From suburbia to rock heaven and back again, Almost Famous is a story of an out of place boy sent into the unknown, to return with the truth.
Warning there be spoilers ahead! Read at your own peril!
The Heroes Journey of Almost Famous begins with our protagonist William, and his known world. William is a boy ahead of the curve, being significantly younger than his classroom peers.
Despite Williams gifts, he has his share of troubles due in part to two differences:
- Where are your pubes? – incident in Williams High School.
- Looking out of place when brushing his hair in the bathroom due to not having a beard
- His joy when others are corrected – incident with the ‘Xmas’ painter where William happily looks on
- An intense interest in his mother’s interests – whilst cooking soy cutlets
- Nobody includes him. They call him “The Narc” – this is indicative of Williams dislike of drugs, a quality presumably gained from his mother
Due in part to internalizing his mother’s choices at a young age, William is an abnormality in the ordinary world, and he is scorned by his peers for it. Williams mother, and their home is what he knows, and is thus symbolic of the known world. The known world is not without conflict though.
Troubles manifest themselves through William’s sister who rebels against against the known. During this time William is shown not only to have a limited awareness of his problem, but is unable to influence his world.
Watching helplessly Williams mother and sister fight infront of him. Ultimately Williams sister abandons the known for the unknown world, though not before aiding William. Williams sister increases his awareness of a need for change, through her music records.
The Call to Adventure
William is bestowed a cache of music records, their sound flow through him as he grows, fueling a desire to follow a call to adventure.
Flash forward and we see an older William. Sadly despite his growth he remains clearly apart from the ordinary world.
William Miller is too young to drive and fuck – Board at Williams High School
Meeting with the Mentor
Persevering William finally has an opportunity to meet Lester Bangs. Lester is a master of two worlds and source of supernatural aid. Lester tests William, and on passing, he becomes a clear mentor to William, frequently blessing him throughout the movie.
In addition to wisdom, Lester lends William his name as a tool, and gives William an opportunity to follow the call to adventure with an assignment to interview Black Sabbath.
Crossing the Threshold
Agreeing to the assignment William approaches the threshold. ‘Dropped’ by his mother, he goes into the unknown, shadowed briefly by the known world which causes him discomfort in the form of ‘Don’t take drugs!’.
Don’t take drugs! – Willams mother
At the backstage door we encounter the first of the threshold guardians who begins Williams trials.
Test, Allies & Enemies
William has three ‘trials’:
- William presents himself, the guardian refuses William entry. Nevertheless the world persists in pushing William into the unknown.
- The second threshold is Penny Lane, a figure we will find is key in Williams journey. Unfortunately for William he is again unable to get backstage with Penny.
- Finally the third threshold guardian appears in the form of the band Stillwater. This time William succeeds in his trial by convincing them he is a real fan.
William enters the Belly of the Whale, the unknown world, which begins to take the form of several primary elements:
- Penny – Whether Penny is an ally or enemy is unclear, though she is certainly is an object of desire for William. I believe that at least initially she behaves as a Temptress luring him into the unknown world with the promise of Morocco.
- Russell Hammond – At several times Russell shows interest in William, quietly offering him portions of an interview, he is at this point an ally.
- Jeff Bebe – Jeff is distrustful of William branding him the enemy. Jeff leans towards being an enemy.
The Reward & Road Back
Williams reward in the first arc is two fold:
- Knowledge – Whilst William is backstage he begins to learn about the unknown world and its rules. Watching interactions between beings who exists in that world such as when Russell talking to another band member when they walk in, and his interviews with members of Stillwater are insightful.
- A Second Call – After the concert William is presented with a second call to adventure by Russell. Russell asks William to come to the Riot house, mentioning to William that he should ask Penny to come as well.
On leaving the concert venue William acknowledges that despite living in the same city, his own world, differs from Pennys.
