An Analysis of Almost Famous from the Hero’s Journey Perspective

The movie Almost Famous is a story based on the director Cameron Crowe’s real-life coming-of-age experience. Although at first glance it is not an obvious Hero’s Journey, it still fits in the structure. And this is an analysis of the movie using the Hero’s Journey structure.

The Call to Adventure

At the beginning of the movie, the main character William Miller gets along well with his mother, Elaine. However, his sister, Anita, can not get along well with her Mother because she thinks her mother has too many requirements which result in the leaving of Anita. She decides to leave home to be a stewardess. And here comes the call to adventure. Before Anita leaves, she tells William, “One day, you will be cool.” She gives a lot of rock albums to William and asks him to listen to The Who's Tommy while holding a burning candle so that he can see his own future. This part is actually a call for adventure cause the words from Anita hints William that one day he can be cool which is the opposite of the situation. William skips two grades so that he seems to be kind of wired among his classmates.

Refusal of the Call

When Anita gives the call to William, he is just 11 which means it is impossible for him to answer the call to pursue the cool things. This works as a sense of inadequacy which is the reason for the refusal. So it is just natural that he refuses the call and goes on living with Elaine and studying toward the goal of being a lawyer in the future.

Supernatural Aid

Time passes and it’s in William’s high school time. He is 15 and starts to write for some underground newspapers and Creem magazine. The supernatural aid is the editor of Creem magazine, Lester Bangs. He talks with William and He gives William a task to interview a band Black Sabbath. Besides, he believes that William has the potential to become a great rock music journalist and gives him some tips. All of these can be seen as the supernatural aid and as we can see, this mentor, Lester, helps William all the way in his hero’s journey.

Crossing the First Threshold

At the show of Black Sabbath, William is stopped by the doorman. William meets some girls who call themselves Band-Aides and the leader, Penny Lane, tells William that she will try to get him in. And here comes the crossing of the first Threshold. While waiting, William meets the band Stillwater. By giving high evaluations of their music, Stillwater let William come into the backstage with them. Here William officially crosses the threshold and gets “into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are unknown”, which is the backstage of rock bands.

Belly of the Whale

William has a great time at the show and afterward the lead singer of Stillwater, Russell Hammond invites William to come to Los Angeles. William leaves his home town and goes to LA with Penny Lane. It is obvious now that William wants to become a great rock journalist. To achieve this goal, he will need to have some changes. As explained in the Hero’s Journey, “the belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero's known world and self.” William definitely shows willingness for the changes, which can be seen as “willingness to undergo a metamorphosis”. After getting the call from Rolling Stone Magazine, he gets the task to cover a story of still water. William soon joins the travel of the band on the bus and his journey formally begins.

The Road of Trials

From here on, William goes through several trials. And these trials intervene with other latter parts of the Hero’s Journey. Like the love of Penny Lane, the distrust of Russell Hammond, the flight in the thunderstorm and do on.

The Meeting with the Goddess

In my opinion, in Almost Famous there is a part related to “The Meeting with the Goddess”, which happens in New York. After William tells Penny Lane that she is traded for just 50 bucks and a case of beers, Penny also finds out that Russell has a girlfriend. She gets really upset and takes nearly a bottle of Quaaludes which has put her life in danger. In this kind of situation, William comes to “meet the goddess”. William kisses Penny, which he has been dreaming doing for a long time. Then he calls doctors and eventually saves Penny’s life. After Penny being safe, she and William have a walk during which she tells William her real name is Lady Goodman. No one has known her real name before. Although there is nothing happening real between Penny and William, the psychological distance between Penny and William is strictly shortened, which can be seen as the actual meeting of them.

Woman as Temptress

This is an interesting part correspond to the “Woman as Temptress” in the Hero’s Journey cause the temptress here is actually from women. When William needs to finish the story of Stillwater and give it to Rolling Stone, several girls from Band-Aides decide to deflower William. At first glance, William doesn’t resist the temptation since he chooses to sleep with the girls. However, in the next morning, William gets a phone call from Rolling Stone. He makes up something and decides to get back to his job, which can be seen that he anyway succeeds in resisting the temptation.

Atonement with the Father

When William goes to Rolling Stone’s headquarters, his notes on small pieces of papers get the fact-checker angry who thinks that they are too troublesome to deal with. So William asks to have another night to rewrite the story and he wonders what to write about Stillwater. He is hesitating whether to tell all the truth of the band cause he thinks that he is the friend of Russell. So William calls Lester Bangs to get some advice. And I personally think that this can be seen as the “Atonement with the Father”. Lester says the same thing as he has said before that he should be honest. The atonement here is that William kind of has the intention to lose his honesty cause that he doesn’t want to tell all the story because of the friendship.

Apotheosis

The apotheosis of William’s journey happens on the plane. Although before the flight, there have been several argues and fights among the band members. The situation has never been to a point where everyone knows all the secrets. The flight after Penny’s accident runs into a thunderstorm and everyone thinks that they will die. So all the band members start to confess the bad things they have done. And the further climax comes when William blames the band for how they treats Penny, who loves the lead singer Russell so much. Then William tells the band Penny’s accident and that he loves Penny. We all know that William loves Penny when they first meet. After such a long time in which so many things happen, he finally has the courage to tell everyone about his love. And since William has told other his biggest secret, he no longer has anything to worry about, which to some degree means that he can write his stories with no more worries. This can be seen as that “a great understanding is achieved” and William is ready for “the more difficult part of the adventure”.

The Ultimate Boon

The Ultimate Boon of the movie is that William completes the story about Stillwater. When William gets to Rolling Stone, all he has are pieces of small notes. He spends one more night to get a story. The is the purpose and result of all his journey with Stillwater. The journey with Stillwater is the quest and the story is the achievement of the quest.

The Magic Flight

The fact-checker of Rolling Stone tells William that Stillwater denies 90 percent of his story and William has to leave to go home. Here I believe that the Magic Flight is Rolling Stone’s rejection.

Rescue from Without

When at the airport waiting for departure, William meets his sister Anita, who accompanies William going home. Since the mood of William at this moment is pretty low, Anita here acts exactly as the guide in the Hero’s Journey. She is a stewardess and she has the ability to take William anywhere. This precisely corresponds to the description that “often he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience.”

The Crossing of the Return Threshold

After getting home, William is still so upset cause Stillwater has rejected most of his story. And this threshold is crossed with the help of Russell. Russell calls Penny that he wants to talk with her face to face and Penny gives him an address. However, the address later turns to be William’s address and Russell sincerely apologize to William telling him that he has called Rolling Stone to tell them that all of the stories is true. This helps William to get back to life.

 

Other than William’s own journey, there are also other people’s journeys in the movie which make the movie more three dimensional. Penny finally goes to Morocco, Russell finally gets changed and Anita finally gets along well with her mother. As said before, although at first glance the movie is not an obvious hero’s journey, it is actually a typical one.