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INTRODUCTION TO FILM: QUEST NARRATIVE
PLEASANTVILLE ANALYSIS PART I
ARCHETYPAL NARRATIVES are signposts to meaning. They lead, guide, support,
and launch the viewer through a series of connected events that the viewer
recognizes. They accomplish this task through the use of conventional
symbolism that taps in to the viewer’s unconscious. These signs are embedded in
our memories and experiences.
The art of STORYTELLING involves the use of the signposts and guidelines
established by ARCHETYPAL NARRATIVE as a structure, and adds creativity.
Stories host a moral or ethical fabric that has the power to evoke instant reaction.
This reaction is measured by the strength of the story and its relevance to the
audience. It is the story that impacts, that resonates, not the archetype.
Stories possess the ability to offer their readers an authority, a right to interpret
and reinterpret. Good STORYTELLING involves active sharing between storyteller
and audience. It’s the emotional ownership of a story that engages audiences and
allows them to invest in the meanings beneath the story’s surface.
Writers, directors, and cinematographers need to consider how audiences will interact with the
content they create. More than immersing themselves in the story as a form of escape –
people will want to engage further. Viewers want to create meaning. Stories do not belong to
their writers, they belong to their audience members. That ownership is key to creating
effective stories and films. With archetypal narratives, such as the QUEST, the storyteller
works within the guidelines of a defined structure that the audience will know in their
unconscious. This allows them to form expectations and engage in the process of
interpretation. It is the job of the storyteller to extend beyond the prescribed structure and
create a story worthy of interpretation.
Stories that are based on ARCHETYPAL NARRATIVES root emotion in a structure.
In a QUEST NARRATIVE, the structure involves a commitment to progression.
There are a few key fundamental elements included in the basic QUEST
• Protagonist (unhappy with ordinary world – called to adventure in special world)
• Conflict (often in relation to cultural/social values or standards)
• Mission (protagonist is inspired to act, to address the conflict and improve/better the world)
• Challenges / Tests & Trials / Opposition (Enemies) (often in different shapes, with different symbolic meanings)
• Comrades / Characters who aid the protagonist (ALLIES who learn from the protagonist and help him on
• Ethos (the characteristic spirit of a culture or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations) (Ethos is
evident – sometimes questioned – sometimes one dissolves and another takes hold)
• Longing (characters experience a yearning for something different)
• Evolution / Progression of CHARACTER and STORY (main characters are not static; protagonist and
sometimes allies experience a transformation)
• Impact (the progression results in actual change in the community)
• Story Arc: Normality – Disruption – Resolution
All of these factors drive the protagonist to move forward. These
elements shape the individual story, AND drive audience
engagement. The QUEST should encourage curiosity in both the
protagonist and the viewer: the challenges of the quest need to
establish a promise for the protagonist and inspire the viewer or
leave him/her with a sense of wonder/awe; the viewer’s
positioning as an authority must be evident to the viewer and the
protagonist’s position as an authority must be evident to the
protagonist; the ethos – guiding beliefs that characterize the story
or the characters in it prompt the protagonist on his/her journey
and ensure that the viewer remains engaged; the longing of the
protagonist to achieve a goal and the longing of the viewer to see
it fulfilled bring the journey toward an end.
QUEST NARRATIVE: THE
MAN WHO WALKED
AROUND THE WORLD
Watch the following brief QUEST story created as a Johnnie Walker
marketing campaign. While viewing, think about what elements of the
narrative relate to the QUEST, and what aspects exemplify effective
THE MAN WHO WALKED
AROUND THE WORLD
The QUEST NARRATIVE at the heart of this story is fairly simple
–to progress and fearlessly impact the whisky world/industry. It’s a
journey rife with personal tragedy, industry innovation and
steadfast grit and determination. The “Keep Walking” campaigns
represented the quests of everyday life, love, happiness, success
–anything that required a challenge to overcome. In 2009, the
company took this exploration deeper with the “Walk with Giants”
– real life storytelling campaign. It was a collection of real life
stories that echoed the Johnnie Walker ethos and encouraged
others to do the same. Through the use of the QUEST
NARRATIVE, the company invited audiences to take on a new
frame of mind, a positive resilience that alluded to strength,
character, and survival – the key attributes of their own brand
Coca Cola also used the QUEST NARRATIVE in their “Chase”
campaign. The brand was already well-established. They
needed to give their audiences a way of influencing narrative,
a means of owning a piece of the story themselves. As
opposed to allowing viewers to interpret a story that already
existed, they created an interactive campaign that required
audience participation to write it. They simply presented
familiar, clichéd character and QUEST NARRATIVE
archetypes, and asked the audience to envision what
happened next in the story. It allowed viewers to shape the
PLEASANTVILLE AS A
In the film Pleasantville, writer/director Gary Ross uses the QUEST NARRATIVE
as a guide to telling the story. He too makes use of conventional / familiar journey
archetypes. For example, as discussed in class, he uses the HERALD character
(the TV repair man), the SUPERNATURAL AID (the remote control), the
protagonist who is unhappy in his ORDINARY WORLD (contemporary times) and
is called to a SPECIAL WORLD (Pleasantville), etc.
Ross then alters the archetype. He has the protagonist move away from the quest
that was defined by the HERALD and move onto his own journey. Ross allows the
other characters to go on the journey with the protagonist; it is not merely
Bud’s/David’s quest. In this way, Ross uses the shifts in the QUEST NARRATIVE
ARCHETYPE to convey one of the driving themes – that people should live their
lives as they want to – with a balance of emotion and intellect – without blindly
following the dictates prescribed by any others. Man should live as an individual.
Ross follows the traditional story arc of NORMALITY – DISRUPTION –
RESOLUTION, but allows the audience to participate in the story process. There
is much open for interpretation, and a great deal for audiences to attach to
personally – allowing for an interactive experience.
ANALYSIS OF THE FILM
• Order vs. Chaos
• Fear of the Unknown vs. Curiosity of the Unknown
• Shame of One’s True Self vs. Acceptance of One’s True Self
• Social Identity vs. Personal Identity
• Conformity vs. Non-Conformity
• Moral Absolutism vs. Moral Ambiguity
• Sanctity of the Individual vs. Sanctity of the Group
• Freedom / Encouragement vs. Control
• Prescribed Social Roles (gender, race, parent/child)
ANALYSIS ASSIGNMENT #1
Working with your partner/group, identify how Pleasantville
fits the QUEST NARRATIVE ARCHETYPE and serves as an
example of great STORYTELLING. Return to slide # 4, which
lists the fundamental elements of the QUEST NARRATIVE.
For each element, describe how Pleasantville includes all
aspects of it. Discuss the ways in which Pleasantville
incorporates ARCHETYPAL NARRATIVE and
STORYTELLING. Identify the fundamental element (the
signpost )and then explain how Gary Ross’s individual
STORYTELLING adds meaning. Engage with the story.
Interpret it. Please review your notes on Andrew Stanton’s
Ted Ed Talk on what makes a great story for help.