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Catch #22: Why the Dark Night of the Soul is the Caregiver Archetype on the Wheel

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

The power of the womb

that gave birth to you

knows your darkest secrets

and open wounds

to hide inside

or breathe outside

which one is the safe side?

Rovinj, Croatia

Here we are, at the Caregiver--> Lover stage, that marks the lowest point of the story, where the hero is emotionally broken, left alone and his soul is crying for help from above. In the three-act structure, this point is usually known as the second part of ‘the Second Act Turning Point.’ Screenwriters also refer to it as ‘the Dark Night of the Soul.’

Since the Caregiver is the ruler of parenthood, it is suggested that in this stage the hero is helpless like a child, but has to show love and mercy to survive: in this crucial moment, he has to become his own parent. It is the ultimate rite of passage, the growing up and entering adulthood part of the story –no matter what your story is about. Before we explain the archetypal meanings of the stage more in-depth, let’s take one step back to the structure (the wheel).

Structure = two storylines


in conflict

To take full advantage of the Intuitive Screenwriting Wheel, we should not forget that in the structure, or step outline, we are actually dealing with storylines in conflict with one another: every stage is ruling or exploring either a ‘wish’ or the ‘A storyline’ of the film, or a ‘need’ or the ‘B storyline’ of the film. In the first half of the film, we are dealing more with the wish storyline, since this is something that the hero is conscious of, while in the second half of the film, we are dealing more with the need storyline, since the hero is slowly becoming more and more aware of his subconscious needs.

The film structure is basically about these two storylines fighting for priority in the hero's heart.

To draw any structural conclusions from this, it is also good to remember that each act is a closed system.

For example, act one and two start with a wish, then a need follows, and they end with a wish. But act three and four start with a need, the wish follows, and they end with a need.

To understand how this works better, here is a list of all the archetypes and storylines they rule. To prove this, I am going to provide some movie examples in the next few posts, but you can certainly go and check this for yourself.

Warrior- Fool: Wish Storyline

Creator- Orphan: Need Storyline

Explorer-Magician: Wish Storyline

Lover- Caregiver: Wish Storyline

Sage-Destroyer: Need Storyline

Ruler-Innocent: Wish Storyline

Fool-Warrior: Need Storyline

Orphan-Creator: Wish Storyline

Magician-Explorer: Need Storyline

Caregiver-Lover: Need Storyline

Destroyer-Sage: Wish Storyline

Innocent-Ruler: Need Storyline

You may notice that we approach every archetype from both storyline perspectives.

You may also notice that the storylines alternate, except in transition from act one into two and from act three into four.

This shows us that there is always a link between the end of act one and the beginning of act two, as well as at the end of act three and the beginning of act four. Stages at those particular positions, Explorer and Lover, and Magician and Caregiver are closely linked and energetically connected.

So, the two most important things to take away from these archetypal insights are:

The pair Magician/Caregiver is at the heart of the ‘I NEED’ line of the film.
The pair Explorer/Lover is at the heart of the ‘I WISH’ line of the film.


Also, the Magician/Caregiver is the most important pair of archetypes, since both lead directly to the end of the film, as every film ends with the ‘need’ storyline.

In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder refers to those two points as:

‘All is lost’ (75) – here this is Magician-Explorer

‘The dark night of the soul’ (75-85) – here this is Caregiver- Lover

While ‘The break into forth’ is Caregiver.

Click here to read the full post that I wrote earlier about the Magician stage:

In the Magician stage, the hero is hit by an insight, a revelation – he or she suddenly sees where he/she does or does not belong.

In Fish Tank, in the Magician stage, Mia can’t hide from the truth anymore – she realizes that she can’t be in love with someone who is the father of a family.

In the Magician stage of Sunset Boulevard, Joe knows that he belongs with Betty, she seems like a fresh new beginning, she is the incarnation of what he needs in his life to feel whole, to be an artist, a true writer… to feel good about himself.

The Caregiver stage in Fish Tank is Mia’s revenge: she acts like an immature false caregiver – she takes Connor’s daughter and projects her rage onto her. She puts her in danger and ‘wakes up’ before it’s too late (a kid falls into a cold river and Mia pulls her out and rescues). Connor tracks Mia down after and slaps her – THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT SHE NEEDED THE MOST, this is the triumph of the ‘need’ line of the story. She never really needed a lover, but rather a father to teach her boundaries, and boundaries are usually a manifestation of love, that she never experienced because she never had a father. YOU WON’T FIND BETTER EXAMPLE OF THE CAREGIVER.


