THE SUPREME ORDEAL: FATHER ATONEMENT
(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 FATHER ATONEMENT in brief below.
"Luke, I am your father."
- Darth Vader "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back"
Joseph Campbell likes to emphasize the spelling of this phase, in his words, it is not simply atonement but AT-ONE-MENT, with the father or father figure. The father in Freudian terms can represent an Ogre figure. A competitive and authoritative force that wants to keep the individual from suceeding. It begins in the nursery with the father competing with the child for the mother's attention. It is why one of the most important events in an adolescent male's life is the first time he honestly is victorious over his father at something, anything, even something as trivial as a game. The ogre aspect of the father is a mirror image and reflex of one's own ego. Therefore in the ATONEMENT with the father, one must first slay the ogre of their own superego and id. So that what is left is the ego, which must in turn also be defeated, which is difficult because it requires submission and the abandonment of one's own ego to the trust of the father. It is why, most of the time, teenage sons rebel against their fathers, only to discover when they get older that their fathers only wanted the best for them to begin with. As a classic example I submit the Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader dynamic in "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" and "Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi". When Luke first discovers that Darth Vader is his father, his immediate reaction is one of rebellion, ("No, I'll never join you!" paraphrased). But in ROTJ, he actually surrenders to his father, counting on his father's mercy in order not only to bring his father's character back from the Dark Side, but also in order to complete his own Hero's Journey and save the galaxy.