporter asks, “Do you consider yourself a hero?” Apparently, this question must be asked in order to test whether or not said person is in fact a hero. According to local news rules of heroism, the man is only a hero, if and only if, he claims to not be one. Most people, knowing this rule, go on to say that they don’t consider themselves to be a hero because they just did what anyone in their situation would’ve done. The reporter then cuts back to the anchorpeople who disagree with the man’s assessment. Feeling that the hero test was passed, they comment about what a true hero the man is while a colorful “local hero” graphic displays besides them. Personally though, I agree with the guy. He’s not a hero.
Those who move in spiritual circles often talk about how we are all connected, that our thoughts create our future reality, and that the universe provides us with clues about our direction in life. Personally, I look at spiritual principles as scientific rules that we just don’t understand yet. Not too long ago, the idea that people could get sick from tiny bugs they couldn’t see or that invisible waves could carry images or music was thought to be magical thinking, until science proved it to be true. So if these spiritual principles are indeed a rule of our universe, there should be a way to test and predict their occurrence. Doing this on an individual scale might prove challenging though, since one person’s thoughts may not have enough energy to make something manifest in a testable way. But what if there were an event that millions of people were focusing on, and this event inspired heated, emotionally charged thoughts that could result in only one of two possible outcomes? If only we had such an event, why, we just might be able to predict the future on a grand scale!
The first time I was given advice about the importance of forgiveness was at the most unlikely of places: an advertising school I was attending in Atlanta. The school had brought in speaker Joey Reiman—a very successful advertising executive who ran his own agency. Almost immediately, I could tell this man had a lot of wisdom, but it was towards the end of his presentation when something he said really resonated with me.
Disney taught us that, “when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.” Unfortunately, if your dream is to have both of your parents live to see you succeed, you’re sheer out of luck. In fact, of Disney’s forty full-length animated features from 1937 until 2000, I know of only one where the protagonist’s parents remain alive for the entire film.* Then there’s the fact that just about every super-powered hero is an orphan. If this isn’t bad enough, one or both of the hero’s adoptive parents often dies too! Superman lost his adoptive dad, Spider-Man lost his uncle, and Luke Skywalker lost both his aunt and uncle. With the Amazing Spider-Man movie set for release this summer, and that movie actually exploring the mysterious back-story about Peter Parker’s real parents, I thought it would be a good time to delve into the topic of why so many of our heroes—both super and animated—are orphans, and what the message means for all of us.
We are living through some pretty dark times. The economy continues to be horrendous with the middle class going through the toughest challenges it’s ever had to face. To make matters worse, natural disasters are becoming more powerful and frequent than ever before, the uprisings in the Middle East are bringing unprecedented instability to the region, and if these “end of days” scenarios weren’t enough, the Maya, Nostradamus, and others all actually predicted the end of the world in 2012. It’s not like this is anything you haven’t heard on the media or from others dozens of times before. The funny thing? None of it’s true. Lately, we’ve been hearing and accepting dozens of statistics like these without question. It’s a sinfully delicious dessert the entire world seems to be stuffing themselves with: the chocolate cake of negativity.
In anticipation of TRON: Legacy, I recently re-watched a bunch of simulation-world films including The Thirteenth Floor, eXistenZ, and the original TRON, which I hadn’t seen in over twenty-five years. While I remember being somewhat confused watching the futuristic Disney film as a kid, seeing it again with new eyes, I was amazed at how clearly it expressed the “life as illusion” theme I’ve been so fascinated by as an adult. In the original movie, Jeff Bridges is considered a “user.” While Bridges often plays users in his films, in this case, it refers to a computer user who manipulates the scenarios of a digital world that is very similar to our own. In the original film, users are considered mythical, messianic figures who can help free the programs from the game they find themselves in. This got me thinking.
Throughout my travels this summer, I kept hearing similar themes coming up again and again: the idea that the world seems to be broken and in need of repair, that the system no longer works, that the rules have drastically changed since we were kids, that there seems to be a gap between where we are and where we want to go, both as a society, and in our individual lives. Admittedly, these themes were most often being repeated by me, but others weren’t giving me the kind of baffled looks I used to get when I spoke my mind. No, most of the time they agreed with me and shared their frustrations about how hard things seem to be these days. Initially, I had no answers. But then, a solution came to me from a most unexpected source—the TV show, Lost. Actually, the source wasn’t the unexpected part since I’d been getting wisdom from Lost for years and had even written a book about it. What was unexpected was that the show had already concluded three months earlier.