Summary of this month’s movie:
Here come the spoilers! In 1988, a young Peter Quill is abducted from Earth by Yondu, the leader of a group of space pirates that call themselves the Ravagers. As an adult, Quill, now known as Star-Lord, steals an orb wanted by a warlord named Ronan the Accuser. In an attempt to sell the orb, Quill finds himself pursued by a group of bounty hunters, including Gamora, who is working for Ronan. After an epic fight, Quill, Gamora, and two other bounty hunters, Rocket and Groot, are arrested and sent to prison. They meet Drax, whose family was killed by Ronan and who seeks revenge. Together, they escape and travel to Knowhere, a floating city in space, to sell the orb to the Collector, a powerful being who collects rare and dangerous artifacts. They learn that the orb contains an Infinity Stone, a powerful object that Ronan plans to use to destroy the planet Xandar. But Ronan and his forces attack Knowhere, and our heroes are forced to flee.
The group team up with the Nova Corps, the police force of Xandar, to stop Ronan and save the galaxy. They force Ronan's ship to crash, and he emerges from the wreck, prepared to destroy Xandar. But Quill distracts him, allowing Drax and Rocket to destroy Ronan's warhammer, now embedded with the Infinity Stone. Quill grabs the freed Stone, and with Gamora, Drax, and Rocket sharing its burden, uses it to vaporize Ronan. The ragtag team of misfits are hailed as heroes. They decide to continue working together as the Guardians of the Galaxy to protect the galaxy from threats.
Jeni: Carly, what did you think of this movie?
Carly: I really enjoyed this movie. I think I get bogged down in Marvel movies and I forgot that this one is really fun and such. It’s been a while since I first saw it, and I was pleasantly surprised. I was like, ugh fine, another superhero movie. My husband started it with me and was planning on heading out to do other things. And then he stayed the whole time. Peter Quill is meh, all the other characters are way more interesting. We haven’t done a “I wish the movie was about this female side character instead” in a while, but obviously it is Gamora’s story instead of this guy. But whatever. It’s fine. Rocket also is way more interesting. I’ve heard the 3rd movie is more for him, which is good! Anyway, what did you think?
Jeni: I remember watching this when it first came out and thinking that the ways it deviates from the standard MCU storytelling felt really fresh and exciting. I didn’t love the sequel, but going back and rewatching this first one was super fun. It definitely feels much more character-centered than a lot of the other Marvel movies, and I always love a scruffy group of rogues out to do some good and make some coin along the way. I think what I love most is that we didn’t have to get that standard “gathering the team” beginning where we see everyone’s backstory and everyday life and yadda yadda yadda that can feel so slow. The group comes together in a much more organic way, and it’s so full of fun personalities and little quirks. What’s something the movie does well that authors can use in their writing?
Carly: The Heroine’s Journey. The Heroine's Journey is a narrative structure that focuses on the growth and transformation of the main characters. The story goes that the creator of the Heroine’s Journey, Maureen Murdock, asked Joseph Campbell about women and the Hero's Journey, and he responded, “Women don't need to make the journey. In the whole mythological tradition, the woman is [already] there. All she has to do is to realize that she's the place that people are trying to get to.” To be clear, a lot of this is legend at this point, so you never know. But basically, the Heroine’s Journey was created as a response to the traditional Hero's Journey, which centers around strength and resolve. As we discussed in the last episode, the Hero’s Journey is about the hero basically sacrificing himself (often metaphorically), his happiness, for the good of others. But the Heroine’s Journey has a better outcome than that that doesn’t focus on the masculine ideal of ending up alone, strong but lonely. So the big thing to understand here is how the feminine and masculine are defined in relation to storytelling and this structure. It is the divine feminine and masculine. So it isn’t about gender or sexual identity. It is about the societal ideals and underpinnings of those terms. The feminine represents the familial, the welcoming, the network of people and safety, but they are often an outsider, pushed aside or “other.” It is about the connectedness we feel with our loved ones. Those things are seen as feminine qualities. As an aside: a lot of what I’m saying is going to sounds very sexist and it is frustrating, but keep in mind these ideas are based on societal interpretations, historical thoughts, etc. Anyway, the masculine instead represents strength, isolation, separation, and other typically masculine roles. It is about being a strong pillar for those around you, but not being part of the family. Separate, but supportive. Someone that is accepted by society, but extraordinary in some way. Yay fun historically harmful stereotypes! Anyway, all of this is to say that you do not need to be a female to go on the Heroine’s Journey, which is why we picked this movie! It is about contending with these issues, outside of how they relate to gender and sexual identity, even though they use these terms.
