Hero's Journey: Hancock, the hero who doesn't know how to be one

In the book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ (1949) Joseph Campbell talks about the theory of the archetypal hero and his journey. The monomyth also known as ‘The Hero’s Journey’ is the universal template used to explain the structure of the modern myths of the heroes in 17 stages. Example for a film following this template is 'Hancock' ( Peter Berg, 2008).

John Hancock (Will Smith) is the hero of Los Angeles, California. However he is not the typical hero loved by everyone. He is an alcoholic with no real purpose in life, who tends to ‘save the day’ while causing double the damage the bad guys have created already. Every time he tries to ‘save’ someone he causes havoc, thus he is not being addressed as a hero but as an ‘assh*le’. He cares for the city in his own way, which is usually through careless actions and complete destruction.

The first stage of his journey, ‘The call to Adventure’ is when Hancock ‘saves’ the life of Ray (Jason Bateman), a simple man who happened to be standing on the tracks of a train coming at full speed at him. Our hero arrives and as usual instead of doing the right thing in a gentle manner, he does the right thing in the most destructive possible way. He lifts Ray’s car making it land upside down on the car behind and stops the train with his own body making all couches in it crash into one another. After such act everyone jumps out of their cars blaming him for the damage he had caused, ignoring the fact that he just saved their lives. Suddenly out of the angry mob the person whose car Hancock just turned upside down, jumps out and thanks him for saving his life making the mob stop throwing insults.

Shortly after Hancock is at the dinner table with Ray, his wife and son. This is the moment when Ray introduces the idea of changing Hancock and transforming him into a true hero that the city needs. When he tries to give his business card to John he doesn’t even try to accept it, instead he keeps on looking at Ray full with disapproval and disbelief. In a way this could be considered the Refusal of the call, which is the second stage of the journey.

The second refusal of Ray’s offer to transform for the better is when he tries to leave the prison whilst they are talking. Hancock learns that he has to stay for about eight years in prison, four for good behaviour. However he decides to trust Ray and his words “We can change the world Hancock” (Ray, Hancock). For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure”(Campbell) , in Hancock’s case this aid is Ray. He guides the misunderstood hero on his journey, teaching him what is right and wrong all over again. Choosing to stay in prison willingly is the moment when he crosses the first threshold. He is now on his way of a metaphorical rebirth, because he has to go through a drastic change in order to gain the acceptance he desires. ‘In the Hero of a Thousand faces Joseph Campbell says ‘a sphere of rebirth is symbolised in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale” Hancock is now in the belly of the whale’ (Lane, 2014) which is the prison, his way to transformation and everything he is about to face on his journey.

From this point on the hero has entered the ‘initiation’ phase and reached the stage where he has to face difficulties to prove himself worthy also called by Campbell ‘Road to Trials’. In the film, after Hancock is being held responsible for his previous careless behaviour and kept in prison, the city’s crime activity has drastically increased. This makes the people of Los Angeles miss Hancock. One night he receives a call from the police department, he is being asked to help them deal with bank robbery. He emerges at the crime scene with a completely new look awkwardly saying “Good Job” to all officers around him, the expression Ray taught him. The moment he is walking towards the bank (fig. 2), gunshots all around him, trying to penetrate his body, but he is alright. All the police officers are hiding behind their cars doing their best to avoid the gunshots, but not Hancock, he is unstoppable. After he saves the prisoners without having to destroy everything around, he goes to the officer in command to report for the successfully finished mission and says “Good job’. However the officers replies “No. Good job!’. The public applauds Hancock for saving the day and this is the moment that Campbell calls ‘Atonement with the father’ which in this case is the authority and the public.

Next stage of Hancock’s journey to change is meeting the ‘Goddess and temptation’. According to Campbell the goddess is usually the love interest of the hero and the ‘Temptation’ is sometimes connected to her. It doesn’t have to be temptation in human form, it can be anything that can make the hero stray from his hero’s journey. Hancock’s goddess is Mary (Charlize Theron) , Ray’s wife. Even though she appears early in the film, she takes the role of the goddess and temptress only after the dinner in the name of Hancock’s heroism at Ray’s house when they almost kiss. She suddenly throws him off the house, breaking the wall in the process. Now it’s clear why she had a rather strange behaviour around him till now, she is like him. On the next day when she finally agrees to answer all of Hancock’s questions he reaches his apotheosis in ‘the chase’ scene where the two god-like creatures fight. He fights for answers, she fights to run away from him again. ‘The ultimate Boom’ happens when Hancock finally reaches his goal, he now knows what are they and what is she to him.

Confused and heartbroken he ends up in the middle of a robbery at a small store. “You want to have it your way, don’t you?” he asks the thief, who is pointing his gun at the worker in the store. This question feels as if Hancock asks himself whether before meeting Ray and agreeing to go on this journey was better, however he still decides to do the right thing as Ray thought him to and saves the innocent victim. What he doesn’t realise though is that the gunshot that the thief shot earlier actually penetrated his impenetrable body.

At the hospital Mary pays him a visit uncovering more truth about the nature of their kind. Suddenly the enemies Hancock created on his journey are at the hospital seeking revenge. Mary gets shot in the process and it seems that history repeats itself. The only weakness these seemingly perfect creatures Mary and Hancock  is that when they are together they lose their immortality and this become mortal so they can have a normal life and grow old together. However over the ages people have tried to kill them and mostly Hancock by harming Mary. This time the hero has more than his Goddess to protect, Ray and his son are in the hospital as well. During the fight there are multiple scenes that show how connected Mary and Hancock are. With each hit one takes, it reflects the on the other and slowly Ray seems to realise it. He saves John as he is about to fall apart from all the hits he had taken from the villains seeking revenge.

As it seems that the two god-like creatures have died due to their mortality, Hancock manages to gather his final strength and jump through the window off the hospital, falling on the road between the cars and buses. He is crossing the return threshold when he does his best to move as far as he can, desperately trying to fly away and as he succeeds in doing so we see that Mary’s heart starts to beat again.

Finally Hancock has ‘Returned’ to his ordinary life only this time he has taken control of his life as a hero, he knows his past and who he is. We see him talking over the phone wearing his superhero costume with Ray who is having a walk with his wife Mary and his son. Everything now is back to normal but better. Hancock has gone through all stages of his journey and achieved his goal, he is now a hero.



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Bily, Hayden 10/11/2011, prezi.com URL: https://prezi.com/4te4fviejitz/the-archetypal-hero-journey-hancock/ (accessed on 02/10/2016)

IMDB URL: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0448157/?ref_=vi_tt_t_tt_ov_vi (accessed on 02/10/2016)

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Fig. 1 Hancock Close up (cropped version of the poster image) URL https://images.alphacoders.com/855/85503.jpg
(accessed on 02/10/2016)

Fig. 2 Movie Still Image URL http://www.seeing-stars.com/Locations/Hancock/BankRobbery1.jpg (accessed on 02/10/2016)


"Manifest the Hero Within You (All Stages of the Hero's Journey With Examples // Monomyth Explained)", 04/09/2016, URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCGkyTZVBWk
(accessed on 02/10/2016)

"Hancock" Best Scene HD", 08/06/2015 URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV6-yZG4v4Y (accessed on 02/10/2016)

"The Fight beween charlize theron to Will Smith", 28/02/2009, URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJGjCTFbAPk (accessed on 02/10/2016)

"Hancock Epic Ending", 14/10/2011 URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUrRnjZ0rXI (accessed on 02/10/2016)

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