The Hero’s Journey, Via “Saturday Night Fever”

In 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero systematically loses faith in everything that gave his life structure and meaning:

1. Family: They fight and are petty to each other; Tony runs out of the house in disgust.

2. Friends: They’re racist macho jerks. Tony leaves them behind in their car and walks home alone.

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3. Personal integrity: Tony fails to be there for his troubled friend, who later commits de facto suicide by falling off a bridge in front of him.

4. Religion: Tony’s brother quits being a priest, and claims Jesus no longer has any meaning to him.

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5. “Manhood”: Macho posturing leads to Tony getting involved in a “revenge” fight against the wrong people & getting his ass kicked.

6. Traditional working life: Tony tries to be a good employee at paint store but his boss tells him basically that nice guys finish last; later his dad makes fun of him for not making enough money.

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7. Love: Tony finds out his sophisticated older girlfriend is sleeping with her boss in exchange for financial help, and that the “good girl” who had a crush on him had sex with the rest of his friends as “revenge.”

Through all these disillusionments, one thing keeps Tony going: his love of dancing. Regardless of everything else that happens during the course of the film, at least he has this one pure love.

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BUT

Once he finally wins the dancing contest, he’s still not happy. He gives the prize to the 2nd-place couple and storms out.

Tony and his girlfriend then make out in his car—but he tries to go too far & she smashes him in the nuts and tells him to go to hell.

Now he has nothing: no prize, no woman, no friends, no family, no faith in God, no faith in himself.

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He has no sense of personal identity. It’s gone. What does it mean to be a Man? The fuck he knows. What does it mean to be a dancer, a creative person? Is it the stuff in the club, for a cash prize? What does it mean to be a good person? He let his friend die.

So, bruised and despondent, Tony goes for a ride on the subway. And this scene is great, because it really gives you the sense that the subway = hell/limbo.

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And so Tony—who, at the start of the film was blissfully shoving two slices of pizza simultaneously down his throat, enjoying/never questioning his lifestyle—now has a tremendous existential dilemma. He has to change. There’s nothing left for him.

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He has to change!

And that’s…when things get a little weird:

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Not quite Joseph Campbell, but that’s all I got.