How does Ghostbusters follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey breakdown?
Welcome to another installment of our new series A Hero’s Journey Breakdown where we explore Joseph Campbell’s mythological storytelling structure and how iconic films fit into that mold. We recently post: The Hero’s Journey Breakdown: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Christopher Vogler’s approach to Campbell’s structure broke the mythical story structure into twelve stages. For this series, we define the stages in simplified interpretations:
- The Ordinary World: We see the hero’s normal life at the start of the story before the adventure begins.
- Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with an event, conflict, problem, or challenge that makes them begin their adventure.
- Refusal of the Call: The hero initially refuses the adventure because of hesitation, fears, insecurity, or any other number of issues.
- Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters a mentor that can give them advice, wisdom, information, or items that ready them for the journey ahead.
- Crossing the Threshold: The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
- Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero learns the rules of the new world and endures tests, meets friends, and comes face-to-face with enemies.
- The Approach: The initial plan to take on the central conflict begins, but setbacks occur that cause the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
- The Ordeal: Things go wrong and added conflict is introduced. The hero experiences more difficult hurdles and obstacles, some of which may lead to a life crisis.
- The Reward: After surviving The Ordeal, the hero seizes the sword — a reward that they’ve earned that allows them to take on the biggest conflict. It may be a physical item or piece of knowledge or wisdom that will help them persevere.
- The Road Back: The hero sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but they are about to face even more tests and challenges.
- The Resurrection: The climax. The hero faces a final test, using everything they have learned to take on the conflict once and for all.
- The Return: The hero brings their knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world.
Here we turn to the Ivan Reitman classic Ghostbusters.
Note: As with any application of story structure or formula, this is just a hindsight interpretation and implementation of The Hero’s Journey to this cinematic tale. There can and will be variances.
The Ordinary World
Peter is a slacker in the academic world, working as a scientist within a prestigious university. He doesn’t want to be there. The experiments that he runs are jokes — some of which to hit on the college girls that take part.
Call to Adventure
Peter’s colleague, Ray, excitedly informs him that they’ve been asked to investigate a possible ghost encounter at the New York Public Library.
Refusal of the Call
Peter doesn’t want to go on the call, but Ray insists. As they walk up the stairs to the library, Peter communicates his disbelief in the paranormal. Ray and Egon have gone on every possible ghost haunting call that they can get, with little to no proof of the existence of the paranormal.
Meeting the Mentor
Ray and Egon are the mentors of this story. They educate Peter on the paranormal throughout the whole film. Peter is the everyman while they are the experts.
Crossing the Threshold
As they investigate the area of the library where the haunting occurred, Peter continually mocks Ray and Egon. His disbelief in the paranormal is overly evident — until they encounter a full-torso apparition.
When they try to make contact with the ghost, it manifests into a scary form that frightens them straight out of the library.
After returning to the university, they discover that they’ve been fired — all funding for their paranormal research department is gone.
Peter then has the novel idea of the three of them going into business for themselves. They truly cross the threshold once Ray mortgages his childhood home to fund their new paranormal investigation and elimination business.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies
The Ghostbusters go through a number of tests. They build the business by investing the money in an old firehouse that they’ll use as the base of their operations. They buy equipment. They buy ad time for commercials. And they even find an old ambulance to use as their transportation.
Dana contacts them after her own encounter within her apartment.
She’s a special client to Peter. He’s instantly attracted to her and promises that he’s going to prove himself to her eventually.
But the true first test comes when they get their first official call, leading them to a ghost that’s a real Slimer. When they successfully capture the ghost and get that first paycheck, the Ghostbusters are open for business.
This success leads them to multiple ghost calls as activity within the city seems to be growing.
As Peter and Dana begin a courtship, and as the Ghostbusters get a new team member in Winston, Ray and Egon begin to see strange things brewing within the city.
Walter Peck appears just when the Ghostbusters are at the height of their success. He questions what they are doing. He’s skeptical, wondering if they aren’t misleading the public into thinking that they are catching ghosts.
The Ghostbusters have gone through tests. They’ve met their allies in Dana and new team member Winston — as well as their secretary Janine and Louis, the neighbor that has a crush on Dana.
And they’ve met their human antagonist, Walter Peck.
Dana and her neighbor Louis are possessed by evil spirits.
Ray and Winston discuss the possibility that Judgement Day is nearing, which would explain why they’ve been so busy.
Peter watches over the possessed Dana and gives her a tranquilizer so that he can regroup with the rest of the Ghostbusters. A possessed Louis is in the care of the Ghostbusters.
Peck shows up with a court order and forces the Ghostbusters to turn off their containment unit, leading to a catastrophic explosion that unleashes all of the captured ghosts. As the specters wreak havoc on the city, Peck has the Ghostbusters arrested. Louis slips away during the chaos and is reunited with Dana. Their possessed-selves embrace, ready to unlock the world of Gozer.
While in jail, the Ghostbusters figure out what is going on. Dana’s building is the true source of the supernatural increase. The architect was a genius and cult leader of Gozer-worshippers — he designed the building to channel ghosts in an effort to bring about the end of the world.
But there’s nothing that can be done with the Ghostbusters locked away.
With the city in turmoil, the mayor calls for the Ghostbusters. They plead their case and despite Peck’s protests, the Ghostbusters are freed. Their newfound reward is the full support of the whole city, including the National Guard.
The Road Back
The Ghostbusters are back. While they’ll never return to the Ordinary World before they became Ghostbusters, they’ve returned to the city as they left it before being arrested — celebrities and saviors.
While they’re back on top again, they still have a job to do. Peter is set on saving his new girlfriend, who, along with Lewis, is still under the spell of Gozer.
As the Ghostbusters try to get into the building, an earthquake is unleashed. They survive and then make their way up the many stairs to the top of Dana’s building.
They face off against Gozer and think they’ve won when the apparition disappears.
But it turns out that their true final test is here.
When Ray can’t keep his head clear when Gozer tells them to choose the form of the Destructor that will vanquish them, they are forced to face the Staypuft Marshmellow Man — in giant, terrifying form.
They struggle to survive until making the fateful decision of crossing the streams of their proton packs.
An immense explosion occurs.
Thankfully, they survive. Dana and Lewis are resurrected as well.
The Ghostbusters return to the streets of New York City victorious. The crowds of New Yorkers cheer them on as Peter and Dana kiss. They’ve returned to their glory.
And become a member of TSL 360 to enjoy the LARGEST screenwriting education content library, featuring masterclasses, deep-dive interviews, and lectures from Academy Award-winning screenwriters, TV show-runners, producers, literary managers, agents, studio executives, and leading educators – all in one place.