Jeni: Yeah, I know a lot of people struggle with the idea that the MC must obviously be a woman or girl. Like many things in writing, not the greatest term for this. So, there are a few characteristics I look for to determine if a story fits the Heroine’s Journey, and they have nothing to do with gender really.
Let’s dig into that a little more. The “feminine” often has a societally prescribed role as an outsider of some kind. In an attempt to reach their goals, they choose a path that is different from that prescribed societal role, gearing up to “fight” an organization/role/group that is limiting their life options or entering a dominant-identity defined sphere. Here, the Heroine’s Journey lines up with the Hero’s Journey as the protagonist encounters trials and encounters some success. This is typically where the Hero’s Journey ends. But in the Heroine’s Journey, this success is either temporary, illusory, shallow, or requires a betrayal of self over time, so the MC faces a crisis of some sort in which the new way of life is insufficient, and they fall into despair because all of the dominant strategies have failed them. This makes the MC yearn to reconnect with the feminine, aka do things the way they’ve always done them and worked for them, but they have come too far and can’t go back to that. Instead, they evaluate and reclaim some of those outsider values, skills, or attributes but now view these traits from a new perspective, which lets them make peace in their own way with the “masculine” approach to the world as it applies to them. In order to face the world/final challenge/future with a new understanding of themselves and the world/life, the protagonist integrates the “masculine” and “feminine” qualities/perspectives. This lets them see through binaries and interact with a complex world that includes them as an outsider but is also larger than their personal lifetime or their geographical/cultural environment.
Carly: Another characteristic: emphasizes the importance of relationships and community in the protagonist's growth and transformation. MCs often face challenges rooted in their relationships, societal expectations, or the pressure to conform to traditional roles. People want them to do as their society has always done, but instead the MC will form a found family (even if they are originally part of their family), that understands their goals and needs. They create a network, a connection, with people that quote unquote get it. Now I wonder how this movie aligns with that. It’s not like they form a cohort called the Guardians of the Galaxy or anything. But the key here isn’t just that they form a group, but that this group understands each other. They have similar ideals and understandings, even when they disagree. They support each other and fill in talents to create a whole. And this brings me to my favorite part of the Heroine’s Journey. The heroine doesn’t need to be heroic alone. They don’t need to take the defining action. A heroine is strong in that they recognize the talents of those around them and help to lead them by utilizing their individual strengths. So in this movie, Peter recognizes that Gamora is better at kicking butt, that she has a knowledge of the ship that no one else does. He recognizes Rocket’s talents with tech and piloting. His main role is to act as a distraction during the final showdown so that Rocket can take the shot. It is about the team and the heroine values the talents and uniqueness of the members of the team. And I just absolutely love that in every way. A hero can have sidekicks, but the hero in the end, goes it alone. It all comes down to them. But the heroine raises up those around them and utilizes the found family to create a network and defeat an antagonist.
