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Heroe's Departure, Initiation, and Return in Back to Future

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The Hero’s Journey is a theory discussed in Joseph Campbell’s non-fiction book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. At its most basic level, this theory states that most stories and myths are divided into three parts – the hero’s Departure,Initiation and Return. In this essay, I will break down Robert Zemeckis’classic Back to the Future into those 3 acts and point out stages from each one.

The first act of the hero’s spiritual journey is called the Departure. Usually at the beginning of the story, “the protagonist is removed from the known and journeys into the unknown”(as stated in the class slides). In Back to the Future, we see a clearly established Home Culture – the protagonist, Marty McFly is living with his family, attends a high school and lives a relatively normal life. However, a Call to Adventure soon breaks his normal routine: Marty’s friend, Dr. Emmet Brown, invents a time machine and shatters the conventional image of this world. Things quickly go awry and Marty is forced to Cross the First Threshold by traveling 30 years back in time, all by himself.

This is where the second act, the Initiation, begins. As discussed in class, this is the part where the protagonist’s world is forever changed and he has to undergo a physical and spiritual journey. In the first few minutes of his time in the past, Marty starts his Road of Trials. He has to figure out a way to come back home and get his parents to fall in love with each other. As this is not a task he can accomplish by himself, Marty seeks the aid of the 30 years younger Dr. Brown. Doc explains the necessity of getting the teen’s parents back together and pushes Marty to succeed. By doing this, he establishes himself as the Soul Mate that the protagonist meets. However, Marty is struggling with an important task. He has to Overcome the Temptation and accept his supporting role in this particular story. Marty guides his father and helps him entice his mother (god this is so confusing, what even), therefore saving his own existence and accomplishing one Ultimate Goal.

By the end, Doc and Marty figure out a way to get the teen back home and thus begins the third and final act – the Return. As usual, things don’t work out quite the way they planned and Dr. Brown has to come to Marty’s Rescue by fixing things before it’s too late. Ultimately, he succeeds and the protagonist returns to his own time safely. This way, Marty becomes a Master of Two Worlds – he has successfully time-traveled, saved the future and seen a time before he was even born. Marty understands that his past actions have saved Doc’s life and has to adjust to some other changes he unknowingly made. The teen finds Freedom in these facts and is confident enough to travel through time and change the future once again, this time with his girlfriend Jennifer and Dr. Brown.

To sum up, Back to the Future is a great example of the Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. It has a clearly defined Departure, Initiantion and Return, as well as each of those acts’ defining stages.

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Heroe’s Departure, Initiation, and Return in Back to Future. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from
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