Ghost World: Drifting Through A Post-Graduate Existence
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Director: Terry Zwigoff
Writers: Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff
Actors: Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, and Scarlett Johansson
Length: 1 Hour, 51 Minutes
Rating: 4/4 Stars
If life were perfectly structured around a certain ideal, every person would go to college, get married, have 2.4 children, and die happily somewhere along the line. Obviously and thankfully, such a life is only common and not a forgone conclusion for all. Some, though, are both encouraged and compelled to fulfil that ideal; this is not wrong if it is out of a pure desire to live that way, but if this compulsion comes out of a need to follow tradition, then the life of that person simply seems wasted. If that model, in which you leave high school for another school where it is your privilege to pay, does not fit a person’s desires, then a more tailor-made life should be lived; just as long as that individual applies themselves. If not, people may just be wandering throughout a world of youth where they have been left behind. Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World is a film about two women who are still wandering.
Adapted from Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel, Ghost World offers a sardonic, but never cruel, look at a sample size of people stationary in life. After graduating high school, best friends Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) expect the only change in their lives to be their moving into an apartment together. Other than that, their usual escapades of sauntering about town to mock the so-called dorks and losers shall remain unchanged. Though, after humiliating a man (Steve Buscemi) trying to rekindle a romance through a personal newspaper advertisement, Enid decides to befriend instead of ridicule this man. Once Enid realizes she prefers his company to Rebecca’s, no longer enjoying the poking of fun at town misfits, the two friends grow apart, both developing immaturity and responsibility in different ways at different rates. The graduation scene portrays the contrasting themes of the puerile and sensible in each person beautifully.
The valedictorian, contained in a wheelchair and full head brace, relays a stereotypical speech about using the period between high school and college to mature and become the person you want to be. Enid and Rebecca act as commentators, first stating how they preferred the valedictorian when she was a crack addict and alcoholic, second musing how one car accident does not suddenly make you the holder of wisdom and virtue. The film’s juxtaposition of the equally juvenile and adult in people is best expressed visually in the following shot when the valedictorian, who survived an alcohol-caused car crash to rise to the top her class, is now taking a swig from a flask. The irony of this situation is just the first approach of comedy common in comic books to appear in the film. The source material, a graphic novel, does work on the principle of witty dialogue from characters who are never at a loss for words but mostly harmless. Despite the aforementioned mocking by Enid and Rebecca, it commonly feels like a conversation you would have with your own friends and you taunt others in jest. Also, like those conversations with your friends, it does hide an anxiety of inadequacy. By mocking everyone else in town and dissecting their peculiarities, Enid and Rebecca are able to ignore their own shortcomings and failures.
The layering of ironies drives the film, separating it from similar creations of that generation that explore the wasted energy of youth by the likes of Richard Linklater (Slacker, 1991; Dazed And Confused, 1993) and Noah Baumbach (Kicking And Screaming, 1995). Also, because of this irony and relatability, coupled with the unerring wit, characters are never dislikable: Enid and Rebecca hold an honest voice the audience desires in their own lives while the victims of their jests subsequently gain a sympathy from the audience. Above all, the audience can identify with the feeling of not wanting to take the next step of life, afraid of not being able to not meet expectations in college, so instead they choose to blow off the rest of life. By slacking off and shirking the necessities of employment, Enid and Rebecca represent a freedom that at first seems enviable and enjoyable. However, as the film progresses and the audience witnesses how the women’s lives start to turn out, the audience realizes the responsibility everyone has to make the most of their life; this need not be through the usual college channels, but must at least be however they can achieve personal success. From then on, we see the women and how they react to this responsibility: Rebecca takes on a job and moves into an apartment alone, and Enid runs away. The attempts to escape by both girls is not as definite as it might read, though, as the film portrays the choice of Enid as the only one that retains freedom and a shred of herself. That is the prime objective in life: not to appease some vague dream of success through a two-car garage and a flat-screen television, but to find some mythical way to live where you can succeed as yourself and be content with just that. If not, what says you stopped wandering in life once you graduated; if this life is not what you want it to be, you are going to drift every day until the end.