Exploring the Heroine’s Journey in Film through her Sight and Insight

Final-fantasy--the-spirits-within-posterPart 2: Her Sight and Insight

By Lila Moore

(Part 1 can be found here.)

The heroine’s journey is an evolving myth.  It is not simply a product of ancient times like the hero’s journey, though, there are some archaic texts with leading protagonists who are often goddesses or associated with them. There are also the classics, The Little Mermaid, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the Wizard’s of Oz that, with rich tapestry of symbols and archetypes, imaginative visuals and soulful depth, present the journey of an extraordinary heroine. This type of heroine, unlike those depicted with nothing to do in recent films, has much to do, discover, overcome and manifest. She is a different type of leader and fighter for justice and nothing like the mythic hero. The hero searches for the meaning of the Soul and a union with Her, often disguised in the form of a princess whom he marries after the successful completion of his ordeal and quest. The mythic heroine as an archetype is the Soul’s manifestation on Earth and in the Cosmos, and here to show us how to transform and evolve.

Clearly, each individual heroine’s journey reflects some aspects of the Soul, a story which is part of a much larger story of evolution in consciousness and worldview. There is no way a single heroine could carry the vision and burden of the entire task. Therefore, as a global culture we need many more stories and myths about her journey, new films and interactive platforms and games. The heroine’s journey as a mythic tale is not yet fully known. We will get to know it as we make it, watch and interact with it. It is a vision about the future.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the first photorealist, computer-animated science-fiction film portrays the heroine’s journey through the sight and insight of the leading protagonist. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Dir: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Moto Sakakibara, 2001) is led by the character Doctor Aki Ross, a scientist who has discovered how to save the Earth from an infectious, deadly virus-like race of aliens called Phantoms. From the very start of the film, the post apocalyptic landscape of Earth and the ruins of New York City are seen from the point of view of Aki, with the first close-up shot of her eye signifying that this is her gaze. Hence, the viewers are subliminally informed that the story will unfold as Aki sees it. She is in a position of power to lead the course of the story and determine humanity’s destiny.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the trailer

It is also revealed that Aki’s sight is not limited to events in the physical world of action. Aki’s recurring nightmares are fundamental to her mission to save the Earth. Through her dreams, she learns that the aliens are the restless spirits of dead aliens which crashed on Earth with fragments of their destroyed planet. They are not ‘the enemy’ as the world’s leadership council and General Hein view them, but displaced and terrorized spirits in need of healing and liberation.

Aki has to navigate her way towards a peaceful resolution to the world’s crisis against towering opposition. Heim is determined to convince the council that the best way forward is to attack and eliminate the aliens that hide inside the Earth with the Zeus cannon. Doctor Sid, Aki’s mentor, attempts to explain that the impact of Zeus cannon will injure the Earth, and her spirit Gaia. This is received with a cynical reaction particularly from Heim who says that the Gaia theory is ridiculous, and the idea that the planet is alive is a fairy tale. Yet, Sid explains how a different scientific method which does not involve violence towards the Earth can negate the Phantoms. Heim argues that a method involving plants’ and animals’ spirits to counteract the aliens is flimsy and unproven.
Aki’s reply, however, demonstrates the heroine’s tactics in dealing with conflict. She brings in scientific evidence, showing the council that although she was infected by the aliens, her infection is held in a stable condition, unable to spread. The cancerous-like cells of the aliens’ infection in her body, which she demonstrates with a 3D interactive hologram to the frightened council, are stabilized by the signature of six spirits which keeps her alive. She explains to the council that the Phantoms can be negated and cancelled out through the signature of eight spirits. Two more spirits have to be allocated on Earth to end the war.

Obviously, the idea that powerful technology like the Zeus cannon can be replaced by woo-woo science raises some eyebrows amongst members of the council. The heroine is not only preaching peace to them, but seriously seeking to integrate science and spirituality. This is a risky mission. Aki is previously warned by Sid, who burns his texts on the spirits of Gaia out of fear of being caught. Before he eliminates the physical traces of the hidden knowledge of life, spirit and energy, he asks Aki to read the following text:

All life is born of Gaia, and each life has a spirit. Each new spirit is housed in a physical body. Through their experiences on Earth each spirit matures and grows. When the physical body dies the matured spirit enriched by its life on earth returns to Gaia, bringing to it its experiences, enabling Gaia to live and grow. 

Like Galileo, heretic scientists in the 21st century are still in danger, and need to hide or suspend their findings. Sid asks Aki to keep her knowledge hidden in her mind. Still, the world is in deep crisis, and Aki has no time to waste, and nothing to lose or be afraid of. Not only is she in danger of losing her own life to the viral infection in her body, she also senses the pain of both the Earth and the trapped spirits within it.

