While best remembered for its dance sequences, music, and costumes, John Badham’s exploration of the late-1970s disco culture is far more than these easily (and frequently) parodied elements. As the director’s Cold War thriller WarGames
(1983) would do so effectively for the Reagan era, Saturday Night Fever
(1977) captured the zeitgeist of the post-Watergate malaise while examining the promise of individualism as an escape from social obscurity within American society. Not unlike the ring in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler
(2008), the dance floor becomes an alternate social reality in which the film’s young protagonist, Tony Manero (John Travolta), can transcend the encroaching fatalism of working-class, Italian-American life in Brooklyn, and achieve a level of celebrity that, in its transformative potential, resembles the promise of the American Dream.
And the film connects on a related, yet more personal, level as well, best articulated by Roger Ebert, who wrote: “We all have a powerful memory of the person we were at that moment when we formed a vision for our lives. Tony Manero stands poised precisely at that moment. He makes mistakes, he fumbles, he says the wrong things, but when he does what he loves, he feels a special grace.”