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Jun
12
2016

'Moneyball' Movie and The Hero's Journey -- by Katie Tillwick

*WARNING* Movie Spoilers Ahead


It's baseball season!

Because of this, my husband and I were discussing the movie 'Moneyball'.  If you've never seen this flick, go out and rent it, cause it's great. Prepare to be entertained.

'Moneyball' takes two really boring things - math and *ahem* baseball - and spins them into this story that you can't stop watching. Oscar nominations and whatever.

Why? How? Is it because it's about baseball? (My husband.) Brad Pitt? (Umm, duh, of course it's because of Brad Pitt!) Just general awesomeness?

If any of these was your guess, then I'm about to tell you that you are WRONG. EHHH. (There's no crying in baseball!)

The answer to this movie's greatness, friends, is a little thing called the Hero's Journey. The most famous example of a movie/story that uses this ancient plot device is Star Wars. Most any genre (fantasy, sci-fi) fiction will follow this basic 'mythologic' plot line, including my own novels.

As a budding (ie: struggling, frustrated, neurotic) writer, I've studied this plot principle. Anyone who writes fiction should study the Hero's Journey, because it WILL help you create a better story. Should be on the 'Writer's Requirements' list.

Moneyball is the perfect example of a non-genre fiction story that uses the Hero's Journey, and proof that the oldest tropes are the best tropes. The movie's plot follows the Hero's Journey TO A TEE. (Golfing weather is back, too. Woohoo.)

And here, my proof: (warning, beginning of plot spoiler. As in, the entire movie broken out for you, according to the Hero's Journey plot points.)


  1. The Ordinary World: Our fabulously handsome, always eating hero, Billy Beane, is introduced. He's just trying to do his job managing the Oakland A's in the good old game of baseball.
  2. The Call to Adventure: The Hero's team loses it's best players, and it's revealed he's divorced but really cares about his daughter. He's also a failed ball player himself. On top of all this sympathy-building-sadness, his team possesses the smallest budget in the league, which makes his job so much harder. He needs to do something about this situation.
  3. Refusal of the Call: Our hero is unhappy with the way things are going, but doesn't know what to do, he's blocked on all fronts, so he does business-as-usual.
  4. Meeting with the Mentor: Here it breaks with the old trope a bit - instead of meeting our ancient-Yoda-character, full of wisdom, we meet a young Yale grad. The mentor provides the hero with a radical new way of thinking, thanks to his college education and crazy smarts - apply statistics to baseball! This magic potion is called 'Moneyball'.
  5. Crossing the Threshold: Our Hero decides to apply the Mentor's new idea, Moneyball, to his team, breaking with a tradition that is over 100 years old. End Act One.
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero's recruiters are dead-set against Moneyball, the players he recruits aren't sure about it, and the concrete enemy, the team manager, tries to thwart him left and right. Some of the players become his allies, but the Mentor remains his ultimate ally.
  7. Approach: The Hero and Mentor prepare to bring their assault on the world of baseball, and all its tradition and superstition.
  8.  The Ordeal: Things just aren't going well. People aren't doing what the Hero wants - baseball players are being ornery, team manager won't play the guys he wants him to, the team owner, fans (and those obnoxious radio hosts), are questioning the Hero's decision to use Moneyball. Even his daughter is concerned. Our Hero has his moment of doubt, but takes a risky, daring action that could get him fired to ensure his new method is applied. End Act Two.
  9. The Reward: Things begin to go right. The A's win more games in a row than has been done in decades, beating old, old records. Fans believe, the owner believes, even the Team Manager believes. The Hero Billy Beane is vindicated.
  10. The Road Back: Then, just when everything is peachy, a moment of doubt. In the Hero's Journey, its typical for there to be a chase scene here, and Moneyball doesn't fail - the Hero races back to the record-tieing game, only to see the game go from an 11 hit lead, to tied up. Danger! End Act Three.
  11. The Resurrection: Just when all seems lost, that the A's will lose the game, the Hero walks away, sacrificing his viewing of the game. It works - one of his 'radical choice' players hits a home run, bottom of the 9th, and the A's win, tieing the all-time winning record. All earlier conflicts are resolved by this point - daughter issues fixed, conflict within the team over, Moneyball proved to work.
  12. Return with the Elixir: Our hero has had his moments of doubt and challenge, but in the end, because of his daring, he is offered a dream job managing the Red Sox, for major buku bucks. He refuses this offer, wanting to stay in California, but he feels complete - he's changed the game. Moneyball is a success, and even though it's hard 'not to romanticize baseball', the world of baseball will never be the same.

