I love it when one of the “hard and fast” rules I teach is elegantly altered by an encounter with great piece of art.
Such was my experience watching Zhang Yang’s remarkable film “Paths of the Soul” last night at the Dairy Center theater here in Boulder.
This movie begins with a rare window into the everyday life in a rural Tibetan village. Quietly, eleven of the townspeople decide to make the pilgrimage from their tiny village to the capital Lhasa, in order to bow at the foot of the sacred Mount Kailash.
When we first hear about “the pilgrimage,” we have no idea that what they’re speaking of is a 750-mile walk…where the most able among them will go into a full prostration every 7 or 8 steps.
One of the classic instructions when you’re writing fiction or memoir–any narrative form–is to follow the path of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.
The hero would begin in his or her “ordinary world,” experience some call to adventure, reject the call before finally answering it, gather allies and enemies, meet a mentor, face grave danger and more–all before returning home.
Zhang Yang broke most of those rules.
I used to think the hero of such a story had to be a single person; “Paths of the Soul” has no main character. I thought we needed to hear the story unfold; this movie has very little dialogue. The trials the group encounters are not flashy. There is no external encounter with a great demon. (Though one has to assume that, in the process of kowtowing for 745 miles, each of the villagers faced his or her own inner demons.) And the pilgrims do not return home before the end of the movie.
Yet, in spite of all this, “Paths of the Soul” is one of the most incredible adventure stories I have had the pleasure of seeing.
Proving once again, I suppose, that rules are made to be broken.
Highly recommended for anyone writing fiction or memoir, anyone interested in Tibetan Buddhism, anyone who wants to get a window into a world far beyond the norms of Western culture, and anyone who loves a great story told in very few words.