by Kylah Magee
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In the first few minutes of Finding Joe, the question is posed: Who is Joseph Campbell and why should we care? The question is never fully answered. This documentary is more of a self-improvement guide rather than a film about the life and work of mythologist Joseph Campbell. While somewhat disappointing to someone who was looking forward to a biographical documentary about a brilliant scholar, the film will resonate with people looking for inspiration and encouragement to “follow their bliss.”
Director Pat Solomon has created a film that focuses on Joseph Campbell’s teachings of the monomyth, or, as most people refer to it, the hero’s journey. He interviews actors, writers, musicians, religious leaders, medical doctors, philosophers and professors in order to support the idea that the hero’s journey is a journey taken by everyone. It is a journey inside all of us.
Joseph Campbell is known to many as the foremost authority on the world’s myths and religions. He began studying Native American mythology before graduating high school and spent his lifetime mapping out mythological connections between cultures all over the world. His research led him to the monomyth, which is the idea that all cultures have stories that follow this one story: the hero’s journey. A pattern that includes separation, initiation and return.
For the people in the film, all have had experiences in their life which they can trace back to the model of the hero’s journey. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman shares early difficulties in his life that led him to where he is now. Gay Hendricks and Deepak Chopra explain how the hero’s journey can be found in their beliefs of life transformation and having faith in yourself. Familiar stories and characters from literature and film are used to explore and compare the idea of the monomyth to viewers not familiar with the pattern. Metaphorical anecdotes are shared and acted out by children in order to emphasize the message.
If you’re interested in a film about the life and work of Joseph Campbell, this isn’t it. But if you find self-improvement messages inspirational and educational, this movie has it all. It’s beautifully filmed with interviews that are informative and uplifting. The chart used to illustrate the hero’s journey is wonderful and referenced repeatedly to keep viewers on track. The ideas in Finding Joe are appealing and engaging and will be useful to anyone currently searching for meaning in their own journey.
Kylah Magee received an MA in film studies from Chapman University and a music degree from Texas State. She has worked with the LA Film Festival and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. She currently works as a researcher for a bestselling writing team in Austin, TX.
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