Voila.

Not baseball, not Brad Pitt.

The Hero's Journey, and it ain't even fantasy.

Now study and apply, writers!

 

Posted by Katie Tillwick 12 Jun 2016 at 00:40
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Responses to this blog

Jongoff 13 Jun 2016 at 09:50  
I think there are actually a couple more lessons here. I found Moneyball to be excruciatingly boring, to the point of tears. I couldn't care about the challenges, obstacles, or the characters. It's the first movie I've walked out of in years. Does that mean that Moneyball was terrible? Well, yes. For me. No matter how good you are, there will be people who don't like your book or your characters. That's the nature of art and life, much of it is subjective. Write what you like and let your audience find you. The second lesson here is that even if you follow the hero's journey arc for your story it doesn't guarantee universal acceptance or global success. Not every breakout novelist will be J.K. Rowling, not every movie will be Star Wars, and that's okay. In the end, both George Lucas and J.K. Rowling became victims of their own success, criticized by fans for changes they made to their own stories. George Lucas came to loathe his creation because of the fans. Hopefully J.K. Rawlings will not suffer the same fate. I wouldn't want their success, not while I'm alive anyway.

Write the story you like, let your audience find you.
Spartucus 15 Jun 2016 at 07:37  
I did enjoy Moneyball, but you said it was fiction, it was based on a nonfiction book (excellent read for Baseball fans) analyzing the the success of Billy Beane's stats based approach with the Oakland A's and the movie was based on a true story. So many of the events that you presented as part of the hero's quest were real life events that were presented as they happened in real life. Of course I'm sure there were some creative license and the filmmakers still need to present the story in a way that would be interesting to viewers, but relating real life events is different than creating a work of fiction.
Spartucus 15 Jun 2016 at 07:53  
Also, just to clarify my previous statement, Jonah Hill's character was a fictional character based on Paul Depodesta. But that was because the real life individual didn't want to be portrayed in the film, so they used a fictional character based on him and a few other Oakland A's assistants. But otherwise, it was based on a true story and most of the events depicted in the story can be verified as really happening.
Jones0901 16 Jun 2016 at 07:37  
A comment and a question-
1. We should probably mention Joseph Campbell, and the Hero with a Thousand Faces, in a conversation of this nature. The book and all his other works are a great overview of the heroic myth.

2. The question- How far, within the context of fantasy/sci-fi/mystery, essentially all popular fiction, can a writer 'deny' this formula? At some point, farm boy hero meets graybeard wizard after fleeing his home, only to meet rogue and princess, and eventually find artifact to overthrow dark lord and come full circle, gets tedious.
My contention is that recent fantasy- pat routhfuss, Scott lynch, sanderson, weeks, Brett, and others- have made a concerted effort to forgo the simple formula, but still can't break from the jungian archtypes and old tropes we've been reading since Theseus was given the sting. Yet still- even in failure, the overall quality of the narrative is improved by hiding these elements— the Gandalf character, or the Excalibur artifact,— and finding new interesting ways to use various aspects of the heroes journey.
Agree/disagree?

Harpalycus 17 Jun 2016 at 01:29  
It is notorious that any story can be analysed in terms of certain situations or relationships, archetypes if you like. I would be extremely surprised if anyone could come up with a narrative line that has not been used before. We write about what we are and what we do, and as we are limited in terms of our responses and emotions we are fishing in a small pond. I seriously doubt that we can do anything else. Creativity is the novel combination of seemingly disparate strands rather than creating something totally new. Monsters are always chimeras. So I, personally, see that the power of narration is in the telling, without worrying overly much about the originality of the narrative line. Like jokes, the oldest tropes are the best. That's why they are the oldest.
Cromarian 17 Jun 2016 at 07:01  
Completely agree with Harpalycus, any narrative can be pushed onto a story. A story usually devolves into simple archetypes because that's the only form of engagement a story provides. It's like building, no matter what you do, it must have a foundation and it must have walls. You can change the material of the walls, get rid of the traditional roof, paint the damn thing green, but it'll always have walls and it's always built on stable foundations otherwise it'll collapse.

Narrative is like that. Even if you aren't conscious of narrative, it's always there. It's how our brain is hard wired to perceive meaning in what ever we experience. Without it, the text is a series of nonconsequential series of events.

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