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Hero’s Journey – Almost Famous

Almost Famous is a Hero’s Journey, but with more than one hero. William, the child prodigy is the main
hero of the entire movie, but other characters such as Penny and Russell have their own incomplete
journey. William gets out of the ordinary world when he gets an opportunity to go on the road with the
band Stillwater (call to adventure), although he had to persuade his mother to let him go (refusal of the
call). He meets Lester Bangs who becomes his mentor. He is given an assignment by the editor of the
Rolling Stone magazine (crossing the threshold). On his journey, he encounters allies and tests, the
strongest ally being Penny, who tries to get William an interview with Russell (approach). Realizing that
Penny was ‘sold’ to Humble Pie, and being chased away in New York, she tries to overdose on Quaaludes
in her hotel room. She survives as William is able to call for medical help on time (ordeal). Once she
recovers, she shares her real name with him and starts taking him seriously (reward). On the way back,
their plane encounters a static storm and everyone believes that will die, and this is when everyone
reveals their deep hidden secrets (the road back). The facts in William’s article about the band are later
denied by Russell, and this is when everything falls apart for William and he goes back home (resurrection).
Finally, Russell realizes his mistake and informs William that he has told Rolling Stone that whatever
William wrote was true (return with the elixir).
Ordinary World
Since the start of the movie, we are presented with a very ordinary setting-an ordinary family with
ordinary issues. The little deviances in the mother’s characters are important to the storyline, but they do
not overpower the general theme of ordinary lifestyle. His mother is a professor and tries to control her
children’s life. This causes her 18-year old sister to rebel and leave the house, leaving behind a stash of
rock music records, which develops his fascination with rock music.
Meeting the Mentor
William grows up listening to all the records his sister left him, who is the unofficial mentor for him in the
story since she tries to set him free. Her purpose in the story was definitely more than just introduce him
to rock music. He also starts writing letters to Lester Bangs, the editor of Crème Magazine, who realizes
that the kid has potential and offers him an assignment on Black Sabbath. As a mentor, he advises him
about the fake friends in the industry, and to be brutal and honest to build a name. He also tells William
that rock music industry is going down and bands will do anything to get him write something good about
them.
The Call to Adventure
For the assignment, William tries to get in backstage but without any success. It’s here in the that he
befriends Penny Lane who later turns out to be his strongest ally. His mother wants him to pursue studying
law, and believes this phase will pass over, but William loves what he is doing – rock journalism. In order
to get inside the building, he starts talking to Russell from Stillwater, who later takes him inside. The two
start to develop a friendship, and when Rolling Stone calls William and asks him to write on Stillwater, he
gets this opportunity to travel with the band. This is his chance to get away from the ordinary lifestyle into
the glamorous world of rock music.
Refusal of the Call
Though William is very excited, he is not very sure about it himself. But the initial denial comes from his
mother who is too paranoid avoid him taking drugs. But soon enough, his mother allows him on the
condition that he will give regular updates on his whereabouts to her and won’t miss a single test. There
are times later in the movie where he wonders if he fits into the new world, and what he means to
Stillwater and Penny.
Crossing the Threshold
William’s articles make their way to the editor of the Rolling Stone magazine, who offers him an
assignment on Stillwater. This is where he gets an opportunity to travel with the band and will stay in this
new world until he completes his article about the band. He calls up his mentor, Lester and asks him for
advice. Lester tells him about the sad nature of the path William has chosen tread – about how the big
companies will change his entire stories and bands will try to convince him to write in their favor. Writing
for the Rolling Stone is the biggest opportunity and he doesn’t want to miss on that, so he doesn’t pay
much attention to his mentor, and in the next scene, he is on the bus with Stillwater.
Test, Allies and Enemies
Penny Lane is William’s strongest ally in all the ordeals that he faces. She helps him to live the new life.
He even suggests that they change names to become totally different people. Soon enough, he develops
an infatuation towards her and is bothered by the romance between her and Russell. The band treats him
like a member and not as ‘The Enemy’ which they playfully call him. Very often, he gets venomous content
on the band, but he lets it go because of the trust the band shows in him. He only wants to share the story
which the band would willingly share with the world. His biggest challenge is to interview Russell before
his time with the Rolling Stone magazine runs out.
Approach
When Russell allows Stillwater to lose Penny in a poker game, William realizes how little relationships
made during the tour mean to Russell. He used to consider Russell as a friend and this sudden realization
puts the state of their friendship in a dilemma. William needs to get an interview with Russell before the
patience of the Rolling Stone wears out. His biggest problem is that no one is taking him seriously. The
band members treat him like a kid instead of the rock journalist that he is.
The Ordeal
William’s feelings for Penny have reached an all-time high. Consumed by guilt and torn apart by his
feelings, he confronts Penny about what she means for Russell and how he wants to be taken seriously. ‘I
am the enemy’, he tells her, referring to the name given to him by the band, but them never taking it
seriously. This leaves her broken, and when she is chased away from the party, she overdoses on
Quaaludes, but William finds her in time and gets her medical attention. She survives.
Reward
Post recovery, William and Penny are seen walking in the park where she shares her real name with him,
something she hasn’t even told Russell. This signifies the change in the way she sees William, not as a kid,
but someone equal. The airport scene at the airport represents the feelings in both their hearts, and
viewers can see the attraction in their eyes for each other.
The Road Back
On their way back, their plane encounters an electrical storm. The turbulence is too much for everyone
and they are convinced that they are going to die. ‘People often reveal themselvesin their final moments.’
Everyone in the plane starts to confess secrets they have been keeping from each other. William confesses
to his love for Penny and accuses Stillwater of using the ‘Band Aids’ despite pretending to love their fans.
Facing the near-death experience, after landing Russell tells William to publish anything that happened
during the tour.
The Resurrection
When he goes to the Rolling Stone’s San Francisco office, all he has are notes on small pieces of paper and
no article. He offers a watered-down article but they are not convinced. Not wanting to miss his big break,
William decides to share the stories from the tour. The editor loves the article, but fact-checks it. The new
manager of the band feels that the story will hurt the band’s image, so he asks Russell to deny all the facts.
William loses his big break and returns to his ordinary life. On his way, he meets his sister at the airport
and they make the final push together.
Return with the Elixir
Back to the ordinary world, his journey has left a deep impact on him. He has lost all his excitement for
being a journalist. But when Russell ends up at his house, things start getting right. Russell had realized
that he hasn’t been the greatest person recently, and had called up Rolling Stone to confirm all events in
William’s story. This is his way of redeeming himself. William takes out his recorder and finishes the long
pending interview with Russell, thereby giving the viewers much required closure.
The movie beautifully captures William’s journey, and gives hints about how everyone’s life is a hero’s
journey. The ordeals or the accomplishments don’t have to be big, or involve every step in the journey in
the precise order. Penny had her own journey, from a fan to a ‘band-aid’ to a lover to the final separation.
She went through her own set of challenges and ordeals, and so did Russell. ‘Everyone is just fighting their
own battles.’
References
1: Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm#Practical
2: Hero’s Journey Analysis by Tauseef Khan
https://medium.com/@Tauseefk/the-heros-journey-to-being-almost-famous-11c2a53ad050
3: Hero’s Journey by shmoop
https://www.shmoop.com/almost-famous/heros-journey.html
4: Almost famous – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almost_Famous

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