A question from Annika:
In your five archetypes that populate almost every movie, does the Mentor always have to be right? If the issue at hand came down to heart versus head and the protagonist should be using their heart more, could being under the influence of a mentor, who approaches things from a head-centered space, actually be working against them? So, basically, can the Mentor and Attractor work against each other?
In answer to your first question, there are no rules in screenwriting, nor with archetypes. They are simply tools to help us develop and understand our stories. So can a Mentor be wrong? Yes.
Re your second question: Can a Mentor and Attractor work against each other? Sure. A perfect example is in The Shawshank Redemption. I consider that to be a Dual Protagonist narrative with Andy and Red each having their own Hero’s Journey. Looking at the story through Red’s perspective, here’s how I see the character archetype lineup:
Protagonist – Red
Nemesis – Institutionalization
Attractor – Andy
Mentor – Brooks
Trickster – Freedom (when he gets released from prison)
Brooks (played wonderfully by James Whitmore) represents what I call dark wisdom in that he’s a Mentor who shows Red the wrong path. How? By gaining his freedom, then choosing to commit suicide. The fact that when Red is released, he goes to work in the same grocery store as Brooks, lives in the same halfway house, and face the same choice Brooks does — find a way to live with freedom or turn against it — spotlights Brooks as Mentor. Indeed Red is sorely tempted to, at least, commit a crime and get sent back to prison:
INT -- RED'S ROOM -- NIGHT Red lies smoking in bed. Unable to sleep. RED (V.O.) Terrible thing, to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won't have to be afraid all the time. He glances up at the ceiling beam. "Brooks Hatlen was here." RED (V.O.) Only one thing stops me. A promise I made to Andy.
And what was that promise?
ANDY (turns back) Red, if you ever get out of here, do me a favor. There's this big hayfield up near Buxton. You know where Buxton is? RED (nods) Lots of hayfields there. ANDY One in particular. Got a long rock wall with a big oak at the north end. Like something out of a Robert Frost poem. It's where I asked my wife to marry me. We'd gone for a picnic. We made love under that tree. I asked and she said yes. (beat) Promise me, Red. If you ever get out, find that spot. In the base of that wall you'll find a rock that has no earthly business in a Maine hayfield. A piece of black volcanic glass. You'll find something buried under it I want you to have. RED What? What's buried there? ANDY You'll just have to pry up that rock and see. Andy turns and walks away.
Right there we see the choice crystallized: Go the route of the Mentor (Brooks) or Attractor (Andy). And Red’s connection to Andy proves stronger than the dark wisdom of Brooks.
Sometimes in a story, the Protagonist faces a choice: Follow their head or follow their heart. In cases like that, we can use the Mentor and Attractor archetype to physicalize that choice.
[Originally posted May 14, 2011]