THE SUPREME ORDEAL: SACRED MARRIAGE
(NOTE: The top section of the SUPREME ORDEAL repeats itself, scroll down for new info.)
"You cannot pass. I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor...the dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun!"
- Gandalf the Grey, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
"Only after disaster can you be resurrected. It is only after you've lost everything that you're free to do anything."
- Tyler Durden, "Fight Club"
The SUPREME ORDEAL is usually the central crisis in the story. (Not the climax...that comes later in Act III). In an action movie, it will be the big action set piece of the movie. The key is that there is a central theme of death and change. The hero will be submitted to death in some way or form. It could be the failure of their mission, the end of a relationship, the loss of their mentor, or facing their greatest fears. This is usually where the hero will face the Enemy for the first time in full form. Prior this stage the hero has been battling cronies and THRESHOLD GUARDIANS, the Enemy was not truly out to stop the hero. But now the worst the Enemy has will be thrown the hero's way. Whatever the outcome, the hero will emerge changed. Joseph Campbell breaks the SUPREME ORDEAL into four different categories (SACRED MARRIAGE, FATHER ATONEMENT, APOTHEOSIS, and ELIXIR THEFT). All of them may take on a physical nature and yet they are all deeply psychological, so to understand these fully you may need to brush up on your Freud and Jung. Not all of them take place in every SUPREME ORDEAL and sometimes more than one takes place, and they can be mixed and matched. I will cover SACRED MARRIAGE in brief below.
"I know what I must do, but I do not think I can do it alone."
"You are a Ring-Bearer Frodo, and to bear a Ring of Power, is to be alone."
- Frodo and Galadriel, film adaptation "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"
This stage is also sometimes referred to "Meeting with the Goddess" or "Woman as the Temptress", these titles can sometimes be misleading since it implies the presence and participation of a female or feminine force. If the hero is a female the SACRED MARRIAGE would be with a male or masculine force. In this stage there may be an actual meeting with the a goddess (Frodo meeting Galadriel, Luke meeting Leia). Or the marriage may be between the two halves of the hero in order to make him or her whole. For instance, the male hero is seeking out the anima, their inner feminine qualities, like intuition, which may have previously remained unrecognized. The female hero will be seeking the animus, the male qualities of reason and authority which she has had to suppress due to society. In either case, the hero will come out of the ordeal whole and complete for the first time in the adventure and it is in this stage that the hero will come to recognize inevitable truths regarding his situation within the scheme of things. It is also at this stage that the "goddess" will grant the hero another boon, that which Nietzsche called amor fati, the love of your fate. This is not fatalism, this is more like taking what is given to you and making the best of it. One of the best ways I've heard it put is in the film adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" when Gandalf tells Frodo, "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
In addition it is a mistake to think that a hero does not need the Goddess. Man is but a half-finished creature. That's why marriage exists. The human animal instinctively seeks out the pair bond because on a subconscious level we know we are flawed half-creatures at best. There is a biological need for the pair-bond when regarding sexual relations, but that is not SACRED MARRIAGE. SACRED MARRIAGE is bringing the two halves together, it is the recreation of the Androgyn. SACRED MARRIAGE is a meeting of souls and not bodies. It is what Yoda is alluding too when he tells Luke, "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter." It is what people talk about when they claim to have found their soul mate. Myth is the unconscious way of discovering the truth.
Even the stoutest male hero needs the goddess. In "Star Wars: A New Hope", Luke is rash and cocky (ie. "You bet I could, I'm not such a bad pilot myself."). He actually thinks that he can succeed at anything he does without calculating the actual risk that goes into the endeavor. It is only after he meets Princess Leia that she adds reason and logic to the adventure. Thus keeping Luke and Han from being completely suicidal. Note that it is Leia that shoots out the wall and leads the escape from the certain death of the detention block hallway. Even though Neo is capable of almost magical feats, when he first battles an Agent, he calls to Trinity for help. It is she who defeats the Agent and strikes him when he is incapable of dodging. The most macho masculine hero I can think of, Conan the Barbarian, needs Valaria to convince the wizard to resurrect him. It is she that pays the Gods, not Subotai. But it works in reverse too. Ripley needs Hicks to remove the Facehugger that is trying to kill her in "Aliens". Although Ripley is a very capable and formidable woman, she and Newt are powerless until Hicks comes to help them.