Moana and the Ocean

The other day, I was surfing a Buzzfeed article about Moana and came across a delicious little tidbit:

“Moana” means “ocean,” and it’s a nongendered word.

This is a significant detail in the context of the movie. Spoilers below.

So, here’s the thing: The whole point of the film is that Moana is struggling with the fact that the ocean is calling her. When she’s a baby, the ocean chooses her. She wanders over to the sea, lured by a pretty shell. She reaches for it, and the ocean parts a pathway for her. She follows the trail of shells and meets a column of ocean, who essentially kisses her in the universal symbol of blessing, and gives her the green heart of Tafiti. She drops the heart as she runs back to her father, who is very nervous about the lure of the ocean (although he recognizes that Moana experiences the same call as he does–but this really isn’t a story about father atonement, so don’t get distracted by this detail).

Until she finally heeds the call to adventure, she struggles with the call of the ocean. I wrote about her anthem, “How Far I’ll Go,” in another post. One of the other members of my Doctor Disney trinity, Dori Koehler, wrote this great post about the Call to Adventure and Moana’s message for our country. (Our third is the ever-wonderful Amy Davis. You know, that Amy Davis.)

But think about it this way: if her names mean ocean, that call that she’s struggling with is the call of her Self. So let’s talk about how this film isn’t just about empowerment; it’s about individuation.

Personally, I think that individuation is one of Jung’s best concepts. This is the process by which one becomes a whole in-divid-ual, with a balanced psyche (conscious and unconscious). One of the arguments I get into with older Jungians is whether or not individuation can happen in younger people. One way of interpreting Jung’s theory about individuation suggests that once you achieve it, you’ve achieved nirvana, and you’re done. The way I tend to interpret individuation places emphasis on the process, and brings together the end goal of the process with the hero’s journey of Joseph Campbell. One often overlooked detail about Campbell’s journey is that the hero has to go home and share the boon, and once this is done, the hero goes off on another journey. Stories aren’t written to share with us the next step of the journey. So what if the heroes aren’t just going off into the woods…but rather going on their next journey?

That, to me, is closer to the reality of life. We constantly go from one journey to the next. Each journey builds on the previous to define who we are, adding a facet to our in-divid-uality.

When Campbell writes about what happens to us when we ignore the call to adventure, he’s cautioning us from getting so static that we forget about the journey and forget who we are. That little voice constantly calling us tells us who we are. It’s our heart.

The ocean is calling Moana. The heart of Tafiti is her heart. Her heart is literally calling her home.

Moana’s boon is to restore her people to their Wayfinding tradition. She learns from Maui how to navigate the seas, and she takes her people back on the adventure. As the song of the Wayfinders tells us, they always know home in their heart as they go searching for the next island. The point of her people is to go on the hunt for the islands that Maui raises with his fishhook. To constantly go on questing journeys for the next adventure.

When I sat through the credits of the film, I posted on Facebook the observation that this film out-Campbells Joseph Campbell. Because it does: Campbell may have given us the literary road map of the hero’s journey, but this film takes to that next level: the journey continues. Literally. We continue.

Speaking of heart, I want to give a shout-out to the short film ahead of Moana, called Inner Workings of the Human Body. Do you follow your head? Or your heart?


The Hero’s Journey

I was having a mental conversation with myself this morning, contemplating how to teach Joseph Campbell’s writing style to my students. The trajectory of my thoughts led me to the almost-cliché Hero’s Journey. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell images the Journey thusly:

One key point of the Hero’s Journey is that it is a circle. The Hero leaves, the Hero must return. If the Hero fails to return, then someone needs to go in and bring him/her home. The Hero must return and share the boon. Sure, there are exceptions. But that’s a different conversation.

The Journey is also linked with Jung’s process of Individuation. In the process of becoming a whole in-divid-ual, Jung tells us that we need to descend into the unconscious, return, and repeat the process as often as necessary. Jung’s process is associated by “old school” Jungians as aimed for the second half of life, but I don’t buy that for one second.

Hero’s Journey, circular, continuous… Point made? Good. So, here’s where my thoughts were going.

In our current phase of epic literature [“literature” includes film, television, and any other “text” within myth/popular culture], our epics are episodic. Historic epics, such as The Odyssey and Moby-Dick (a nod to my Epic professor, Dennis Slattery), have episodes built into the larger Hero Journey of the character, but are themselves not episodic. By episodic, let’s consider Harry Potter.

Harry has a single journey that spans all seven volumes—to defeat Voldemort and rid the wizarding world of an evil. This single journey’s latent meaning involves breaking his bond with Voldemort, and individuating, moving beyond the Boy Who Lived and to become Harry.

Each volume of the series is itself a complete Hero Journey. In the first book, his Journey is to rescue the Sorcerer’s Stone, the second is to rescue Ginny from the Chamber of Secrets, etc. Each journey brings him ever closer to the ultimate boon battle with Voldemort.

The limitations of words on this blog make the image I’m trying to convey a little difficult, but work with me here. The Little Hero’s Journeys build upon each other and culminate in the Big Hero’s Journey. Kind of like a spiral, with the first story being at the top moving down:

Though I’d prefer to imagine it the other way around, moving from narrow bottom up, but I couldn’t find a suitable image.

This new kind of Epic Hero’s Journey is nicely situated for integrating Campbell’s Monomyth with Jung’s Individuation. It’s a process. With each level, we gain experience and magical helpers that give us the strength to ultimately face that Bad Guy at the end of the game. (A notable exception is Epic Mickey. Again, something for another day.) We can see this Epic Monomyth at play in many different myth outlets these days, of which Harry Potter is only one voice. Others that immediately come to mind include Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, The Hunger Games, and Star Wars.

And seeing the Hero’s Journey in this way makes it a better roadmap for our lives. Imagine what our world would look like if we imagined progress as a spiral and not as a linear evolution?

For your viewing pleasure, I pilfered this from (credit due where credit is due):