Rain Man vs. Joseph Campbell: Beyond the Hero’s Journey


Why isn’t Raymond the Hero?

Action Heroes

The Joseph Campbell Dreamcoat Factory

Boundaries of the Heroic

Screenwriting the Desiring Machine

Transcending Self


Why isn’t Raymond the hero?

1988’s Rain Man cleaned up at the Oscars and Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Raymond, an autistic savant, was lauded.  But Raymond is not the main character, he’s the antagonist to his brother Charlie, played by Tom Cruise.   Although not the flashy role, Cruise carries the picture as the protagonist and hero despite his unsavory character traits as the younger yuppie asshole brother who basically kidnaps Raymond from his care home in a foolish attempt to win guardianship and therefore his disinherited trust.  The fund itself is the MacGuffin for Charlie’s character arc from emotionally wounded dickhead bad brother to warm fuzzy not so dickish good brother as he realizes what he needed was his father’s love, not whatever fortune bequeathed to a man who doesn’t understand money.


This is all well and good as far as dramatic writing is concerned.  But the problem is that the first half of the movie Charlie is really a foul-mouthed creep and a weasel.  He’s not a fella with a typical heroic arc.  The audience only has sympathy for him because we can see how he’s been wounded by his father’s neglect.  Though, from the father’s perspective, this dickhead probably deserved his stern treatment.  If appearing in another film, Charlie could easily be the antagonist.  If the film was about this guy as a Lamborghini salesman and hid the story about his brother, he would invariably be the villain.  In fact, if Rain Man were told from his Italian girlfriend’s point of view, or better yet, from Raymond’s point of view, Charlie would well be a devil in some Faustian bargain American Dream story.


So what of it?  Let’s do the experiment.  Why not rewrite Rain Man from Raymond’s point of view?  Raymond is at his care home peacefully in his room, going about his routines of cataloging baseball statistics, never missing an episode of “The People’s Court,” and then – BAM – he’s suddenly kidnapped by his younger brother for unknown reasons.  Charlie tortures him, tries to get him to take an airplane!  He tries to make him eat food with a fork instead of his customary toothpicks!  And worst of all, Charlie is going to make him miss … “The People’s Court”! Not to mention then “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy”!  Wapner’s at 4:00, and Raymond must escape his brother and get home before it starts – the quest begins!  Ah – the good old hero’s journey!


But this isn’t Rain Man. Rain Man isn’t about Raymond, it’s about his other asshole on his hero’s journey. It’s about a guy who basically has less problems than Raymond, though he feels those problems with much greater magnitude.  Among screenwriters, Rain Man is an exemplary case of the transformationist school of screenwriting  These kind of writers apply the hero’s journey to a wound or problem or flaw in the main character who has to confront an antagonist who exposes his wounds and then reconciles the wound through some sort of heroic quest of self-realization that is their character ac.  Because Charlie is capable of change, it’s his story, not Raymond’s. It’s this way that gives the plot its neat structure, even though it mighthaps be less compelling than the potential of Raymond’s world, which would be less relatable to a mass audience.


But this also signals that the rules of dramatic writing have limits.  It’s as if screenwriting goes plodding along with blinders because all the Raymonds of the world never in fact have stories written about them. These others don’t get to be heroes.


A far inferior movie that shows this contrast even more starkly is one called It’s Kind of a Funny Story in which a malingering kid with normal angst and melancholy convinces a suspicious doctor that he’s suicidal and the doctor admits him for a weekend to a mental hospital.  The film, presuthC7T93BP6mably based on someone’s memoir, tries to be one of those “woe is me” quirky white bro coming-of-age comedies with the quirky sidekick Zach Galifanakis.  But it comes off like this kid, who finds his life lesson in the unlikely places, and realizes that other people, other older people, have real problems, is just a tourist cannibalizing the traumas of people far more wounded than he. By the end, the film is hollow because the heroic journey comes off as a selfish conceit.  It’s all about this one kid’s journey to awareness of … something totally forgettable.  When it comes to climactic the showpiece of the film, a hospital ward karaoke of Queen and David Bowie’s great song “Under Pressure,” the characters don’t even sing their own voices – they imagine they actually sound like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie – another conceited appropriation show that yes, this is all in the desires herein laid out are in the head of the protagonist.  What about all the other people in the hospital with far more interesting stories?  Why don’t they get their story told?  Why isn’t this film about them?


