The first stage of separation is the call to adventure. Followed by the refusal of the call and the crossing of a threshold. Call to Adventure: In most situations, this call becomes the subject of the story or the plot of the movie. For Lightning, he thinks his call to adventure comes over the Public Announcement System when the tie-breaking race in California is announced. While this may be the obvious choice, but I don’t think that it is. We need to look at Lightning as the potential hero and observes how he grows over the course of the journey.
He doesn’t grow in skill as a driver. He ran his first race at the beginning of the movie a lot better than the race at the end. The call to adventure is not always the destination, but the road leading to the destination. The adventure is in the hero’s growth. The growth that Lightning experiences is in his ability to have and appreciate friends.
As cheesy as it sounds, the call to adventure for this movie is the call to find friendship. Refusal of the Call: The refusal of the call happened during the first race when Lightning refused the help and friendship around him.
Let’s admit it, Lightning was a jerk. He alienated the people who tried to help him. Three different crew chiefs quit on him during the one season he’s been racing. His arrogance at the end of the first race was so bad his entire crew quit on him. Another example of Lightnings Refusal was his initial refusal to pave the road he destroyed in Radiator Springs. It was through his paving the road that he learned the lessons of the journey. Crossing the Threshold: The symbolism of the thresholds in the movie are found in the highways that Mack and Lightning re traveling. The “Mother Road” on Route 66 is significantly more important as it is on the Mother Road that we meet the Threshold Guardian, embodied by the Sheriff. As Lightning is frantically trying to find the interstate and Mack, he speeds pas a sleepy Sheriff’s speed trap. The local sheriff begins to follow him with sirens going. Instead of stopping, Lightening goes through a chain of events through the forgotten town of Radiator Spring destroying the main road and other property and landing himself in jail, or the impound.
This leads to the initiation phase, which can be summarized by the road of trials, the meeting with the goddess, and apotheosis. Road of Trials: The neat part of the Road of Trials step in Cars is that they are somewhat associated with an actual road, in this case, Route 66 or the Mother Road. As Lightning began to face his trails during the movie, he began by failing them. Lighting’s failure in his encounter with the threshold guardian, the Sheriff, resulted in the destruction of the road. When Doc challenged Lightning to a race, Lightning again failed due to his arrogance and lack of experience racing on dirt.
The turning point on his road of trials came in the pasture where he and Mater, the local tow truck, were tipping tractors. Lightning successfully tipped all of the tractors by revving his engine. He was also successful in escaping from Frank the Combine. There, Lightning’s luck changed and he was able to fix the road, learn to race on dirt and redeem himself from his earlier failures. The Meeting with the Goddess: I had a couple of options in picking the goddess who Lightning would meet. Since Lightning is a male, I began looking at the female characters. Had the hero been a woman, I would have included the male characters in my search.
One important part of identifying the Gods and Goddesses is to not get hung up on their gender but on how the character fills the role. I first went to Sally Carrera, a 2002 Porsche Carrera, as a possibility for the goddess, but I needed to remember not to confuse the romantic interest with the goddess. The goddess that Lightning has to meet needs to be associated with a trial or test that he had to pass in order to continue on his journey. The character that I identified as the goddess, was not a main character, she didn’t even have any speaking lines. The goddess was Bessie.
Bessie is the name given to the road paving machine that Lightning had to drag at a snails pace to fix the road. I chose Bessie because she was the symbolic and literal obstacle that was keeping Lightning in town. To leave town, Bessie would have to be on the other end of the road with smooth pavement behind her. Lightning challenged Bessie’s role as his captor when he tried to speed up the process of fixing the road by quickly laying down the asphalt that he later had to scrape up. When Lightning was put in his place, humbled, and respectful of Bessie’s role as the goddess, he could begin to accomplish the task before him.
Apotheosis: The step of apotheosis or becoming the father or god began when Lightning discovered that Doc was a retired race car. Discovering Doc’s Piston Cups and watching Doc race helped Lightning to realize that he could learn something from Doc and he quickly regretted not listening to the advice Doc previously offered. The true point of apotheosis comes during the final race when Lighting takes things learned from his time in Radiator Springs and used it to position himself for the win. This includes driving backwards using rear view mirrors and driving on the dirt infield during a spin-out that helped him take the lead.