In Sunset Boulevard, Joe decides to figure out who he is, and therefore he becomes open and vulnerable. He wants to show Betty where he lives and decides to reject the false caregiver Norma. So he returns everything that she gave him during their relationship because he realizes he can do without her.


In Cache, after Majid commits suicide in front of Georges, Georges goes home, directly to his bedroom and shuts the curtains, as if ‘reentering the womb.’ When his wife enters and switches on the light so she can speak with him, he says, “not the light!” The secret is rooted deep down and can only be seen in the dark. Notice how meticulously this is directed.

In this darkness, Georges reveals the meaning of the dream scene from the childhood to his wife: he is to blame, not Majid; he never wanted him as an adopted bother, he lied that he was ill, so that Majid would get transferred and that ultimately ruined Majid’s life. The guilt is buried or hidden (cache) in the Georges’ subconscious in the form of the bleeding rooster. The rooster represents the wound and at the same time, it is an open door, a voice that is the invitation for healing. The poison is always also a medicine.


In The Birds, Mitch’s mother loses her temper, hits Mitch and tells him that he is never going to be like his father; in other words, he is never going to be the caregiver, himself. Melanie can now step up, but the situation is the worst imaginable. They are inside the house, surrounded by birds, pushed into a corner, desperate, frightened for their lives.

Tip 4. IF A MOTHER or other important parent or someone that represents this role NEEDS TO STEP DOWN, THIS IS THE TIME TO KICK HER OFF THE THRONE.

After the Magician stage, the Caregiver always follows as a reaction to that shocking and sudden yet most revealing truth in the story. The Caregiver is the aftermath of what happened in the Magician stage. The Magician is the key to the subconsciousness, the Caregiver is the open door, a portal.

Like in Cache, a slightly open door to our childhood.

This is crucial to understand why structural gurus always say that the Second Act Turning Point (in the classic three-act structure) always happens in two strokes. These strokes are Magician and Caregiver.

Intuitive Screenwriting Wheel © Ana Lasic

Let’s now take a look at what else we can bring to the screenwriter’s table about the Caregiver stage from this archetypal perspective.

The Caregiver rules security, the home, nourishment, the homeland. It represents a mother, it gives us this soft, cozy, warm feeling of being protected but its shadow sides are overprotectiveness, neediness, and vulnerability. It is represented by the security of the womb as well as it’s darkness and possessiveness. No one can live without a mother’s love, but no one can live if a mother is not willing to let go of her child, either, or if a child is not willing to leave.

Usually, this plays out psychologically in other personal relationships or generally in our relationship with the world around us, because psychology is something we inherit.

There is a secret psychological DNA written all over the Caregiver’s “door”, and all of the information about our psychological strengths and weaknesses are there. The whole list that our parents passed on to us.

That’s why the Caregiver --> Lover stage represents the lowest and most desperate point of the hero’s journey: the level of vulnerability here is unbearable. Usually, regression takes over, and we might go back to the darkness of the womb that once gave us life. In this moment of despair, the strength to overcome the most hidden wound can be found. The ultimate goal is the final separation from the caregiver (figure, wounds or resentment).

Because of that, in this stage, storytelling can use the literal death of a parent or the metaphorical death of a mother/child co-dependency. Once the hero kills the false image of his mother or separate from the pathological dependency, he is able to accept and embrace the needy child inside, he is finally ready for grown-up love.

Forgiveness, whoever is to blame for the wounds, is now possible.

The formula of the Caregiver -->Lover is:

The Hero has an emotional breakdown and ends up alone. The hero has to show love and mercy for himself and has to become his own parent.

But it can also go like this:

The ultimate separation from childhood. Rejecting the false Caregiver/facing your wounded inner child - this exactly is ‘the Dark Night of the Soul,’ and choosing grown-up love instead.

Or simply:

Vulnerability is the path to love.

*Just have in mind that the lowest point can play out in different ways: in films where the hero is losing at the end, the Caregiver stage can bring hero together with someone and in films where the hero is winning, the Caregiver can play out as the ultimate illusion of separation.

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the Caregiver is the most important stage in the whole story. This is the very reason you are writing the story, it represents the womb where everything started.

Master your Caregiver stage and archetype, know your hero’s childhood wound – and you’ll find the very medicine for your hero: The Lover (from the need spectrum of the story).

If at this lowest point, the hero asks you what to do in order to survive, you tell him: You nurture your needy inner child and you’ll realize the love you deserve.

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