Monday, 28 September 2015

Film Review (The Hero's Journey) - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Chris Columbus, 2001)

Fig 1. Harry Potter Poster.

The majority of the Harry Potter film franchise seems to follow 'The Hero's Journey' framework. At the very least, they use many of the key steps.

The 'call to adventure' and the 'refusal of the call' are intertwined and take place during the majority of the departure/ordinary world stage. Shortly after a teenage Harry is introduced and is living with the Dursleys, he receives a letter from Hogwarts. This is the 'call to adventure'. Uncle Vernon takes the letter from Harry and as a result Harry is sent more letters. A cycle of letters arriving and Uncle Vernon destroying them escalates until he is driven to take the entire family far away where the letters won't find them. Both the burning of the letters and the family moving clearly represent the 'refusal of the call'. The refusal is, curiously enough, not done by the hero himself but by Uncle Vernon instead.

Fig 2. Letters Scene Still.

The 'crossing the threshold' step is particularly intriguing in this film. This is because there are two separate scenes in the film that associate with 'crossing the threshold'. The first happens when Hagrid opens the way into Diagon Alley. The threshold being the divide between our world and the wizarding world.

While this is the first scene that shows this divide, it is by no means the most memorable. Not long after this moment, after Harry has picked up all of his school supplies, he makes his way to a train station in London. This is where one of the biggest scenes in the film takes place. After the audience is introduced to one of the secondary characters, Harry Potter crosses another threshold. He runs at the wall between platforms 9 and 10 and is transported from an ordinary London station to Platform 9 and 3/4. This scene has a real sense of 'crossing the threshold' and it further cements the foundation of this magical world that he is entering.

The rest of the film seems to become a little more complex in terms of finding specific stages and their relevant scenes. There are a few specific scenes that seem to correlate with the steps. The 'belly of the whale' seems like the moment when Harry is being sorted into a house by the sorting hat. He is confronted by the hat, saying that he would do well in slytherin when Harry wants to go anywhere else but slytherin.

Fig 3. Catching the Snitch Scene Still.

The apotheosis step appears to be the moment when Harry catches the snitch and wins the quidditch match for his team. There is a powerful pan-shot that centers around Harry and shows his team and the stands cheering for him. This definitely seems like the moment when Harry is in his element and when he feels god-like.

Overall the film certainly follows many of the key steps in 'The Hero's Journey' but some steps like 'meeting the goddess' and 'woman as temptress' seem without a place in this film.

Illustration List

Columbus, C (2001) Figure 1. Harry Potter Poster. (Accessed on 27/09/15)

Columbus, C (2001) Figure 2. Letters Scene Still. (Accessed on 28/09/15)

Columbus, C (2001) Figure 3. Catching the Snitch Scene Still. (Accessed on 28/09/15)


  1. Great start!
    Possible other steps to think about - the Mentor - Dumbledore? Or Hagrid, who takes Harry to the shop where he is given a 'weapon' (wand)
    The Goddess, or Woman as temptress, possibly Harry's mother? He worships her as children often do worship dead parents, but he also glamourises it this film where she tempts him from the mirror?

    1. Good point! yes it is this film, I hadn't thought of that. Thanks.