Even though he did not win the race, or the cup, as Doc had, it was Lightning’s to give up. He became the race car that Doc would be proud to know. The third and final stage of Lightning’s journey is the return, characterized by a refusal to return, the crossing of another threshold, the mastery of two worlds, and the freedom to live. The next three step follow each other in very rapid succession. The refusal came when Mack and the rest of the media came to bring Lightning back to the “real” world. Lightning didn’t want to go. He had fallen for the temptress, Sally, and was ready to abandon his journey.
Luckily for him, Sally told him it was okay to go and he left, returning to the world he left behind. The magic flight out of the fantastical world in this story had been combined with the crossing of the return threshold. Mack the truck carries Lightning out of Radiator Springs and onto California. The events surrounding this is discussed a little more when we talk about crossing the return threshold. During Lightning’s stay in Radiator Springs, he became more attached to the people there. It is easy to imagine that he would give up the California race if that meant he could stay with Sally and the residents of the town.
The sweet ambrosia of friendship he tasted there was more powerful that the desire to have the Piston Cup. As demonstrated in the movie, there were three aspects to this rescue from without. First is how the media was notified by Doc of Lightning’s location. Second, is Mack with the media entourage barreling into town to take Lightning away. And third, Harv the agent reminds Lighting about the Race, Dinoco, and his rival Chick Hicks. Doc, Mack, Harv, and the media each helped to rescue Lightning. Reluctantly, he allows himself to be rescued and backs into Mack’s trailer for the magic flight to California.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold: In the step of crossing the return threshold, we see the return of the Sheriff in his role as the threshold guardian. He and Sally stopped Lightning from leaving by siphoning his gas tank on his first night in the impound. Later, the Sheriff almost had to go after him before Sally and Lightning went on their ride to the Wheel Well. After Lightning finishes paving the road, and thus completing his road of trials, the Sheriff changes his demeanor and is ready to give Lightning a police escort to help Lightning get to the race on time.
In the Sheriff’s role as the threshold guardian, he has released Lightning from “captivity” and it is now Lightning’s “refusal to return” that is keeping him there. Lightning crosses the return threshold as he takes his magical flight in Mack’s trailer. One part of crossing the return threshold is that the fantastical world, or the world forgotten, becomes forgotten again. Lightning had become a catalyst of life and energy culminating with everyone in Radiator Springs cruising under the neon lights. When Lightning had left town, Doc finally got what he originally wanted.
After a tongue lashing from Sally, Doc quietly sat there as everyone left him alone. He sat there thinking about what he had done as the neon lights turned off, one by one. The world forgotten returned to its anonymity as Doc sat on the darkened road, under the traffic light’s flashing yellow signal. Perhaps the saddest moment in the movie. Master of the Two Worlds: The second to last step in the journey is when the hero becomes the master of the two worlds. This is done by finding the ultimate boon and sharing it with those around him.
Since the Ultimate boon in the gift of friendship, it is shared in two situations. First, Lightning shares his friendship to the residents of Radiator Springs when he becomes the customer of all of their stores. They share their friendship back when they show up to be his pit crew. Most notably is Doc acting as the crew chief. Lightning did not show his friendship to Doc in the same manner as he did to the others until he helped King across the finish line. Another large sharing of friendship is where he arranges for Mater to take a helicopter ride over Radiator Springs.
Freedom to Live: The Freedom to live is shown primarily in the epilogue after the race. Lightning has merged his two worlds together and can now freely live in the racing world but still be with his friends, especially Sally. Lightning literally puts Radiator Springs back on the map when he moves his racing headquarters to the small town. Also, Lightning becomes a new man, or car, as shown by his new paint job, inspired by the classic 1957 Chevy. In many ways, I have found this journey to be similar to that of Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh begins his journey at home as the restless king. He soon meets his helper Enkidu and the two of them go off on their adventure to the forest to defeat Humbaba. Enkidu dies. This prompts the grief stricken Gilgamesh to cross the Threshold of Adventure to seek the answer to immortality. While in the underworld/other world Gilgamesh passes many tests before he meets Utnapishtim and his wife who help him find the magical flower of everlasting life. But Gilgamesh loses the magic plant in his Peak Experience to the trickster snake who steals immortality for itself.
So Gilgamesh returns home with the boon, the understanding that immortality is reserved for the gods and that he is human. He will experience death and he realizes that he must live his life and enjoy it. So he writes down his tale to spread the word to his people. As a result, Gilgamesh’s journey comes full circle just as Lightning McQueen’s had in the movie. For this reason, I have concluded that all heroes must use the phases of the journey mentioned in this paper. Though the sequence of the steps may change, they are almost always taken.