In writing it’s been said that protagonist can’t be too irrational or insane or passive or emotionally compromised.  They have to be active, have to be questing, have to be searching, have to be struggling to gain understanding of the situation the story is about.  Mass audiences have to find something to relate to, and this individual struggle to understand, to quest, they do.  If an audience is asked to identify with a character who is unlikable or makes very poor decisions, they check out and stop caring.  It becomes something painful to them and they dismiss it as avant garde or arty.


These types of stories show the limits of the heroic journey narrative screenwriting, particularly American screenwriting, is in love with. Codified first by Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, then Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and Syd Field’s his seminal The Foundations of Screenwriting, have formed the foundations of screenwriting based on the heroic journey of an individual. But given this, there have emerged a tight set of rules on character arcs heralded by the transformationist school. 


Script doctors look to inject a bit of transformationism of character wherever they can find it, a la Charlie in Rain Man.  There are tons of script doctors and readers and people who write guides of structure and character and story arc, all in some way attempting to crack the code of story and structure character structure, trying to discover the form behind the spontaneity of the craft, and a good deal of American script factories insist on the heroic transformation of character.  They’ll inject character transformation and conflict into a story sort of religiously, reminiscent of how bodybuilders worship protein, guzzling it at every opportunity. 


Sometimes this feels really forced.  As Kenneth Lonergan, Oscar-winning scribe of Manchester by the Sea, says, sometimes you get the sense that these emotional backstories are kind of forcefully “ladled in” to the script.  Like how Doctor Strange is about a guy who can do magic, we don’t really give a shit about his emotional problems.  That isn’t why people are going to see the movie.  This is exactly right, yet films in the last twenty to thirty years have slavishly been injecting this emotional arc transformational serum into movies out of some adherence to a kind of doctrine which believes that dramatic stories should basically resemble a therapy session.



Action Heroes

There is another layer to film writing beyond the transformationist school.  It’s not a contradictory one so much as it is even more fundamental than using narrative as a therapeutic technique of self-discovery.  And it has to do with the hero journey as one of taking action.  And it is action that is one of the fundamental aspects of the art and science of motion picture.  It’s the word “action!” after all that the director calls out to begin a scene.  (Or if you’re Nicholas Winding Refn (director of Drive and Bronson), you might shout “violence motherfuckers!”)


The heroic arc owes a large debt to American achievements in film and film writing.  Some have even called cinema an American art form due to it’s dominance.  And they way in which narrative film writing adheres to heroism and heroic acts of action, of assertive employment of violence and action in particular, suggests that the protagonist has to create action, not necessarily be surrounded by emotional wounds and navel gazing traumas.  It can be a simple as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.  These are platonic forms of character working within the rules of genre and have something more fundamental to work with – intention and obstacle.  They have to find the buried treasure.  Imagine Sergio Leone’s script in the hands of a Hollywood script doctor today who looks to inject an emotional wound and a save the cat moment to get the audience to empathize with the hero.  Ack!



The results have been a cannon of mainstream films with familiar movie tropes that reinforce a cult of action heroism.  In stories, we love heroes, we love people who are in charge.  Most stories are about leaders, not followers.  Stories follow Captain Kirk, not Mr. Scott.  All detective stories feature a hero is who not just clever, but a maverick, someone who bucks convention and authority. Heroes are driven and assertive, never passive.  House is the cleverest doctor.  Sherlock is the smartest detective.  Heroes seek out, invent, discover.  They aren’t stagnant. They aren’t cowardly.  They aren’t fools. They don’t reject adventure. They are extraverted.  Try to write a script about any of these traits and you’ll quickly run into a wall – there isn’t a clear way forward.  Or, at least there are fewer and fewer people you can turn to for consultation.


A story could include a large ensemble cast. But within that cast, it’s the one hero, the one can-do person who pulls the other characters together, that brings structure to the script. Consider Lost – there are no shortage of characters to identify with and we might have different favorites – but Jack is the hero of the bunch, the one who’s always out of breath, always giving orders, always has the most lines.  Or consider Arrested Development with its assorted cast – the main guy is Michael, the family hero who tries to pull his family together despite itself. It’s almost always done this way, we find the most active, the most assertive, and the most curious person to identify with. Not necessarily the most wounded or the most virtuous, but perhaps the most driven, the most maverick struggling against the odds. Audiences like this a lot even with nasty characters like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, There Will be Blood’s Daniel Plainview, or the creepy paparazzi guy from Nightcrawler.  These guys don’t save cats.  They aren’t traditionally heroic.  But they are people of action.


