Myth vs. Reality

Few myths are as enduring as that of Hercules. (The legendary strongman’s frequent cinematic revivals–two this year alone–leave little doubt about that.) But is any of it real?

The latest film version of his exploits (reviewed next door by Your Sacrificial Moviegoer) at first blush seems a standard recounting; certainly the trailer (above) seems to position it that way. But that’s where the movie gets interesting:

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Virtually everything seen in the trailer is dispensed with in the first minute or two of the film. It’s a visual tease, merely illustrating the over-the-top yarn a storyteller relates to inflate the reputation of the real flesh-and-blood guy named Hercules. He allows (indeed, encourages) all these crazy stories to spring up around him because it helps him do his job. Hercules doesn’t buy his own mythic hype, but he lets the hype prepare his way. The rest of the movie may not have satisfied, but that initially disorienting twist–a theme that permeates the rest of the tale–tasted delicious.

Why? Because it goes to the heart of myth’s importance. Myth isn’t literally true; it’s the truths about ourselves and our world that we glimpse through these fantastical tales that are important: the interrelationships delineated, the essences distilled, the emotional connections forged, in a way that no other genre can communicate. In a sense, the truths of myth constitute something hyperreal, more real in all the ways that matter to the human spirit than the empirical, quantifiable reality of the mundane world.

This new HERCULES goes further, suggesting that by our belief in these myths, we make them come to life. (A quantum physics parallel comes to mind; to oversimplify, current theory suggest that the characteristics of many fundamental particles exist in a state of flux until the moment the particle is observed by someone, at which point the myriad possibilities of its existence collapse into one defined state.) Or at the very least, our belief in myth transforms our perceptions and actions in a way that dramatically alters outcomes. Whether the myth is literally true becomes irrelevant; our belief in the myth holds the key.

An idea to which I can only say: I believe.

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