I live in a different world – Williams recognition of the unknown
As they part ways Penny presents to William a third call to adventure. Penny offers William a year together in Morocco, which he gladly wishes to pursue due to a desire for intimacy with Penny. This power of the third call to adventure partly drives William through his second arc.
The second arc of Williams story begins in his sister’s room, a friend of his sisters secretly enters whilst he works.
Call to Adventure
William answers Stillwaters call to The Riot House. WIlliam is committing to change enabled by Rolling Stone, and fueled by Pennys Morocco, which he believes has made him cooler. This is an an internal change in William, completing the first arc.
You seem cooler. Well I have been considering going to Morocco – William when in sisters room after concert.
Crossing The Threshold
William sets off for Stillwaters tour, leaving behind the known, his mother and home, as he once again crosses the threshold into the Belly of the Whale (Penny’s car). This time William travel with Penny and not his mother which is indicative of internal change within William.
Test, Allies & Enemies
Williams again faces trials in the unknown world he is not able to get an interview with Russell nor is he able to achieve intimacy with Penny. William is pulled from one location to another unable to return home. This takes its toll on William who at one point even breaks down crying after angrily saying he wants to go home.
In addition Williams allies and enemies continue to develop:
- Russell – Russell continues to confide in William because William is ‘real’, unfortunately though a divide begins to grow between Russell and William
- Jeff Bebe – Jeff continues to doubt William “I can’t say anymore with the writer here”
- Penny – Pennys and Williams relationship deepens further with events such when he is in the bathroom with Penny
As time goes on tensions within the band build up. The radio interview, the t-shirt incident both contribute. Meanwhile William faces his own troubles, refusing to return home despite his mothers ceaseless calls.
Things reach a boiling point when the new band manager is hired. Choosing an unknown plane over their known tour bus to travel in, they leave Penny behind, a symbolic shift away from the old.
Penny meets Stillwater in New York, but is sent away which leads to a climactic ordeal at a restaurant.
Hurt by rejection Penny leaves the restaurant. William and Russell wrestle with the choice to save her, William chooses to go, Russell remains. William made the right choice to follow Penny to her hotel.
On arriving at the hotel we see William exert mastery of this world as he is able to finally confess his love to Penny which he has been unable to achieve till now.
At the same time we see the graduation which he has missed, underscoring how William has chosen to remain in the unknown world. Williams rewards are gifts of the goddess for his choice.
This moment is particularly important as Penny transitions from temptress to goddess through the rewards she bestows on William. The ultimate boon comes in the form of finding out Pennys real name, and though William doesn’t know it yet, having Russell validate his story.
Leaving New York behind Stillwater and William take a flight, which is a symbolic rescue from without. The life threatening situation puts stress on everyone, and the truth comes out. William is able to complete his transformation by clearly telling expressing the truth.
The Road Back
After the flight William heads to Rolling Stones office, marking a transition from the unknown world and back to the known world with what he believe is his reward, the Stillwater story.
Return with the Elixir
After Rolling Stone drops Williams story, the world finally gives him an opportunity to mend his known world. Williams coincidentally meets his sister in the airport, who gives him the opportunity to go anywhere. William chooses to follow his desire to return home.
We then see Williams new found mastery of the two worlds, as he finally addresses the problem of his known world by mending the relationship between his mother and his sister (pushes his mother towards his sister). This sight starkly contrasts to the young William we first met.
William then receives the goddesses (Penny) second set of rewards. His desires to get an interview with Russell, and his story validated, which Russell did likely because of the guilt of Penny knowing what he did to William.
I mean everybody knows. Even Penny Lane – Said to Russell about what he did to William
Lastly Russel tells William to call Penny, that she cares about him, and that he doesn’t even know her real name which William does. This moment highlights the intimacy William has achieved with Penny that Russell has not.
The second arc finally concludes with a much greater change. William has mastered both worlds, and using his reward has changed his known and unknown worlds, successfully completing his hero’s journey.