In short, the cult of heroism fed by the love for stories creates in audiences a desire to be more conscious, more in charge, smarter, cleverer, better. That said, there is a kind of can-do quality of heroism, a faith in the ability to overcome obstacles.  It’s the Campbellian theme of the heroic monomyth, and it’s inherently optimistic, individualistic, and adheres to a kind of individualist-therapeutic model of storytelling.


It’s also how real life is different than reel life. Real life is full of stagnation, boredom, cowardus, recalcitrance, ignorance where there are vast deserts of time unworthy of drama.  Remember Charlie Kaufman, as the Adaptation character, confronts script guru Robert McKee at his screenwriting seminar about wanting to make a film about real life where characters are realistic nothing really happens.  McKee gives him a tongue lashing for his impudence: the movies are the opposite because they are only interested in the big moments, big emotions, big choices and big action.


The script is, to cut to the chase, a blueprint for the heroic fantasy in us all.  It’s like we are all Walter Mittys – we entertain in some sense a heroic fantasy to break the shackles of real life in all it’s humdrum boredom and confusion and uncertainty and paralysis and do something.  In real life we’re Clark Kent, in reel life we’re Superman.  The script is the desiring machine that points the way to the heroes we wish we were.  This is how cinema is a kind of action-oriented therapy on the culture, all about doing, not just being.  Our cinema is the funhouse mirror reflecting these desires.


Could it be that this compulsion for action and love of dramatic narrative writing that has become ubiquitious in the culture can fill us with resentment for the real world, for its stupefaction, its banality, its implacable intractable stubbornness, its intolerable slowness?  Could it be that our basic desires cannot be contained by reality and must find overflow in the sublime affects of drama – finding release in those director’s words, “… and …. ACTION!”



The Joseph Campbell Dreamcoat Factory

The heroic monomyth is taken to be archetypal bedrock, but I argue that it also shows Joseph Campbell’s own limits.  There is immense value to Campbell’s work, but there is a valid counterpoint that must be considered that could go something like this: Campbell, the eminent scholar, story teller and mythologian, was a part of twentieth century structuralism that sought to systemize everything, to find the underlying archetypal forms beneath phenomena.  Detecting patterns, he sought to find a global soul’s code, leading famously to the paradigm of the heroic cycle in Hero with a Thousand Faces, his most read work and oft-read bible for screenwriters since roughly the 1970s.



A critique of his method is that is focuses on universals rather than difference, a danger which ends up nicely for the dominant culture to categorize and colonize and appropriate and cannibalize other cultures.  So we end up with cultures broadly clumped together “Oriental Mythology” or “Primitive Mythology” and so on.


The post-war boomer “Me Generation” boiled Campbell, who was of their father’s generation, down further to the heroic monomyth with mantras like “follow your bliss” and put the cult of the heroic individual at the center of life. And to help this Campbellian individual, he can graze freely among the cultures of the world, the world their oyster, erasing boundaries of difference by stitching together a quilt work of universalizing meaning-making with his keys to a mythic soul’s code for universal tourism.  The cry for myth and metaphor and story implicated for therapeutic purposes in the most important thing of all – the existential quest of the post-war West.


Campbell is renowned as a cosmopolitan.  Fewer people knew Campbell as a Republican, a fact that shocked me when the librarian told me as much while I was a student touring Campbell’s memorial library at Pacifica Graduate Institute.  I learned that Campbell opposed Franklin Roosevelt, the New Deal, and the mid-century liberal consensus.  He’s been derided by some such as Brendan Gill (see New York Review) as a romantic fascist, an anti-communist, a misogynist (as in his joke “You can take a girl to Vassar but can’t make her think.”) His detractors noted him as a reactionary individualist, suspicious of collective movements.


Campbell was if anything, a Renaissance man – a scholar, an athlete, and a flautist. And it could be said that Hero with a Thousand Faces is a kind of spiritual biography and an assertion of Campbell’s own journey of meaning-making, a romantic way of giving his own life structure. This structure though places the heroic individual at its center.  A hero of action.  Campbell could only have been an American. Only an American could have put together world myth in this way, on the precipice of the final frontier, thinking of its own values as universal – even a movie studio shares that moniker.  Sure, James Frazer and Robert Graves, who came a bit earlier, sought to find the underlying structures of world folklore.  But it was Campbell who translated it into the story of the heroic individual, turning world story making into universalizing romantic self-help cypto-theology.


