The Hero’s Journey is one of the essential literary forms of movies and stories. When we think about it, we think of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or any other great story! The Hero’s Journey has 12 steps, and was brilliantly laid out by Joseph Campbell. But instead of looking at a likely one, let’s look at a movie about an unlikely one.
The movie Happy Gilmore, starring and cowritten by Adam Sandler, doesn’t come immediately to mind when we think about the Hero’s Journey. But it absolutely is one! Let’s lay out the exact steps of the Hero’s Journey, and where they can be found in the movie.
STEP 1 – The Ordinary World is the place the Hero exists in before beginning his journey. It’s his comfort zone. This is the introduction to our Hero where we learn about him, and identify him as an “average Joe.” This allows us to connect with him as a normal person, thrown into an un-normal situation later on.
In Happy Gilmore, Happy is a diehard hockey fan, aspiring to be successful in the sport he’s been a fan of his entire life. We find out that Happy is passionate, an average guy, and has a temper. He subsidizes his dream working ordinary, working-class jobs.
STEP 2 – His/her journey begins after a call to adventure. This call to action may be a threat to his safety, a danger to his family and friends, or simply to his way of life. This call to adventure is an interruption to his ordinary way of life!
Happy’s grandmother is in danger of losing her home after the IRS repossess her house. This prompts Happy to find money fast, or else his grandmother will lose everything she holds dear!
Meanwhile, Happy finds out he’s a pretty good shot with a golf club! He sees an idea to make some money.
STEP 3 – The Hero will often first refuse to undertake the journey. This refusal of the call occurs because the Hero, although eager, has fears, second thoughts or extreme doubts in himself. This rejection of the journey may result in suffering.
Happy shows off his skills at the driving range. But after someone suggests signing up for a tournament, the Waterbury Open, he gives them a raspberry.
STEP 4 – The Hero needs help! The Hero ends up meeting the Mentor to help him on his quest. The mentor gives the Hero what he/she needs to begin the journey. There could be an object of great importance, insight or wise advice that the Mentor provides. There may be a supernatural aid provided as well. This helps the Hero to dispel any fears that he/she has.
Happy meets Chubbs! He’s a former pro who lost his arm to an alligator. Chubbs convinces Happy to sign up for the tournament in the hopes of “trying to make the big bucks!”
STEP 5 – The Hero crosses the threshold into his journey after he has gained some confidence in beginning. The Hero is ready to receive his call to adventure! He does something that he’s been afraid to do otherwise.
Happy signs up for the Waterbury Open, wins, and gets on the pro tour under the advice of Chubbs!
STEP 6 – Next, the Hero faces test, and meets allies and enemies. Thrown out of his comfort zone, the Hero is confronted with many challenges. The Hero has to find out who can be trusted and who can’t in order to prepare him for his Ordeal. His skills are tested and we get a deeper understanding of the Hero.
Happy joins the pro tour and faces many challenges. He meets his new caddy, a homeless man named Otto, PR director Virginia Venit (who’s poised to help him), and his enemy Shooter McGavin.
STEP 7 – The approach to the inmost cave is the preparation before the Ordeal. It may be a real location or not. But the inmost cave has a terrible danger. The preparation beforehand builds anticipation!
Happy becomes a TV sensation and attracts a new, youthful crowd to the game of golf! This makes him very popular, angering Shooter McGavin.
STEP 8 – The Ordeal is a dangerous physical test or inner crisis that requires the Hero to survive and help his world survive. The Hero faces an enemy or one of his personal fears. The Hero faces some form of “death” so that he can be reborn. The things he loves are put on the line.
During the Ordeal of this movie, Shooter hires a heckler to shake the confidence of Happy. This prompts Happy and his celebrity partner at a tournament, Bob Barker, to get in a fight. Happy is suspended!
STEP 9 – Next, our Hero seizes the sword. He survives death and a great challenge. He’s transformed. He receives a reward, which may or may not be an actual tangible object. He still has one great trial ahead of him.
Happy is suspended, but with help from Virginia Venit, he gets a paid sponsorship from Subway! Happy now has the money to save his grandmother’s house!
STEP 10 – On the road back, the Hero will return to the Ordinary World, but his journey is not yet complete. This stage will provide a form of vindication. The Hero faces a choice between a personal object and a Higher Cause.
Happy loses the house in an auction to none other than… Shooter McGavin! Happy challenges Shooter to a final tournament in order to win the house back. Happy then returns to Chubbs, who helps him to hone his skills and discover his “happy place.” He also gives Happy a modified putter. Unfortunately, Chubbs dies immediately after.
STEP 11 – The climax of the Hero’s Journey is the resurrection. The Hero faces a final challenge, his most dangerous yet. The final battle challenges his own right to exist. If he fails, others will suffer. The Hero succeeds and is reborn.
Happy faces Shooter in a final tournament. This tournament means Happy could lose everything: his grandmother’s house, his life and happiness as a golfer, and Chubbs’ legacy. Fortunately, Happy beats Shooter!
STEP 12 – At the end of his journey, the Hero returns with The Elixir. He has returned to the world a changed person. He brings a direct solution to the problems of his world. The final reward is a literal one or idealist.
In the finale of Happy Gilmore, Happy returns to his grandmother’s house with his golden jacket from the championship. Life is good again, and he has gained a new identity and livelihood as a golfer!