Monday, 12 May 2014

Review: Ghost World
From Wikimedia
Ghost World
2001, Dir. Terry Zwigoff, Written by Daniel Clowes. Written 25/4/14.

Teenage cynicism. It's not surprising that we all face a part of our lives in which we question the world around us to the extent that we doubt that anything good will come of our endeavours. Much like it's 90's colleague Daria over on MTV, Ghost World, adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by Daniel Clowes, follows two teenage girl who embody the deadpan cynicism often associated with the teen demographic - taking the time to, of course, deconstruct those associations and examine them for all of theirt worth. At it's heart it's a film about loneliness and disconnect from society, but it's also a fantastic look at all sides of teenage mindsets without doing much stereotyping.
     Having just graduated from high-school, eternally-deadpan friends Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are planning to get a house together, having chosen not to go to college. While Rebecca is work conscious and has a workable if not that promising idea of her future, Enid is a dreamer whose abrasive personality disconnects her from almost everyone around her - everyone, that is, except Rebecca and Seymour (Steve Buschemi), a lonely jazz-fan who the two meet when Enid decides to prank him by answering his desperate lonely hearts ad and then standing him up. Enid begins to obsess over Seymour, to the point that she and Rebecca's friendship slowly disintegrates - meanwhile, Seymour gets into a relationship and she can't seem to cope. After a misguided one-night-stand with Seymour, Enid makes the choice to run away for good, with her fate left up to the viewer.
     The film uses Enid and Rebecca to contrast stages of maturity and development. The start of the film sees Rebecca as more dismissive and irreverant than Enid, but as the film develops she is the one who develops. Enid stagnates; she never tries to connect with the people around her, instead dismissing the entire human race as beyond her ken and blaming them for her isolation. This is also seen in her remedial art class, where the teacher is a comical figure who is more obsessed with deep, abstract art rather than other, less pretentious forms of expression, culminating in her borrowing a racist caricature as a "statement" on racism which leads to any small hope of a career being removed along with it. It's quite interesting to look at the reactions to this film; a lot of the audience left the film not just invested in Enid's story, but deeply in tune with her views of the world. (Hint: you're not supposed to share Enid's views about the human race.)
Enid and Seymour are bonded by obsession.
From videovortex
     Part of the film's key statement is to take this deadpan attitude and show how it is fundamentally a great exaggeration, to the extent that Enid cannot really operate. She believes that the adults around her are useless, that society can only bring her sadness; yet society keeps trying to help her. She's on the scholarship but she fucks it up by being ridiculously insensitive, she rejects a pretty decent job offer from her step mother, and she completely fucks up her friendship with Rebecca due to her obsession with Seymour. (There are also some minor characters that steal the show a scene at a time, but they're more for window-dressing.)
     Ghost World is an assault on its premise - and one that's done in a thoroughly world-shattering way. Enid and Rebecca are both parodies and accurate representations of the attitudes they embody - such paradox is usual when it comes to matter of the teenage persona. At the same time, we're forced to examine what society does to people - both in the expectations that are put on Enid and Rebecca in their slow road to adulthood, and in the loneliness which Seymour feels due to his obsession and anger. It's quite telling that just as Seymour explains this to Enid, she can't see those same properties in herself and her obsession with him. The fact that we can is the reason for this film's tremendous success, even if it makes you examine a few uncomfortable home truths.


NEXT WEEK:We learn about the fabled Leopard Shark in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou.

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