Although Aki’s mission is based on Sid’s initial research, she is the one who completes the work, and as the heroine, she is also the one who is destined to manifest the new insight and the vision gained as a result of the journey. The spirits that she seeks live within organic life forms, plants, animals and people. Whilst Sid recommends faith and hard work as the key to success, Aki says that she wants her life to have a meaning.

In Man in Search for Meaning (1946), Victor Frankl writes that identifying a purpose that gives a meaning to every minute in life can help one endure adversity and suffering with hope, without which she/he could be utterly destroyed. Aki wisely states her need for meaning as the underlying motivation that would keep her faith in the actual mission, whilst also keeping her alive. Accompanied by the “Deep Eyes” squad, Aki is searching for the 7th Spirit in a haunted wasteland. Suddenly, a hawk is seen hovering in the sky. Aki knows that she is close to finding the spirit, the hawk is a messenger. However, the Phantoms unleash a deadly attack and Aki is losing her consciousness as the alien infection spreads. Meanwhile, Sid asks Gray, leader of the squad, who has been in love with Aki, to help her in a spiritual way. He integrates their dreaming consciousness and they meet in the Phantoms’ alien planet. This is the location of Aki’s recurring dreams and visions, but now she is not alone but with Gray who embraces her, trying to protect her from the army of the aliens.

AkirossThe heroine is not rescued by violent force but receives protection and insight through the healing powers of dreams and love. When they awake Aki knows the meaning of the vision. She realizes that they were witnessing the destruction of the aliens’ planet by a great meteor, and that a fraction of that planet tragically fell on Earth. At that point, Heim arrests Aki and Gray, without the council’s approval, as he wants to finish his plan to destroy the aliens with the Zeus cannon.  He wants revenge over the death of his wife and child that were killed by the Phantoms. After all, this is the only way that humanity has fought against invasion of evil armies. There is no reason to change the course of history.

But, this is not a typical hero’s journey. This is not even a battle between good and evil. The council’s director, a woman in her sixties, tends to back up Aki and Sid’s plan. She does not negate the Gaia theory, but keeps an open mind. Heim is choosing violence out of desperation and ignorance not because he is inherently a bad person. His unconscious actions, though, lead to a full-scale war with the aliens. When he realizes that he has made a mistake, it is too late. The Phantoms invade the secured city zone of New York, killing the humans left there. The squad, including Aki and Sid, manages to escape the city. Heim devices another strategy, which is to operate the Zeus cannon from a spaceship above Earth, and this time he even receives the approval of the council. He aims to bomb the Phantom crater. Meanwhile, Sid, Gray and Aki plan to attract the 8th spirit to Aki, which according to Sid is a Phantom spirit inside the crater. Aki and Gray, in a space craft, are closing in on the spirit at the same time that Heim, knowing they are there, fires the cannon from space. Soon after, Sid sadly reports that the 8th spirit was destroyed by Zeus. The attack on the Phantom crater releases the full force of the alien ghosts. Heim is still convinced that the only way to destroy them is by bombing.  But, destruction only yields more destruction which eventually terminates Heim and his war enterprise.

The 8th spirit finds Aki in a vision. It is an alien spirit, born of Gaia, a hybrid made of both worlds, which finally helps adjust the cosmic order. Aki gathers the spirits in her chest, close to her heart. Through her body and soul, sight and insight, the world is healed and transformed. The alien ghosts shot off back to space, now in peace and made of light. The men in Aki’s life, her wise teacher Sid and kind-hearted partner Gray, support her approach to the mission, whilst Gray learns to acknowledge her spiritual wisdom.

The heroine’s knowledge in this film emerges from an altered state of consciousness, from the sight and vision of the soul. The last scene wherein the 8th spirit of Phantom Gaia enters her chest in an altered state, recalls a shamanic vision and contact with a nature spirit. Thirteen years after it was made, the film can now be seen within a wider environmental context. Making holes in the Earth to allegedly save humanity from crisis could be a metaphor for fracking. The armies of displaced ghosts can metaphorically mirror the waves of violence that sweep the world in a real physical sense, and as images of violence in mass media and all other communication channels.

The commercial advertising involving images of Aki sexualized like a pin-up girl in a bikini is a total diversion from her character in the film. In the film her gaze is her own, though in the subsequent sexualized images which do not appear in the film, there is a return to the outdated male gaze that aims to objectify her (see part 1). Watching the film now, the contrast between the film character and the girl in the bikini is as huge as the Phantom crater. They simply don’t belong to the same story.

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