Study Guide

Requiem for a Dream Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

Sara Goldfarb's journey most closely mimics the twelve stages. Her ordinary world is one where she hides in the closet while her son steals her television. Okay, a real hero would thwart the theft and kick him out on his butt. So it's obvious from the beginning that this isn't going to be your typical adventure.

Call to Adventure

Sara's call is a literal one over the telephone, a landline at that. She is told that she is going to be on television. What could be more adventurous than going on a game show? Plinko > the Quest for the Holy Grail.

Refusal of the Call

Sara initially believes that the call is a scam. But that denial lasts only a second or two before she wholeheartedly embraces the fantasy of being on TV. Her fate is confirmed when she receives the application in the mail, fills it out, and drops it in the mailbox.

Meeting the Mentor

Some people look up to Joy Mangano. Some to Anthony Sullivan. And a bunch of weirdos totally idolize the ShamWow! Dude.

Sara looks up to Tappy Tibbons, the only person in this paragraph who doesn't offer consumers a way to wipe up spilled liquid. Instead, Tappy inspires Sara to clean up her life with his three-step program.

Crossing the Threshold

After trying the grapefruit-and-egg diet, Sara needs something more to slim herself down for the red dress. When she overhears one of the other raisins in the sun—those sunbathing old ladies never heard about SPF—mention diet pills her daughter used, Sara decides to get herself some of those. She gets a prescription from the doctor and her three meals a day are now in pill form.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

As the diet pills lose effectiveness, Sara takes more. The pills that she thought were helping her are hurting her without her realizing it. None of her friends step in to intervene, either, even though Sara's teeth grinding can be heard from over two blocks away.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

When Sara gets a visit from her son, Harry, she is happy to see him. He tells her to stop taking the pills, but she won't listen. She confesses that the only thing motivating her is being on TV. She's old, lonely, and has nothing to live for. Dang, that's sad.


Sara starts taking an entire day's worth of pills in one dose. Sure, she's losing weight, but she's also losing her mind. Her hallucinations get worse. She feels like she's moving in slow motion while everything else around her is in double time. The doctor ignores her, and she continues taking dangerous medications. On top of all this, she thinks the fridge is out to get her.

Reward (Seizing the Sword)

Although Sara's able to zip the red dress, it comes at the price of her sanity. She sees herself looking totally gorgeous on TV, but then she sees herself crawl out of the TV, as if she's the creepy girl from The Ring. Glamorous TV Sara does a conga line around the living room with Sara's favorite TV host, Tappy Tibbons. This is not what Sara thought being on TV was like.

The Road Back

Sara wanders the streets of New York City until she gets to the talent agency that allegedly recruited her for TV. They call the police, who, seeing a crazy old woman in a dirty housedress, take her to the hospital.


Just as Frankenstein's monster was reanimated with a jolt of electricity, FrankenSara's given electroshock therapy in an attempt to restore her sanity. It appears to restore peace to the frazzled woman. Plus, cutting off all the old dyed-red hair restores order to her frazzled hairstyle.

Return with the Elixir

We last see Sara in a hospital bed. She imagines herself on TV with her loving son at her side. He's successful and has a nice girl, which is all Sara ever wanted for him. She's on TV after all…but only in her head.

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