Review of Ghost World (2001), dir. Terry Zwigoff
‘Oh my god, guys! We actually made it!’ Enid (deadpan),’Yeah…we graduated high school…how…totally…amazing…’
“The comic underground book comes to life!” says the trailer of a 2001 cult movie Ghost World, directed by Terry Zwigoff, starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi. It is true that the movie is often very grotesque as all the comic books and cartoons tend to be but that does not diminish the fact it is a masterpiece. It was no commercial success but it has won the hearts of audiences all over the world.
Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated from high school. They have managed to get rid of all their high school fellows that they despise so much and start a new life. However, Enid is obliged to attend a remedial summer art class in order to be awarded her diploma. She keeps a diary where, instead of writing, she draws everything that happens to her. Together with Rebecca, they plan to find an apartment and a job. Becky is more popular with guys and is not as rebellious as Enid and she manages to find a job immediately. Enid tries only one job and is fired after one single day. While sitting in a bar, Enid comes across a personal ad of a man who is looking for a woman he met some time ago. Enid calls him pretending to be the woman and invites him to meet her at a dinner. He shows up and leaves disappointed after having waited for an hour. The girls follow him to his place where he sells old records and find out his name is Seymour (Steve Buscemi). Enid becomes obsessed with him and offers to help him find a date with words, ‘By the end of the summer you’re going to be up to your neck in pussy.’ Seymour has no idea that Enid has actually fallen for him and starts a relationship with Dana, the woman he has been looking for in the ad. After an argument with Becky, Enid goes to visit Seymour and after drinking a bottle of champagne, they have one-night stand. Seymour breaks up with Dana but Enid is no longer interested in him. She does not answer the telephone and decides to realize her childhood dream and runs away by taking a bus.
Customer, ‘Hi, can I get a medium 7UP?’ Enid, ‘Medium? Why sir, did you know that for a mere 25 cents more you can purchase a large beverage? And you know…I am telling you this only because we’re such good friends. Medium is really only for suckers who don’t know the concept of value…’ That was one of the black humour quotes that the movie is overfilled with. In the traditional way of thinking, Enid is a loser. She does not want to be a member of any group and wear the clothes that her peers wear; the things that she considers cool are not cool for others. She is a typical female antihero but the movie makes the other characters look even more ridiculous. For example, when her classmate Melorra uses the word ‘funky’, Enid asks Rebecca, ‘What, is she black now?’ There is not much of what we call situational humour in the movie; it is mainly the dialogues and grotesque characters that make us laugh. The Sidewinder Greek boss and Doug, a customer: Boss: ‘How many times do I have to tell you? No shirt, no service. Get the hell out of my store. What do you think this is, Club Med?’ Doug: ‘It’s called America, dude. Learn the rules.’ Boss: ‘Learn the rules? No, you learn the rules. We Greeks invented democracy.’ Doug: ‘You also invented homos.’ Boss: ‘Fuck you.’ Doug: ‘You wish. You gotta buy me dinner first.’
All the characters are drawn in great detail: they have their typical way of speaking and accent. The facial gestures play an important role. One of the most important characters of Enid’s ghost world is Norman, an elderly man sitting at the bus stop every day and waiting for the bus that never arrives. As Enid claims, he is the only thing she can rely on in this life because she can be sure he will always be there. However, one day she passes by and the bus arrives. Norman gets on and leaves the town. That is one of the reasons Enid decides to leave as well.
It does not happen often that you come across a movie like this – funny, intelligent and tragic at the same time. The characters do not belong into the category of ‘normal’ people and that is why they are tragic. This world does not allow you to be different without being unhappy. Enid’s departure can symbolize many things. For me it symbolizes disappointment. The only thing you can rely on in this world is that you cannot rely on anything.