Home Alone & The Hero's Journey

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In this article I break down the 1990 Christmas classic Home Alone according to  Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”. Also known as the Monomyth, this storytelling model was used to structure the original Star Wars films (which I will occasionally reference here for clarity).

The Hero's Journey consists of three main movements:

- Departure
- Initiation
- The Return.

Each movement is broken down into story points, numbered here 0-17. Some of the story points overlap, some are loose interpretations, some are obvious, some are in a different order, but they all occur in the story.

While these types of breakdowns aren't concerned with"textbook" accuracy, but rather the exercise of interpretation, please let me know in the comments where you think I'm wrong, right, reaching, or otherwise!


Part I: Departure

0. The Ordinary World - In almost every story we first get a glimpse of the hero's normal world before he/she is swept up in adventure. It is here we get a sense of the hero's hopes and dreams. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker lives with his Uncle Owen, all the while wishing he could join the rebel alliance.
In Home Alone, Kevin McCallister is surrounded by family members that ignore him and/or don't treat him very nicely. Also, he is kind of a brat. It's during this story point when Kevin wishes he didn't have a family.
1. Call to Adventure - The start of the protagonist's journey towards becoming a hero.
A storm knocks out the power. The following morning, Kevin's family to rushes to the airport for their Christmas vacation, leaving Kevin behind in an empty home.
2. Refusal of the Call - Often the hero will refuse the Call to Action. In Star Wars, Luke initially turns down Obi-Wan's invite to travel to Alderaan.
Kevin wakes up to an empty house and looks for his family. Only when he realizes that he got his wish does he accept this new path.
3. Supernatural Aid - The hero needs someone to guide him/her down their new path. In Star Wars, Luke has Obi-Wan.
Kevin's Supernatural Aid is the gangster from “Angels with Filthy Souls.” Kevin is at first afraid of the gangster, but later draws his strength from the character. It could be argued that Kevin’s supernatural aid is the Old Man, or Santa, but I feel those characters fulfill other parts of the story structure.
4. Crossing the Threshold - The character leaves his "ordinary world" and ventures into uncharted territory. In Star Wars, Luke's travels to Mos Eisley's Cantina.
Kevin eases into living on his own and accepts that he is alone. He shaves, showers, goes food shopping, eats ice cream for a meal, steals a toothbrush, etc.
5. Belly of the Whale - The point of no return for our hero. In Star Wars, Luke leaves Tatooine. It could also be interpreted as the Millennium Falcon being drawn into the Death Star. In either case, there is no turning back. The hero is now completely committed to their new path. (Note: in the Christopher Vogler model, this story point is known as “The Supreme Ordeal” and is recognized in Part II: The Initiation. Both story points represent the same thing: the main arena/plot where the hero will undergo change.)
After almost getting hit by Harry and Marv's van, Kevin recognizes Harry's gold tooth and realizes he's a bad guy. Harry and Marv follow Kevin home, forcing him to deal with their plans to rob the neighborhood -- specifically the McCallister household. This is the main plot of the film, and sends Kevin further into the story and continues his path of change.

