12 Steps of Storytelling

In this session we looked at the 12 steps of storytelling (created by Christopher Vogler, 2007), we were asked to use the 12 steps and apply them to a movie from a list, I chose Avatar (James Cameron, 2009). I will be writing the steps, what they are called and applying this to the film. In his theory he concludes that any 10 of the stages apply to majority of stories.

Step 1 – Ordinary World

This is a strange one for Avatar, as this was explained as a past event when the story began. At the start of the movie Jake Sully was already out of his comfort zone and then later explained why as a narrative while you were shown different scenes of what was going on in the present, to make it an easy introduction to follow. His ordinary world was when he was home, as an ex-marine as he lost control of his legs, you were told that his brother was a scientist that was scheduled to go to Pandora, a alien planet light years away, for him to experiment and learn about the nature on the planet, and its indigenous species.

Step 2 – Call to Adventure

This step would be when Jake Sully was called out as a replacement for his recently murdered bother. On Pandora, the scientists have found a way to grow bodies alike the native species using the DNA of humans, this means that humans can step into the minds of those bodies and ‘remote control’ them. The problem is, because they are grown with specific human DNA, only that human can step into that artificial bodies’ mind. Jake Sully was contacted by the mission leader on Pandora to take his brothers place as he would be able to operate the body that would otherwise be useless. He sets on a long journey to Pandora and is just arriving at the start of the Movie.

Step 3 – Refusal

When he is just being shown around by a fellow scientist, he meets the head of the science division – Grace. She takes great interest to the other scientists around Jake and when it gets to recognising his presence, she is very reluctant to him coming aboard the team. Grace isn’t very fond of the Military division, this is because they seem to have the dominance over the majority of the mission. Due to this fact she takes an immediate disliking to Jake even being there, let alone being part of the Avatar program (Taking control of the artificially grown bodies). He reasoning behind this is that she doesn’t need another “trigger-happy moron out there.”

Step 4 – Mentor

Its seems that Grace would be the mentor in here, but Neytiri (the Female Native who Jake first meets in the woods of Pandora), actually teaches him the way of the indigenous and provides him the path to being one of the tribe. Jake actually starts spending most of his time awake in the Avatar body, and starts to have a strong connection and relationship with Neytiri, she becomes protective of him too and tries to hide it from everyone and herself. The stage of the Mentor lasts quite a while and a lot of important plot points happen within this step, the final part of this stage is when Jake completes his final task and becomes one of the people, the Omaticaya (The tribe from which Neytiri and is part of) perform a ritual to do this.

Step 5 – Threshold

Here I will explain how Jake overcomes a threshold. A little bit into the mentor stage, Sully gets accepted by the Omaticaya. The night that he goes to sleep after being accepted is in their Home Tree, no ‘dream walker’ (Avatar) has ever fallen asleep there let alone been accepted by their deity. When Jake finally gets out of the avatar connection, he can’t believe where he is and neither can the scientists around him. This is a huge threshold of the movie and from here he is quickly appreciated by Grace and he starts to make a large effort to learn the ways of the Omaticaya.

Step 6 – Test, Allies and Enemies

Step 5 is actually not in chronological order, but it is a big part in a lot of movies, games and books. In Avatar Jake Sully starts to like the Na’vi (Native Species) world more than his own. The military start to use machinery to destroy the sacred forests of Pandora and Sully tries to protect the forest by smashing one of the cameras of the machines, the military capture this and find who it was that did it. Unfortunately, the General of the military division doesn’t like this and it makes him feel like Jake is being a traitor. From this point on in the movie, Jake and a few other main characters are counted as enemies to the military and are locked up. Fortunetly they have a friend who is in the military – Trudy who lets them out and helps them all escape.

Step 7 – Inner Sanctum

This stage is very distinct in Avatar. It is when Jake Sully, made a big mistake in not telling the Omaticaya that he knew the military was going to destroy Home Tree, he was an outcast. His mission was to make himself accepted by the people again after a dreadful mistake, and the only way he could do this is by conquering the Toruk (A very important task for the Na’vi). It was a very dangerous task and it could’ve killed him very easily, but his theory was that ‘he (Toruk) is the biggest and baddest thing in the sky, so why would he ever look up?’ His theory payed off and he delivered himself riding the Toruk to the people of Omaticaya. They were all in shock and awe for what was before them and they all (including the leaders) respected him highly and welcomed him to be their leader.

Step 8 – Ordeal

In the movie, when Sully is fighting the General, the enemy is defeated but unfortunately Jake is dying as the event goes further. This is because the capsule where Jake’s human body is was smashed up and the toxic air from the Pandora atmosphere was invading his lungs. The avatar was no longer able to be controlled by Sully so he was left helpless dying in the container. Neytiri found Jake’s human body and put an Oxygen mask on him and he was brought back to light. This was a very close call in the movie and the watcher is given a lot of suspense when he is suffocating without oxygen.

Step 9 – Reward

After the military division is defeated, the Omaticaya take Jake to the sacred tree of Eywa where the mind from his normal human body is permanently transferred to his avatar one. This means that he could live in the world of the Na’vi for as long as he lives and spend the rest of his time with Neytiri.

Step 10 – Return

It is a little strange for this to be applied to Avatar, but it is when all of the ally scientists are safe and the military division is being sent back to Earth to never return. The main protagonist – Jake Sully, doesn’t return to his original planet, but he finds a new home on Pandora with the Omaticaya. It has the same effect but with the small difference of finding a new home, not going back to the one he started with.

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