It’s well known in movie circles that Campbell himself was brought in as a consultant to George Lucas in formulating Star Wars, which became the blueprint for Hollywood blockbusting ever since.  American movies are enough evidence of this phenomena, as Campbell was used tocampbell-hero-thousand-faces help codify screenwriting structure, and was taught at basically every screenwriting school and textbook.  But it is an inherently reactive and conservative way of creating meaning by giving form, structure and action to the dramatic psyche.  The heroic monomyth is inherently a myth of American imperialism. I don’t mean this in terms of it as politically or religiously – Campbell preferred polytheism to monotheism – but even in its ostensibly liberal and multicultural variants, has a basic task of self-interest, self-improvement, ego-centrism, and reactive heroism at its core.  This is a deeper level of baseline imperialism in the American soul and the reactivity of heroic desire.  By the sheer dominance of this type of story, particularly in meaning-making of its dramatic performance to itself, by its many rules and contortions to support a particular type of overcoming-self, a particular type of individualism dominates.  Hollywood mythmaking, if thought of as a desiring machine, gives form to human desire.  We have innate desires to be sure, but we are taught how to desire by the television.  It is factory of desires that shepherd our fantasies with their (e)motion picture machines.  All one needs to know about the fears and desires of Americans is displayed in the flickering light six to eight hours a day.



 The Boundaries of the Heroic

At the boundaries of Hero with a Thousand Faces, boundaries that are not hard to locate, are the boundaries of the heroic American self.  And we can see how this story and its attendant meaning are constructed by what it chooses to focus on.  Like with Rain Man, we chose to focus on Charlies, not Raymonds.  Our perceptual choice is Charlies in the foreground, Raymonds in the background.  It’s telling that Raymond’s even existence in Rain Man is a secret hidden from the hero and only revealed by tragedy.


Something reminds me of George Foster Wallace’s commencement address at Kenyon College “This is Water.”  There Wallace contends that the basic default position in our psyche is our basic self-centeredness. Other people, other stories, other happenings, other languages, religions, histories, other natures, other everything is distant, only communicable to us through our own experience, which is immediate and real.  Everything we ever think is about our own reactions and our own fantasy of ourselves.  It’s such a fundamental part of daily life that, as Wallace says, that to even acknowledge it verbally is repulsive or cringe-inducing.


But there is an air of fabrication about our everyday experience of ourselves, and most of it is based on fantasy of self-image, of how we prefer to story ourselves as heroes in our own quest, chasing our own MacGuffins or Road Runners or Dark Towers in life.  Things in life that contradict the boundaries of the imaginary self are pushed to the edges as if by centrifugal force, becoming a wasteland beyond the limits of concern.


Yet we are trained by the stories of this self-styled individualism, its attendant self-obsession over personal wounds and desires that must be faced.  As if stories were there to serve only a private therapeutic function.  This basic level of selfish heroism is in fact a fantasy.  And perhaps, I suppose it could be argued, a necessary one in some respects because it is itself a bulwark against an unbearable reality of our own foolishness, our own meaninglessness, our own boredom, the slow tedium of everyday life.  We are, perhaps all, in fact becoming Walter Mittys – or perhaps a better more recent example is Sam Lowry from the film Brazil – one of the quintessential American heroic tropes.  We’re all timid bored milquetoasts trapped in an addicted consumer-driven neoliberal dystopian nightmare who increasingly rely on heroic fantasy to cope with reality becoming more and more unbearable.



This is why we have so many superhero movies now – where heroes of fantastic strength and skill fight to save a world on the brink – to compensate for our own hopeless despair, our civilization’s ineptitude to confront poverty, corruption, overpopulation and the murder of the natural world.  Subjects too complex for simple notions of heroism and beyond the powers of individuals.


This simple fact exposes the heroic monomyth itself as a reaction formation. The more insolvable, the more complex, banal, horrifying the world really is, the more we have to double down on increasing fantasies of self-overcoming personal neuroses to confront antagonists who present solvable problems.   It’s funny how superheroes are basically reactive, responding to threats to humanity, but never using their powers to proactively advocate for social change. (See my essay on Batman).  There is a reason there are no films about climate change, even though it is perhaps the biggest threat to civilization in world history.  It’s because there is no Other to fight.  There is no alien to blast away.  Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis and John Wayne cannot come to the rescue of the damsel in the third act after confronting their demons.


