Right before Act III, the hero’s life completely falls apart. That’s usually the point where the hero is isolated and alone while the villain is on the verge of victory. This rock bottom moment for the hero typically occurs because the hero has been hiding something and it’s finally revealed, causing chaos in the hero’s life. Sometimes the hero admits this deception but other times someone uncovers the hero’s deception.
In “Die Hard,” the hero has been hiding the fact that he’s barefoot. When the villain finds out, he’s able to cripple the hero by shooting out the glass to force the hero to get hurt by stepping on broken glass.
In “La La Land,” the hero (an actress) plans to give up her dream of breaking into show business and admits to her friend that she’s tired of embarrassing herself in front of others. That’s when she reaches her lowest point by moving back home.
In “School of Rock,” the hero is a failed musician, pretending to be a music teacher just for the money. Not only do others discover his deception, but he finally admits to himself that he’s a failure as a musician.
Up until the end of Act IIb, the hero has been hiding information from himself and from others. In “Die Hard,” the hero has been hiding from the villain that he’s barefoot. Later when the hero is pulling glass shards out of his feet, he also admits that he’s the real reason his wife separated from him because he was a jerk.
The rock bottom moment for the hero needs two elements to occur:
- The hero’s deception must be uncovered, which leads to…
- …the hero admitting a flaw in him or herself
By admitting a flaw, the hero finally faces reality and can change emotionally. This moment of emotional change is key to making a movie memorable. In “Titanic,” the hero (Rose) is safely on a lifeboat being lowered from the Titanic. At this point, her deception hasn’t been revealed, which is that she’s in love with another man. That’s when she jumps off the lifeboat and goes to rescue the man she truly loves.
This decision ultimately leads the hero to floating on a raft that’s only big enough for one person. While she survives, the man she loves dies from the cold water, but at that moment the hero realizes that she needs to embrace her lover’s philosophy about life and live life on her own terms.
A similar pattern occurs in “Harold and Maude.” The hero (Harold) has been secretly in love with Maude and finally reveals to his mother that his relationship with Maude. This deception ultimately leads to the hero having to face life alone when Maude commits suicide. Now the question is now that the hero has hit rock bottom and been forced to admit a flaw in him or herself, how will the hero resolve this problem?
It’s this question that creates the key emotional ending of any story. We don’t necessarily care about the physical action so much as we care about the emotional decision the hero must make in changing into a better person. Ultimately, the question is whether the hero will go back to his or her old way of life or change and become a better person?
In “Tootsie,” the hero reveals his deception that he’s actually a man pretending to be a woman. This leads to the hero admitting to the woman he loves that he was a better man when he was dressed up as a woman.
To get to this ultimate emotional question, the hero must first go through a rock bottom moment where his or her deception is revealed and then the hero must deal with the consequences of having this deception revealed. This rock bottom moment is important because without the hero experiences an emotional dilemma, the ending will lack a satisfying emotional conclusion.