Mythology - The Language of Hollywood

Mythology and the Visual Language of Movies

Mythology is the language of symbols, the language of the senses. Pictures, visions, sounds, sensations, feelings, anything you can describe with words or represent symbolically in physical form comes from the world of myth, the world of universal archetypes.

Mythology and the Hollywood Formula: Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments

Storytelling goes hand in hand with mythology, because it draws from the same symbolic language that myths do. The language of myth is the language of movies, and this is how the Hollywood Formula was originally developed.

The Hollywood Formula, as we will refer to it on this site, is a structural model, like a picture frame or an artist canvas. It is a symbolic receptacle that will help us turn our creative imagination into a work of art, which, in this case, is a movie.

The Hollywood Formula is modeled after literary classics, including timeless works of art like the Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia and The Odyssey from ancient Greece.

Mythology is the Basis for the Hollywood Formula

Mythology is all around us, even though we might be so used to it by now, we don't even notice it. Every time we see a poster of a Marvel superhero or play an action/adventure game like Assassin's Creed or Tomb Raider, we are looking at modern adaptations of legendary heroes from olden times.

This is what the Hollywood Formula does with mythical symbols. It takes the ancient elements of these stories and beliefs and translates them or adapts them, if you will, to appeal to our contemporary culture.

So, in some ways, you can say that the Hollywood Formula is a system of symbols, a pattern or model, that helps the writer create new myths based on ancient traditions.

Worldwide-famous filmmakers like George Lucas and James Cameron have been very open about using mythological elements as sources of inspiration for their movies.

You take one look at George R.R. Martin's HBO saga Game of Thrones, and it becomes obvious that he was influenced by mythological works like the Bible and ancient Greek classics when creating his Seven Kingdoms.

Mythology has served as a template for the Hollywood Formula because its symbols are universal. Experts who have studied the myths of different world cultures have come to the conclusion that the same story has been told repeatedly by very different traditions all over the globe since pre-historical times. This phenomenon is known as the monomyth.

Take the flood, for example. Even though the flood is an archetype normally associated with the Bible story, Noah and the Ark, there are many other world cultures who tell of a flood in their ancient myths.

Also known as deluge myths, tales about a flood that destroyed our planet along with most of its living creatures are common among many world cultures, not only Jewish and Christian mythology.

Usually these flood myths involve an angry god or deity who sends a great storm to punish humanity for their sins and rebellion. Babylon, Sumeria, ancient Greece, Ireland and Scandinavia are only some of the civilizations whose myths depict a deluge.

But mythology is not only reserved for the great storytellers of the past. Just like Hollywood filmmakers today are creating their very own mythologies based on ancient symbols, you, too, can develop your own mythology, whether it be for a science fiction film or a romantic comedy.

Mythology is in the public domain and it belongs to everybody!

As a matter of fact, the world of myth and our creative imagination are one and the same. How can we tell where our imagination ends and another person's begins? We really can't.

There is no such a thing as a barrier between my imagination and yours, and, for this very reason, there is not limit as to what you can do when you use your creative imagination constructively to build your own movie world.

The movies you create will become a part of the collective mythology, because that's where they came from in the first place. All human creations originate in the world of myth, and to the world of myth they return in an eternal process of reshuffling and recycling of ideas and images.

Mythology and the Creative Imagination

The collective imagination of the human race is what constitutes the world of myth. We all have access to it, and it's a shared resource we have. Mythology connects us all because it represents our human experience in story form.

We can all picture a luscious green forest with magical fairies and prancing nymphs. This is our forest. It is the forest of our creative imagination, and it is the shared ocean of images that makes up the world of myth.

It's a universal world we can all relate to, because it has everything to do with the human experience. Humanity gave birth to the world of myth with its creative imagination. We continue to create the world of myth and add to it everyday with the thoughts and images we generate mentally.

We can all relate to beauty and magic, as well as to other similar elements that have always recurred in mythology. This is why anyone can write a movie. There are many visionaries out there whose stories deserve to be seen on the big screen.

You have access to the same limitless source of beauty and magic that, say, Steven Spielberg or J.J. Abrams have!

One of the most imaginative movies in Hollywood history is James Cameron's epic fantasy adventure Avatar.  Even though Cameron has credited various sources as his main inspiration for the film, one of the features that stands out the most, at least for me, is the mythology.

Mythology and the Hollywood Formula

Cameron has said in interviews that his blue aliens were inspired by the warrior gods of Hindu mythology. If you look at the comparison above between Avatar's Jake Sully and the Hindu god Lord Shiva, you will see evidence of the creative process that took place when James Cameron gave birth to the Na'vi, the inhabitants of Pandora.

You, too, can create fresh new characters based on mythological heroes of the past and build new worlds full of adventure and magic for them to live in. Familiarize yourself with the symbols and archetypes of the Hollywood Formula and you'll be writing your own movies in virtually no time.



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