It’s striking too what kinds of stories are confined to silence.  There are not many films about poverty. There is a distinct lack of stories about working class people, even though this class makes up the majority of entertainment-goers.  Most films are about young people rather than old.  The first love and coming of age stories are perennially told and fit the heroic mold structure that is not as well suited to the aged.  There are not a lot of films about people with ordinary bullshit boring bureaucratic jobs.  The mundane minutiae of life, the flatness of life, are explicitly what is neglected in film.  In fact, there are a number of films about people escaping these jobs and becoming superheroes.  If aliens can pick up a satellite signal from Earth and watch our TV, they would think ninety percent of us are performers, spies, cops, lawyers and doctors.  And there is no dramatic form that isn’t about something non-human.  If there is, say Chicken Run, WALL-E or Ratattouile, the characters are completely anthropomorphized. 


The universe of the non-human, the Lacanian Real is beyond the outer limits of drama.  In film, it appears as a kind of Lovecraftian abject demonic horde – a Blob, a body snatcher, a Thing, the Fly, a xenomorph, and elaborated endlessly in horror.  And this Real Other is treated as an enemy encroaching on the human world that must be killed so that the human-all-to0-human everyday world can maintain its safety.



 Screenwriting the Desiring Machine

There is a central problem with a culture entirely driven by entertainment – that everything is reducible to an individual journey to overcome.  It’s a veritable cult of the individual. We laud iconoclasts, geniuses, mavericks, celebrities. Elon Musk, Oprah, Steve Jobs, Norman Vincent Peele, L. Ron Hubbard, Tom Cruise, Tony Robbins, Donald Trump.  We tell endless stories of cultural heroes, look to heroes to come to the rescue and fix the world.  It’s the enduring Western myth bookended on one side by Hero with a Thousand Faces and on the other by The Fountainhead.  We obsess over the stories of the wealthy, the successful, the genius of individuals – all of whom will tell you they’ve followed their bliss, defied the odds and found their calling, their vocation or took the road less traveled.  In our culture’s history, we celebrate the heroes of culture – the founders, the geniuses who moved the needle of progress.  We do this at the expense of downplaying culture and context.  says Or, as Brian Eno says of his music, he’s a mere representative of a collective of people.  We don’t usually think this way – of ourselves connected, embedded, as within a society.


(Side note.  This was a key feature of David Foster Wallace’s critique of this culture – that it was being deteriorated by television. Entertainment, which is explicitly a product created to sell consumer goods and services, is itself generally a formulaic manipulation of emotional responses. The hour long dramatic series is a studied pattern of pleasuring the audience’s fantasies, usually meant to self-gratify them with assuring tales of self-overcoming. These stories, the stepchild of the therapeutic hour, assure personal growth through proxy. The fact that these stories are no longer even optimistic, but are in fact so irreverent, cynical and pessimistic as to indulge in outright nihilism – as evidenced by Family Guy-ism – suggests an even further cultural decay.  End of side note.)


Only, what if it’s all bullshit? What if heroes aren’t moving the needle of progress, but these people rely on a culture which has chosen them to represent their wishes, that made them heroes, that chose them to represent their own externalized longings of heroism? How Steve Jobs is the saint of cybergeek. How Trump is the gilded master of American real estate. And to be associated with these heroes means that we too carry the mana of the hero with a thousand faces, the central configuration of character in our culture, the king of fetishized ideals. A carrot just out of reach, we spend our lives trying and failing to be as successful as this imagined ideal. We to seminars, TED talks, retreats, Esalan, EST, night classes, Rosetta stone, yoga, therapy, and on and so on and so on in a private heroic quest of self-improvement and self-overcoming. This quest for private salvation is indeed replete within American-in-origin expressions of religion.


What if the Campbellian heroic monomyth isn’t a truth of structure, but a way to reify structures of heroic reactive desire?  In other words, what if the heroic blueprint itself provides a way to use story to prop up the meaning-starved denizens of late capitalism?  What if these tales of heroic adventures are like the symphony conductors of our dreams?  The essentially imperial preconscious propaganda of the self-centered ugly American’s universe always assuring a peculiarly gilded self.



Transcending Self

The American monomythic quest doesn’t seem to have an end of itself.  It’s blissfully unaware of its own omnipresent boundaries or limitations.  It’s actions are reactions designed only to absorb more self, more selfing activity.  What might be another way forward?  What else is there besides this monomyth to write about and what would that mean for dramatic writing?


