Ten years ago, I was attending a weekend masterclass in London called ‘Writer’s Journey’ with Christopher Vogler, a well known Hollywood screenwriter and story consultant ( Lion King etc) who introduced me to Joseph Campbell, a nineteenth century american philosopher, teacher and mythologist. Little did I know at that time, that Campbell will completely change my visions of cinematic storytelling! Chris based his seminar on his famous book’ Hero’s journey’, highly influenced by Cambell’s works, especially ‘Hero with the thousand faces’ and sited examples of how stories of numerous movies, from Star Trek to Shrek has taken the mythic journey of the ‘Hero’ and followed it’s ‘Monomyth’ of ancient cultures.
I was completely struck with the ideas and a new window opened in front of my creative runway. I started thinking about writing stories which would use universal patterns, the essence of heroic tales, the narrative structures and character archetypes. I was fascinated by the Hero’s journey, his eventual death and rebirth, bringing forth the immense power of transformation! On Sunday lunch break, I took the opportunity to have a chat with Chris and I still remember his wise words- ‘Bring the myth forward man, it has power and magic!’
As I started looking deeply, I realized that all myths are the creative products of human psyche and the artists are cultural myth-makers!
In myths, ordinary stories take extraordinary forms, the real and unreal mix and transcend the monotone of everyday realities. Mythologies not only allow us to escape from the mundane but also protect us from the fearsome experience of life’s adversities and sufferings. Our real world is terrifying; the mythical, magical world empowers us to be the ‘Heroes’ who can transcend the ordinary and transform to live a better life less than ordinary!
In Pedro Almodovar’s words, ‘at the end of the day, film for us was just a great escape; for an hour and half, you could just sit down and forget about your own life and live a parallel life in a parallel world completely different from your own!’
Movies are made to create an extraordinary mystery, where the real and unreal worlds mingle; in it’s true sense, watching movies are like experiencing lucid dreams! Through movies,Tim Burton says, ‘like fairy tales, we can explore concepts such as life and death in a safe way’.
Watching movies, to me, is almost similar to what ancient Shamans used to call ‘Dreamtime’; we are taken to a world unbeknownst to us. We lose ourselves in a dark room and we go places. Like Shamans, we have access to a ‘special world’, from where we bring inspiration and healing. We transform ourselves!
Like mythologies, movies have the power to move and transform us through this direct experience. As a community, we sit together, eat popcorn, watch and escape from this real world to the realm of magic; very similar to what our ancestors used to do while listening to mythical stories and lose themselves into ‘mysterium tremendous et fascinans’- a tremendous but fascinating mystery!
Once Danny Boyle was asked what he loved about movies?
“It is the dark room and you sit there with strangers. If you think about it psychologically, people who go and sit with a load of strangers in a dark room and watch 40 foot versions of themselves kissing each other; that’s insane! They are mad, those people, they are absolutely mad. And I love the way we play our madness on it, really.’’
Movies tap into what Carl Jung had called ‘Collective Unconscious’, the collective memories of human evolution; hence similar to myths and movies break the boundaries of cultures!
I often think, what kind of movies Rabindranath or Goethe would have made? I guess, they would weave the same cultural ‘monomyth' and would have found that movies are probably the most diverse and complete art form ever created!
In fact, movies, unlike storytelling or other art forms, touch all the aspects of human intellect; inviting us to engage with our visual, auditory, non verbal, musical, intra-personal, interpersonal, kinesthetic and other intellectual abilities. Like a master weaver, bringing all these dimensions together, movies create and thread an ‘indra- jaal’, I suppose, a new metaphysical dimension!
Personally, this is what I enjoy about the movies the most-the act of disappearing! As I watch movies, I traverse through a ‘thin veil’ between what I am and what I could be, between reality and how one could transcend it! It makes me feel like a kid again!
Between the audience and this magical world, there is a bridge; it is the silver screen, the thin veil! This screen is our canvas, our voice and our power! This is where we, the film makers, play with colors and weave dreamtime! This is the rabbit hole, through which we modern shamans take a leap to the ‘spirit world’ to bring back the ‘medicine’ to heal, to transform, to inspire! This is where modern myths are made.
And this is exactly where as film makers or modern myth-makers, we bear immense responsibilities as agents of transformation! We invite our fellow travelers to look at the powerful images that tell stories; something that has the power to move one’s soul, the mere contact of those images inside one’s being creates tremendous possibilities!
This gives us, the cinema-walas, a lot of power and it goes without saying that with great power comes great responsibilities!
As movie/myth-makers, are we truly taking care of our deep cultural and social responsibilities?
Born and brought up in Calcutta, India Amit was exposed to the arts, literature and cinema from an early age. He was hugely influenced by the films of Satyajit Ray. His passion for creative arts flourished with his years of training and performing the Indian classical dance form of Kathak and musicals. He also published two books of poetry, dance dramas and plays. Two of his recent plays achieved huge acclaim and success in India.
His vision is to make films that transcend cultural barriers, usher in personal and social transformation and will further the full realisation of human potential.