The mythical Hero’s Journey described by Vogler as the universal basis of every script seems to resemble the journey of the narrative of the protagonist of the Gnostic film. However, there is an essential difference of Negative Theology.
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In the discussion of the mythical character of the Hero, as described by Christopher Vogler in the book Jornada do Escritor. Based on the ideas of the historian and researcher in Mythologies Joseph Campbell, the Hero’s Journey with the entire gallery of characters would be, for Voegler, the basic narrative structure of any or all cinema script for being based on a mythical narrative model present in all cultures and times. Also, the mythic keystone carry was also the center of attention.
“The stimulus for this journey is to change something in his common world, and he leaves to seek the restoration of this world, or he is dissatisfied in his world and leaves to bring about change. In both cases, the reason for the journey is the lack of something. The hero feels incomplete and goes in search of its fullness. The result is the transformation of the hero himself. Even if the environment does not change, the hero does not see him in the same way anymore. ” VOGLER,
What stands out in Vogler’s description is the reason that drives the hero to start the mythical journey:
For many readers of this Blog or who follow discussions about the Gnostic film, this description made by Vogler seems to be very similar to the protagonist of the Gnostic film. The altered states of consciousness of the Gnostic protagonists (the suspension of the Traveler, the paranoia of the Detective, and the melancholy of the Foreigner) also start from dissatisfactions and incompleteness. Everyone seeks fulfillment.
However, with a fundamental difference: Negative Theology. Or, in filmic terms, the rupture with order or totality. The Gnostic protagonist not only transforms himself internally, but this renewal implies a rupture, in total, with an ontological perception of the real.
A short story of “breaking the order”
The story of “breaking the order” in cinema is interesting. In the so-called “cinema slapstick” (silent “slapstick” films), the hero’s trajectory leads him to the classic anarchic happy end: heroes overcome the challenges and limitations imposed by the system (social, police, economic, etc.).
As, for example, in the final anthological of Harold Loyd’s film The Flyman ( The Safety Last, 1923 ) where, after climbing a building with his own hands in search of a job and marriage, despite being hindered by a policeman, he wins all the mishaps, reach the top and find his bride for the final kiss.
In fact, the figure of the order’s representative, the policeman, is ridiculed. From the group The Keystone Cops (a group of clumsy policemen that each mission turns into catastrophes that pervert the order), the figure of the police is ridiculed and never succeeds in arresting anyone. The characters of Chaplin, the Fat and the Thin, Harold Loyd, and, even in the sound stage, the Three Stooges, always escape the police, denouncing the hypocrisy of the Law the uselessness in joining the system.
With the post-crash economic depression of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929, the proletarian retired from the cinema to make way for the middle classes, demanding a moral and political framework in film production. Especially from musical films, the scheme becomes a break and return to the constant order in the narratives. For example, in musicals everyone starts to sing and dance, and, suddenly, they return to their social roles as if nothing had happened. This authentic cliché fantasy develops, varies, and updates itself over the decades and cinematographic genres.
From horror movies (where the monster or serial killer first murders young people who have sex, consume drugs or simply disobey their parents), to road movies (as in No Destination – Easy Rider, 1969 – or Thelma and Louise – Thelma and Louise, 1991 – where the protagonists die after breaking the order) until the police or action films (where the happy end, unlike slapstick films, is moralistic with the hero reestablishing the political and social order), we have several variants of this fancy cliché.
Gnostic films, on the other hand, present a peculiar form of rupture with “order”: gnosis. But this break is not just a break with the political or social order, but the break with the very ontological notion of reality. The break with Totality and with comforting rationalizations that shelter the individual within a “sense” or “purpose”.
Let us look at two films that work with a potentially Gnostic theme: the symbolism of the remote control as a device that changes or interferes not only on TV.
In Click, a workaholic architect gets a strange universal remote control that will allow him to speed up or reverse situations in different parts of his life. What could give rise to questions or, at the very least, metaphysical or philosophical fear or ecstasy, on the contrary, is reversed in an immediate instrumental interest: accelerating the “boring” parts of life (dining with the family, taking the dog for a walk, foreplay with the wife before sex, etc.) so he can focus on work.
The narrative moves from the potential metaphysical or gnostic interest (reality as a construct, an artificial succession of holographic images) to a moralistic bias, where the protagonist will be punished for breaking with family values.
On the contrary, in A Vida em Preto e Branco, another strange remote control won by a no less strange TV technician, will cause two young people to be swallowed up in a 1950s television series. This journey will make young heroes question not only the values of the world in black and white from the 50s, as the values of their present time (the 90s). Your questions will be marked by a strong symbolism and iconography of biblical origin from the Old Testament (Paradise, apple, flood, incandescent bushes, etc.).
It is from this altered state of consciousness initiated by the remote control, that the heroes envision another reality that transcends that of the TV screen or of the reality of young people in the 90s dominated by MTV images.
Like the mythical journey of the hero described by Voegler, the protagonists carry out an intimate transformation. However, this implies rupture and transcendence (or “broken order”, in filmic terms). The totality, whether social or divine/cosmic, is denied: neither the illusion nor the illusion of reality, but the search for a third element beyond the oppositions or dualities that this cosmos imposes on us.
Like Negative Theology that reveals the existence of God from its negation (or from the impossibility of language expressing its existence) and, as Theodor Adorno intends with his negative dialectic (“Negative Dialectic is Negative Theology”, he affirmed), revealing the falsity of the Whole seeking transcendence in the particular or individual, the Gnostic film seeks from the (sometimes nihilistic) denial of the order of a totality (social, divine, religious) the ultimate plenitude that would be the overcoming of the terms of the material cosmos gift.
The hero’s “transformation” at the end of the mythical journey as described by Vogler is still marked by positivity: it is much less a transformation and much more an intimate adaptation to the totality that surrounds him. The penalty would be that of a tragic death, as at the end of the film Thelma and Louise.