Legally Awesome: Elle Woods hero’s journey
Yes, I am going to talk about Legally Blonde, exposing myself to being criticized and accused guilty of piggy-backing on trivial pop culture sub-topics to generate content, but you know me, I like to offer different perspectives on familiar subjects. Today, I want to explore Elle Woods’ hero’s journey, because, unlike my previous character examined, this chick-flick presents a woman that defies stereotypes and makes the best of her situation.
Elle is the quintessential rich sorority girl that wears pink and loves fashion (this premise alone would have been enough to prevent me from watching it, but there is more). In an attempt to get back with her boyfriend (a douchebag of giant proportions), she decides to apply for the same program at Harvard and, in an unprecedented move, the Fashion Merchandising major gets accepted into one of the countries’ most competitive Law programs. Yes, this sounds like a dull premise, but that’s just the shell; this movie in many ways is about the essence of things and not believing in first impressions.
Here is what I make of Elle’s hero’s journey or monomyth, the recurrent pattern in countless narratives first described by Joseph Campbell in 1949. Like usual, not all the 17 stages are present in this story, but the monomyth describes many well-known hero stories like Jesus, Buddha, Ariel and Prometheus.
The Call to Adventure
The hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.
When Elle is dumped by her boyfriend in a colossal display of douchebaggery because she wasn’t serious enough, she finds a magazine with a photo of her ex-boyfriend’s brother, announcing his engagement with a ghastly looking woman. The magazine reads:
Third year Yale Law student Putnam Bowes Huntington III and his fiance Layne Walker Vanderbilt, first year Yale Law.
And Elle sees her calling:
This is the type-of girl Warner wants to marry. This is what I need to become to be serious.
Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his guide and magical helper appears or becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present the hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid him later in his quest.
After watching her application video, anything but the norm for a law applicant, the old guys deciding her admission end up giving her the yes, based on wanting more ”diversity” and her 4.0 GPA (not really, her bikini body was what ultimately sold them). The old men are here the supernatural aid.
Crossing the Threshold
This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.
Elle moves to Harvard.
Belly of the Whale
The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.
After showing up to a party to which she was told to wear a costume, she talks to her ex-boyfriend and determines to prove him wrong in underestimating her intelligence.
The Road of Trials
The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.
Elle is ridiculed, excluded and made fun of by her peers. She also takes on different “tests”, like playing cupid for her manicurist and helping her regain custody of her dog. She manages to enter the very competitive internship her ex-boyfriend told her she wasn’t smart enough for and she even starts becoming friends with her archenemy, Warner’s serious girlfriend.
The Meeting with the Goddess
This is the point when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely.
The non-hideous Wilson brother soon becomes Elle’s clear next love interest, but the relationship develops in a very different way, as he starts off as her mentor, as a more advanced student. Later on, his trust on Elle ends up making a big difference in the development of the story.
Woman as Temptress
In this step, the hero faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead him or her to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.
Clearly, this is different here, but Elle is “tempted” when she is sexually harassed by her professor and offered the chance to advance in her career.
Atonement with the Father
In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving into this place, all that follow will move out from it.
Clearly, this hero thing was conceived from a male perspective. For our heroine, this motherly figure is her first professor while at Harvard, which happens to be a Gamma Gamma Gamma (or whatever sorority she belonged to). She encourages Elle to keep going after she wanted to give up on the trial team she had been working on after being hit on by Mr. Boring Guy That Only Plays Lawyers.
When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.
Elle’s dark navy suit and last season Prada shoes outfit go away with her determination of coming back to defend her client, the transformation that precedes her return to the courtroom now as the lead lawyer was painful and even made her consider going back home.
The Ultimate Boon
The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.
Her success at winning the case proved to be Elle’s true mission, after turning her back on her professor and deciding to do it alone (with the help of Wilson brother) and making for some of the best climax scenes on a chick-flick ever.
This journey gives Elle a new perspective in life, she rejects the man that made her go to law school in the first place and she goes on to graduate from Harvard, an accomplishment that clearly wasn’t on her old to do list, namely, being a trophy wife.
Just for perspective, this was our main character at the beginning of the movie:
I just love him so much! I loved him the first moment I saw him. He’s beautiful and smart and someone I totally respect. And I did everything I could to make him love me, but it wasn’t enough. Now what am I supposed to do? I planned my whole future around him. My life was going to be all about Warner. Now what’s it going to be about?
Is it bad if the final scene makes me want to cry a little every time I watch it? Nope.