Funny enough, a deeper read of Joseph Campbell suggests a way out.  While Thousand Faces can be read as an ego-centric coming of age journey, the scope of story and mythology does not end there. Campbell’s other books, particularly The Flight of the Wild Gander, point to a transcendence of symbol and myth that points to something beyond the self.


The idea here goes to the purpose of mythic story itself, which Campbell borrows from  anthropologist Géza Róheim, makes the case that story and culture make up a second womb of human development.  A baby just born requires years of finishing and it’s through experience with caregivers and the acquisition of language and culture and tradition and the art of story and symbol that basically create in us all a sense of what it means to be human.  Humans take a very long time to develop to maturity.  And it’s culture acquisition that is basically this second womb, a marsupial pouch.  And so myths and stories of the heroic tradition so loved in the West and exemplified well in American motion pictures and literature, are about tending the garden of this imaginal fabric of heroic selfhood.  About learning one’s place in the tribe, finding a vocation, or acquiring a beloved.  It also speaks to the perpetual adolescence of the western heroic tradition.


Campbell thankfully cannot be reduced this much, for he had a grander vision to leap beyond this adolescent monomyth. Campbell spent a decade editing the books of his mentor, Indologist Heinrich Zimmer, and had a fondness for their incredibly rich mythical cannon.  Informed by this, Campell points to the idea of the thrice born, where one is to free one’s self from the pedagogical devices of a culture’s mythology:


Within the Christian Church, however, there has been a historically successful tendency to anathematize the obvious implications of this idea, and the result has been a general obscuration of the fact that regeneration means going beyond, not remaining within, the confines of mythology. Whereas the Orient … everyone is expected, at least in his final incarnation, to leave the womb of myth, to pass through the sun door and stand beyond the gods, in the West … God remains the Father, and none can step beyond Him. This accounts, perhaps, for the great distinction between the manly piety of the Orient and the infantile of the recent Occident. In the lands of the truly “twice born” man is finally superior to the gods, whereas in the West even the saint is required to remain within the body of the Church, and the ‘second birth’ (baptism) is read rather as being born into the Church than born out of it.  (Flight of the Wild Gander 56-57)



There are films from the borderlands which try something other than the heroic quest, or at least subvert its expectations. My favorite way really is the tragic story. Tragedies are always about human failing. These show up in horror, thriller and noir pictures – where the consequences of the action are less clear, sometimes downright confusing, and there is no clear path forward to feel secure with the white hat at the end. Expectations might be subverted by a downer ending. Or perhaps another choice that is challenging. It’s little wonder why these films are never as popular though. They are made to disturb, not reassure.


A good example of this is Martin Scorsese’s Silence, in which two monks search for a lost colleague in brutal 17th Century Japan. They fail over and over again, end up being captured, and their captors insist under penalty of torture that they renounce their faith. The heroic narrative would suggest they either have to best their captors, escape, or become martyrs. But the narrative is even trickier than this … they actually have to 26-silence_w529_h529renounce their faith, and in doing so, in a way transcend the mundane level of faith and enter into a more sophisticated, more abstract path of religious devotion. It’s an astonishing turn. And something of a Buddhist non-attachment treatment of Christian faith. The faith isn’t in the cross, or the church, it’s somewhere else undefinable where self and ideals are transcended. Buddhist thought allows this.


Another example are films of Jim Jarmuch. His Dead Man, which I’ve written a study about, is an anti-heroic acid western, is perhaps his masterpiece subverting the entire western mythos. More recently, his film Patterson, about a bus driver poet whose main feature is that he lacks conflict in his life. He has ponderous moments as Jarmuch settles his camera on overheard conversations. Patterson is an anti-film, lacking the three-act conflict-infused spoon feeding of drama of a mainstream script. 


And such would be the case if Rain Man were rewritten with Ray as the main character.  It would lack heroic motivation as he isn’t motivated by greed and has no one to kidnap.  He doesn’t mourn or resent his father, nor does he want to repair the object loss of his father by foolishly kidnapping his brother.  Ray does not want, nor does he require “character transformation.” Rain Man from Raymond’s perspective would not get universal rave reviews.  You might hear the whump – whump – whump of theater chairs springing up as people start filing out.  Others might cheer a story of reality and inclusion. But in both cases, audiences would react in context to the hero’s monomyth in either deriding or cheering its conspicuous lack.  It would pose, however, new polymorphous paths of meaning-making.


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