Creative Writing and the Hero’s Journey: Jarhead (2005) Deconstructed

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From our deconstruction of hundreds of Hollywood blockbusters at at

The Hero’s Journey is the template upon which the vast majority of successful stories and Hollywood blockbusters are based upon. In fact, ALL of the Hollywood movies we have deconstructed are based on this template.

Understanding this template is a priority for story or screenwriters.

The Hero’s Journey:

a) Attempts to tap into unconscious expectations the audience has regarding what a story is and how it should be told.

b) Gives the writer more structural elements than simply three or four acts, plot points, mid point and so on.

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c) Interpreted metaphorically, laterally and symbolically, allows an infinite number of varied stories to be created.

and more…

Jarhead (2005) deconstructed

FADE IN: (Loop) narrative; his hands remember the rifle.

New World and Self: you are no longer black, green, etc.

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Meeting the Hero: meeting Swoff.

Ordinary World: Fitch being himself.

On a Journey: on the bus.

Threshold Guardian: presenting his papers to the officer.

New World: the barracks.

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Meeting the Shape Shifter: Troy.

New Rules: being branded; games played in the barracks.

Developing the Shape Shifter: you want a brand, you gotta earn it. Welcome to the Suck.

Hero’s Backstory: Swoff being conceived; his sister; breakfast conversations with dad; college;

Romantic Challenge: his girlfriend; I’ll write you everyday.

Resisting the Transformation: Swoff in the toilet.

Meeting the Mentor: Sykes.

Developing Mentor: Sykes makes Swoff play the bugle.

Conscious Agreement to the Journey: I’m still here.

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Magical Gift (becoming a sniper):

JFK shot.

Training in the assault course.

You are now snipers; I was hooked; Swoff fires the shot.

Push to the First Threshold: listening to the Iraqi statement on TV.

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Belly of the Whale: watching Apocalypse Now.

Journey to the First Threshold: on the aircraft.

Goodbye to the Old Self: stewardess waves goodbye

First Threshold: arriving in Iraq.

Threshold Guardian: Kazinski’s speech; the picture of the Kurdish child; kick some Iraqi ass.

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Outer Cave: where did the Iraqi’s get their weapons from? Forget politics; we’re here, all the rest is bullshit.

Middle Cave / Meeting Allies: talking about the girlfriends back home in the tent.

Inner Cave: putting on their masks; running in the suits; hrydrating, dehydrating, patrolling the empty desert.

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Developing Characters and Relationships: the scorpion fight.

Inner Cave: Waiting in the desert; masturbation; cleaning their rifles; studying the phillipino mail order catalogue etc.

Wondering what she’s doing now.

Trial and Transformation 1:

Outer Cave: Sykes tells them how to respond to reporters; complaints against free speech, that’s un-American etc.

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Middle Cave: Talking to the reporters; Swoff admits he’s scared.

Inner Cave: Putting on and playing football in their NBC masks.

Transformation: Taking off their masks; getting naked; Sykes sends the reporters away.

Developing Characters and Relationships: Sykes makes Swoff et al take all that shit down.

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Trial and Transformation 2:

Cortez has a son; Kristina has found a new male friend who’s a good listener.

Thinking about his girlfriend in the shower.

Not being able to jerk off in the toilet.

Swoff calls home and is cut off.

Swoff wakes up and clutches his throat; “’re making some weird sounds man?”

Transformation: Swoff wants see what it feels like to watch somebody else sleep with your girlfriend.

Trial and Transformation 3:

Outer Cave: Swoff gets some “good shit” from the soldier who writes the major’s love letters.

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Middle Cave: The party.

Inner Cave: The fire blows the explosives.

Transformation: Swoff is made a Private.

Developing Characters and Relationships: Swoff is made to burn the shit; the senior officer leaves a present.

New Self: Swoff threatens to kill the sausage boy.

Resisting the New Self: Swoff apologises.

Foreshadow of the Final Conflict:

The Arabs appear in the desert.

Developing Characters and Relationships: insulting the Arab passing in the car.

Meeting the Oracle: they’re going to
the mother of all battles.

Resisting the Journey to the Sword: resistance to taking the pills.

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Shape Shifter Revealed:

Digging their holes.

The aircraft fly by; the war will move too fast.

Troy is being thrown out. Swoff told to keep him from f*cking up.

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New Self: Troy is branded.

Near Death Experience:

The war comes to them; Swoff pisses himself.

Retrieving the battery.

Pursuing the Iraqis.

Getting hit by friendly fire.

Swoff sees the charred remains; throwing up.

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Pulled forward by the burning oil wells.

Digging their holes in the oily sand; the oil burns Fowler’s face.

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Rebirth: preventing Fowler.

Rebirth: Swoff calms the horse.

Atonement with the Father: Sykes sits down and talks to Swoff; he loves is job.

Apotheosis: Sykes and Troy sent out to see Kazinsky; “..f*cking show me..”.

Ultimate Boon: Swoff and Troy have an Iraqi in their sight; permission given for the JFK shot.

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The major denies their request to take the shot.

Troy argues with the Major for the perfect shot.

Magic Flight:

The planes take out the site.

Rescue from Without: Troy’s already got his papers; have to get back.

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Crossing the Return Threshold: Going back to camp over the dunes.

Master of Two Worlds:

The party around the fire; this shit is over; shooting their guns in the sky.

Freedom to Live / Challenge Resolutions: Returning home as heroes; meeting the Vietnam Vet on the bus; his girlfriend has left him; doing their various jobs; Fergis arrives; Troy’s funeral;

(Loop): narrative.

FADE OUT: the Jarheads.

Learn more?

The Complete 188 stage Hero’s Journey and other story structure templates can be found at

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Kal Bishop, MBA


You are free to reproduce this article as long as no changes are made and the author’s name and site URL are retained.

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Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. His specialities include Knowledge Management and Creativity and Innovation Management. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached at

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