Jeni: I mentioned before that this element of “their way” vs “the right way” is one of the traits I often see in stories that follow the Heroine’s Journey. The terminology that’s usually used to describe this is the "shadow self," and it’s a really important aspect of this structure. So, keep in mind that the Heroine’s Journey is all about bringing together the parts of you that have been disconnected or at odds with each other. The shadow self is the part that the character wants to deny or feels difficult to accept. It represents a character’s repressed emotions and beliefs. So, during the course of the story, the character is forced to confront those things about themselves that they’ve tried to ignore or reject. Interestingly, we see several characters having to do this in the movie. Peter’s shadow self is his vulnerability, that child who was taken from his home. He is trying in many ways to live up to the gender stereotypes of a man that is supposed to be strong, mentally and physically, and to him, that means not opening himself to any kind of emotional intimacy. We see how, even as he tries to cover his vulnerability with bravado and arrogance, he hasn’t been able to let it go and move on to find the courage he needs to really be a hero. But his understanding of strength is limited by this internalized belief, and it shows up in a bit of rebellion against that role. It isn’t until he embraces that vulnerability and lets himself engage in relationships that he is able to reach his true potential. This goes back to that whole “divine feminine” thing being about emotions and the internal world
Carly: Another aspect of the Heroine’s Journey that I love is that protagonists often have to rely on their instincts and emotional intelligence rather than strength to navigate challenges and make important decisions. Again, these are typically feminine qualities. It is about divorcing oneself from the typical masculine quality of strength. Because obviously the masculine is only about strength, mentally and physically, and nothing else. Okay sorry, the saltiness is getting away from me. But intuition in particular is often seen as a feminine quality and is often looked down upon. Emotional intelligence is the same way. The heroine here uses these abilities to help win the day. Peter saves the day because he saves Gamora, and that is a purely instinctual, gut reaction. He even says that he doesn’t know why he did it, he just had to. He then laughs it off by saying it makes him a hero, but it actually makes him a heroine. (again see the struggle with the masculine and the shadow self). But in calling in Yondu and saving Gamora, he has made it possible for them to stop Ronan. In fact, most of his big moves are based on being clever and predicting what others will do. In their first fight, Gamora is clearly stronger. But Peter uses tricks and tech to cleverly get away from her. Obviously, it doesn’t all work out because others step in. But here he is using intelligence to get away. And then we get to Drax. He wants to kill Gamora plain and simple, but Peter sees that it would be better for them, and Drax, if he sticks around and uses Gamora to find Ronan and seek his revenge. Peter uses his emotional intelligence to manipulate the situation. He is clever, relying on gut instincts (aka intuition but phrased more “masculinely”) to save the day. All of his moves are based on reading people, playing to their emotions, and being clever.
Jeni: Okay and then lastly but possibly most importantly is that the Heroine’s Journey emphasizes the importance of personal agency and empowerment. Like, yes, all stories need protagonists who have agency, meaning they can and do make choices and take actions to try to change their situation and affect the plot. But when it comes to the Heroine’s Journey, the empowerment aspect is important. Stories that follow this structure often have a character arc or theme that revolves around moving from a place of disenfranchisement or exclusion to understanding the power of finding your people, validating yourself, etc. These characters are fighting against not only their own internal obstacles but also the limitations placed on them by their role as an outsider in their society. These limitations will likely be external–for example, not being able to do certain things or go certain places or having to go to extreme measures to do so–as well as internal, like the character not even considering some options because they aren’t available to people in their social role. Because this is called The Heroine’s Journey, it’s easy to get caught up on gender, but this is really about any way that people are marginalized or made to be outsiders. So, for example, in our movie, this whole cast is outsiders. They’re criminals. They’re anti-establishment. We even have Gamora, who has been in more of a classic role of villain rather than rogue or anti-hero. It’s kinda the whole premise that these are the last people you’d expect to guard the galaxy from terror. But we see that embracing that shadow self, the things that make them outsiders, is what makes it possible for them to achieve their external goals and become fully realized individuals, both internally and in their society.
Carly: Alright, so it wouldn’t be a structure podcast episode if we didn’t break down the steps. Like the Hero’s Journey, this doesn’t line up exactly with three act structure, deviating some is definitely possible. And how you interpret these moments within the journey is also open to creativity. The most important aspect is all the themes we’ve discussed already. But here is the breakdown: