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By Patrick Kirkland · June 23, 2011
First, the Hero needed a single Objective. Frodo needed to return the ring. The Dude wanted his rug back. Then, the Objective needed to breed Opposition. Frodo’s journey needed wizards and warriors. Luke’s fight to be a Jedi would bring Papa Vader to his doorstep. And now, finally, we get to the 3rd key and final part of the Hero’s Objective: the need to make connections – to relate to it.
Have you ever watched a film, and about 45 minutes into it, thought, “I don’t care what happens?” For me, this happened with Darren Aranovsky’s The Fountain. Although its an absolutely gorgeous film, we spend a little over two hours, cover a thousand years, and follow three different characters while they search for the fountain of youth. I couldn’t relate.
Sure, we all want to be younger, we say we want eternal life, but in the end – do we really? It’s nice in theory, but when you get back to the reality that every one around you dies, maybe living forever ain’t all that great. But saving your son: relatable. Finding a job: relatable. Killing Nazis: absolutely relatable (unless, of course, you’re a Nazi). Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds probably wouldn’t have done so hot with Hitler’s offspring.
In order for us to care about our Hero and her journey, we must care about what she’s fighting for. In The Company Men, Ben Affleck fights to get a job. In Finding Nemo, Marlin fights to get back his son. In Bastards, the trained soldiers are in the Nazi killing business, and “boy, business is a’boomin’.” We get it. We feel it. We relate to it. So we’re up for going along on the journey.
Enter Pixar’s The Incredibles.
When we meet Mr. Incredible, he 1) helps an old lady, 2) saves a cat from a tree, and 3) stops a bank robbery. When we first meet Bob Parr, he goes against the system, his boss, and the US Government to help an old woman get her insurance money back. On page 31, he stops a Jewel Thief. Ten pages later, he’s dressing better, losing weight – even having more sex with his wife. Through the entire film, he goes beat after beat after beat, not with the goal to save the world like Frodo or Luke, but his own personal goal: to be a better man. And, of course, the ultimate superhero goal to beat the bad guy: Syndrome.
He’s a superhero, with a family, with a nemesis, who’s in the witness protection program. There’s not one piece in this puzzle that will help him fulfill his journey. The government wants him quiet. The public wants Superheroes to disappear. His best friend Frozone wants him to lay-off. His Superhero wife wants him to be a normal human Dad who goes to work every day and to 4th grade graduations for his son. And Buddy, his nemesis, wants him to either switch to the dark side or die. And yet, our hero Bob goes against every single one of them to achieve his goal. He lies to his wife, he sneaks in a new suit. He travels the globe to have meals and conversations with another woman – someone who understands – all so he can be Incredible.
What man on Earth doesn’t want the exact same thing? Who doesn’t want to be a better man? Or a better person? To have their own superpowers, to support their family better, to be stronger, faster, more dependable. Who doesn’t want to be somebody’s hero? None of us are superheroes. We can’t break through walls or run faster than the speed of sound or turn water into ice. But that doesn’t matter here because we relate to his objective. Where not all of us can relate or understand why someone would make an obsessive journey to find the Fountain of Youth, we understand Bob Parr and his dreams immediately. Why? Because we have the same dreams for our own lives.
Pixar pretty much bats 1000 with their films, but with examples like The Incredibles, it’s no wonder why. Parr’s/Mr. Incredible’s objective hits all three keys effectively, and, if I may say, pretty amazingly. So The Incredibles becomes a film that you can watch over and over again, and each time, get just as wrapped up as the first time.
The three keys of the Hero’s Objective are there for you to follow to round out your Hero’s journey, but do yourself a favor and push them to the limits. Instead of one opposing force, follow The Incredibles’ example and make it several. Give your Hero a single spine for the one main objective, but don’t forget about the small victories and pitfalls along the way. And connecting with your audience isn’t just about creating a relatable nice guy or loving mother. It’s about making the audience wonder, “What if that was me?” What if it was me that wanted to be a better man, like Bob Parr in The Incredibles? What if it was me that had to kill my father for the greater good, like in Star Wars? What if it was me that had to choose which child lives or dies, like in Sophie’s Choice? Figure out how to put yourself into their journey, and your audience will follow.