Part II: Initiation

6. Road of Trials - The hero is tested along the journey and meets allies and new enemies. Note: In the Christopher Vogler model, this is referred to as “Tests, Allies, Enemies”. In both interpretations these events span a large part of the telling, overlapping and joining many of the other story points.
- Kevin meets the burglars, tricks them into delaying their plan
- Kevin talks to the Old Man in church and loses his fear of him
- Watches “Angels with Filthy Souls” but is at first too scared to look at the screen
- Talks to Santa
- Confronts the furnace
- Steals a toothbrush
- Goes food shopping
7. Woman as Temptress - The protagonist is often tempted to stray from the path of becoming a hero.
When Kevin first goes to see Santa a female elf directs him towards Santa Claus (who is about to leave for the night). Kevin asks Santa for his family back. While Santa isn’t a female, he still fits this story point. By asking Santa for his family back -- much like the willingness of mythic heroes to be drawn off their path by a Siren song -- Kevin is tempted off his path by Santa's mythic powers.
8. Approach the Innermost Cave - This story point exists in Christopher Vogler's model. This is where the protagonist gets ready for the final confrontation or test. It might fit into Campbell's "Road of Trials", but because there is such a distinction I wanted to include it here.
Kevin prepares for the inevitable burglary. He sets booby traps and ultimately declares aloud, “This is it. Don’t get scared now.” He’s as ready as he can be for the next challenge...
9. Atonement with the Father - The protagonist faces the "ultimate power" in his/her life. In Star Wars, Luke initiates his "attack run" against the Death Star ("The ultimate power in the universe") with Vader (his father) on his tail. Luke is, of course, victorious.
Kevin faces and outsmarts the burglars, taking his biggest step towards maturity. (Alternate interpretation: this story point could also be when Kevin confronts the furnace, thereby facing and surpassing a childish fear, however I feel facing the burglars better fits the overall story).
10. The Magic Flight - The hero must sometimes make an escape after achieving his/her goal. In Joseph Campbell's words, "...if the trophy has been attained against the opposition of its guardian, or if the hero's wish to return to the world has been resented by the gods or demons*, then the last stage of the mythological round becomes a lively, often comical, pursuit."
Kevin escapes the house on a zip line. *Note: at this point in Home Alone, the dim-witted burglars seem more interested in hurting Kevin than in burglarizing the house. Hence, their intention falls in line with resenting his ability to escape, as well as resenting Kevin's means of thwarting their plan. As Campbell outlines above, the incident is comical.
11. Rescue from Without - Sometimes the hero needs help attaining their goal. In Star Wars, during Luke's attack run on the Death Star, Han Solo fires a shot that sends Vader and two other tie fighters tumbling into space, giving Luke the time to take a clean shot.
This occurs twice in Home Alone: once when the spider shows up to save Kevin from Marv, and again when the old man saves Kevin from the burglars.
12. Ultimate Boon - The hero achieves his/her goal. In Star Wars the Ultimate Boon is destroying the Death Star.
Kevin accomplishes what he set out to do: defeat the burglars.
A side note: in classic myth the hero often seeks a specific prize. In Jason & the Argonauts, the Ultimate Boon is The Golden Fleece. At the end of Home Alone, perhaps as a nod to classic mythology, Kevin's father finds Harry’s gold tooth.

Part III: The Return

13. Apotheosis - The hero dies a physical or spiritual death; though sometimes it is simply a moment of reflection. In Home Alone, it's both.
The morning after the burglary, Kevin sits on his parent’s bed and looks at a family photograph. He realizes how necessary and important family is as he reflects on their absence. He has left the childish resentment of family behind him. The old Kevin McCallister is no more.
14. Crossing the Return Threshold - The hero returns to life with a newfound wisdom and is able to apply this new perspective to his/her life.
Kevin's family returns, bringing him back to the old world. It could be argued, perhaps, that leaving his parent's bedroom (where we never see him again) signifies his acceptance of still being a child. However, his family returning, thereby bringing the world back to him, rather than he returning to it, fits better.
15. The Meeting with the Goddess - The hero experiences an all-powerful, non-judgmental love.
Kevin is embraced by his mother.
16. Master of Two Worlds - This is about transcendence. In Star Wars, Luke becomes the Hero by blowing up the Death Star (in Episode VI he becomes a Jedi).
Kevin's family sees him differently. They are impressed and surprised that he was able to survive on his own. Even Buzz, his biggest detractor, compliments him. Kevin has realized both the importance of familial support and self-reliance.
17. The Freedom to Live - This is about losing a fear of Death.
Along the journey Kevin faces an irrational fear of Death (the furnace), reasonable fear (being on his own), mythological fear (the Old Man), and justified fear (the burglars). By having faced all these fears and survived he is able to see himself in a different light, thereby allowing the world to see him as more than the bratty 8-year-old we met at the beginning of the story.


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