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.)
At the beginning of the movie, Harry and Sally are both embarking on the ordinary adventure of life in the big city as they begin a road trip to the Big Apple after college. She wants to become a journalist; he wants to talk about death. In any case, what's ordinary for these two is bickering. Spoiler alert: that doesn't change much.
Call to Adventure
Harry sounds the call to adventure for both these two when he throws down the ultimate gauntlet: men and women can't be friends because sex will always get in the way. Challenge accepted, say Harry and Sally. We know that, no matter how much they bicker, these two will become friends at some point. It's just a matter of time.
Refusal of the Call
Harry and Sally both refuse the call of friendship—at first. When they part ways upon arriving in New York City, they really do part ways. No exchange of phone numbers, no plans to meet for coffee. It takes a few more chance meetings, and a few failed relationships in between to get these two to a place where they're mature enough to actually appreciate each other's personalities.
Meeting the Mentor
Harry and Sally aren't exactly the types to be mentored, but we'd argue that Helen and Joe—their exes—serve this role. How's that? Well, both Helen and Joe showed Harry and Sally what they truly wanted out of a romantic relationship while also showing them what it's like to lose in love. Their respective relationships with their exes, while barely taking up any screen time, totally inform Harry's and Sally's choices throughout the rest of the movie.
Crossing the Threshold
Welcome to the wonderful world of friendship. After two failed relationships and ten years apart, Harry and Sally reunite and become BFFs. This is the ultimate threshold for these two, especially when you consider Harry's fairly convincing argument at the beginning of the movie that they could never really be friends. As they become best buds, Harry and Sally grow closer than ever, sharing a bond based on banter and a healthy respect for each other's quirks.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
We know we're watching a romantic comedy, so a test comes in the form of any obstacle that gets in the way of our OTP. In the case of Harry and Sally, we'll point to their many awkward and unsuccessful dates. You know that saying about kissing a lot of frogs before finding your prince? #truth
Approach to the Inmost Cave
Closer than ever, Harry and Sally turn to each other in particular moments of vulnerability. When Harry runs into Helen, he takes his anger out on Sally, probably because she's the person he trusts most. And when Sally learns that Joe is getting married, she turns to Harry for comfort…
… A bit too much comfort, as it turns out. The Big Ordeal for these two is a little thing called S-E-X. It's the ultimate point of no return in their relationship. Once they've slept together, there's no un-sleeping together, if you catch our drift. People often say that sex changes everything. And in this case, those people are right.
Reward (Seizing the Sword)
In the moments after they do the deed, Sally seems nothing but happy. Could it be possible? Did she just achieve her happily ever after by falling in love with her best friend?
Um, not so much. Harry, having a wee bit of trouble with his hero's journey, totally chickens out. Maybe he's afraid of his feelings, maybe he's afraid he'll lose his friendship with Sally. Whatever the case, he botches the morning after, and he and Sally part ways as friends.
The Road Back
Harry may be a little late to the party, but he gets the memo eventually: he and Sally are MFEO.
There's just one problem: Sally won't talk to him. She needs to be convinced she's not his consolation prize, so that's exactly what Harry sets out to do in the most romantic way possible. He sprints through the New York City streets on New Year's Eve, thus achieving ultimate Rom Com Hero status.
The kiss that Harry and Sally share during the movie's climax is both the resurrection of their friendship and the start of something new: a romantic relationship.
Harry has managed to prove to Sally that he loves her for her, not because he's lonely. And Sally has managed to forgive Harry for his less-than-graceful exit from her bed. Now these two have achieved the ultimate intimacy: they're lovers and friends. Boom.
Return With the Elixir
The elixir, in this case, is clearly the "very rich chocolate sauce" that was served (on the side) with the coconut cake at their wedding.
Yeah, you read that right: their wedding. Talk about a happy ending.