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Movies are the folktales and myths of the present

We humans are natural born storytellers. We are addicted to stories. We live, think, and feel in narratives, and stories have had a profound impact on us individually, as well as collectively. Our culture and society is in a large part defined by stories we tell ourselves: stories about our past, stories about our present, stories about our future, stories about others, stories about what could be. It’s been like this since the beginning of civilization.

But nowadays, we don’t sit around the campfire and tell each other stories anymore the way our ancestors did. Now, the stories we tell and consume are mostly movies.

I’m currently reading the book King, Warrior, Lover, Magician by Robert Moore, and there’s a passage that I wanted to share with you:

The study of ritual process by the specialist may tend toward dry reading. But we may see it enacted colorfully in a number of contemporary movies. Movies are like ancient folktales and myths. They are stories we tell ourselves about ourselves—about our lives and their meaning. In fact, initiatory process for both men and women is one of the great hidden themes of many of our movies.

A good, explicit example of this can be found in the movie The Emerald Forest. Here, a white boy has been captured and raised by Brazilian Indians. One day, he’s playing in the river with a beautiful girl. The chief has noticed his interest in the girl for some time. This awakening of sexual interest in the boy is a signal to the wise chief. He appears on the riverbank with his wife and some of the tribal elders and surprises Tomme (Tommy) at play with the girl. The chief booms out, “Tomme, your time has come to die!” Everyone seems profoundly shaken. The chief’s wife, playing the part of all women, of all mothers, asks, “Must he die?” The chief threateningly replies, “Yes!” Then, we see a firelit nighttime scene in which Tomme is seemingly tortured by the older men in the tribe; and forced into the forest vines, he is being eaten alive by jungle ants. He writhes in agony, his body mutilated in the jaws of the hungry ants. We fear the worst.

Finally, the sun comes up, though, and Tomme, still breathing, is taken down to the river by the men and bathed, the clinging ants washed from his body. The chief then raises his voice and says, “The boy is dead and the man is born!” And with that, he is given his first spiritual experience, induced by a drug blown through a long pipe into his nose. He hallucinates and in his hallucination discovers his animal soul (an eagle) and soars above the world in new and expanded consciousness, seeing, as if from a God’s-eye view, the totality of his jungle world. Then he is allowed to marry. Tomme is a man. And, as he takes on a man’s responsibilities and identity, he is moved first into the position of a brave in the tribe and then into the position of chief.

Moore, Robert. King, Warrior, Magician, Lover (pp. 4-5). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
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