Beauty in the Movies: Ghost World

This week for Beauty in the Movies we take a trip to the bizarre limbo that occurs between high school graduation and the rest of your life in the film adaptation of the cult comic Ghost World.

Based on the comic by Daniel Clowes, the film Ghost World follows the adventures of Enid (Thora Birch) and her friend Becca (Scarlett Johansson) in any-town USA. After graduating from high school the girls plan to get jobs and an apartment together. While Becca sets out to find a job straight-off, Enid isn’t as sure of what she wants. The two of them act pretty much like most teenage girls, especially of the indie persuasion, they’re jam-packed full of sarcasm and lacking in empathy, they love to tease their dopey friend Josh (the sadly deceased Brad Renfro), who they both probably have secret crushes on, and Enid in particular has a fascination with the weird and feels alienated from the rest of her generation.

In an act of both teenage stupidity and immature cruelty, they answer what they deem as a “pathetic” personal ad in the newspaper, and then watch as their victim, Seymour (Steve Buscemi), waits for his date who never shows up. They then force Josh to follow Seymour home, and continue to stalk him in that crazy obsessive way teenage girls do to entertain themselves. Later, they stumble upon Seymour at a garage sale in his apartment complex and Enid buys an old blues album from him, which she subsequently falls in love with. After visiting him again, the two enter into an unlikely friendship which ends up having a profound effect on both their lives.

I was exactly the same age as these girls when the film came out, and in some ways found the characters so relatable that watching it again makes me feel like I’m looking back at my teenage self. The way the girls behave in this film reminds me more of the way I acted at 14 than 18, by that age I had developed more empathy and understood people better. Ghost World lets us watch as these characters mature and realize there is a world outside themselves.

The best parts of this movie are the strange characters, the wheelchair coffee-guy with his piano scarf, the couple at the diner Enid deems “Satanists”, even Melora the girl’s incredibly annoying, endlessly chipper high school classmate—and there are so many more. All the oddball individuals will totally crack you up, there is something for everyone in this movie.

Enid is a likable character because of her humor and creativity, but she’s also pretty vile at times. She is selfish, mean, and she obliviously screws up not only her own life, but the lives of nearly everyone around her. It’s interesting that a girl who so deeply observes her surroundings, constantly watching and commenting, could be so completely ignorant of how her actions affect other people living in her world. That’s part of her charm though, the audience sees her doing these stupid things and wants to grab and shake her. We see how unconsciously naive she is, while she acts as if she has it all figured out—until she realizes she doesn’t, and I think most of us have been there in our youth.

Daniel Clowes went to Pratt Institute, where I graduated from as well, so one of my favorite parts of this movie is the summer art class Enid is forced to take after flunking art in high school. The kooky, pretentious teacher (expertly played by Illeana Douglas) puts an emphasis on “art with meaning” rather than the “amusing”, “lightly entertaining” sketchbook Enid submits—a perfect example of the frustrations of fine art. And who could forget the tampon in a teacup presented by the teacher’s pet as a “shocking” commentary on womanhood? It’s so flawlessly art school bull-crap that it’s delightful.

I never read the comic, I know I should have and I still plan to one day, but from what I’ve read about it (and what my fiancé tells me) the story in the comic revolves more closely around the relationship of the two friends. I’m not sure why they made the choice to focus on Enid’s relationship with Seymour, but I think it would have been interesting if the friendship between Becca and Enid, and how it changes and falls apart after high school, was a bigger part of the story. Everyone has that person you were friends with in high school who you grew apart from after graduation, it’s a strange and sometimes painful thing, and very much a part of growing up.

Ghost World captures perfectly that time in life when you simply don’t know what to do with yourself, and you haven’t really figured out who you are yet either. In some ways it’s one of the closest examples of a female coming of age story on film, which is something we don’t see too often, and I hope we’ll see more of in the future.

Have a great weekend everyone, see you back here next week!!

ghost world

ghost world by justinez featuring topshop skirts

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Sketchbook Pocket Size Notebook
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ghost world


Filed under Beauty in the movies

6 responses to “Beauty in the Movies: Ghost World

  1. jennifer

    Now I am convinced that you have perfect taste in movies.

    That being said, I was a little older when the movie came out, but still in that phase in college where starting college and finishing it seemed equidistant. I related to the way Enid couldn’t relate to the people her age- even to the point of drifting away from her BFF. I thought the relationship between her and Seymour was awesome because a) he’s Steve Buscemi and b) because they both related to objects better than people. Well, ten years later I found my own Seymour!

    Daniel Clowes joked that Ghost World was the fantasy of director Terry Zwigoff because he wanted to be with such a beautiful young girl.

  2. haren

    I don’t know why, but I really didn’t like this movie. Maybe I am just too old.

  3. I saw Ghost World three times at the Angelica (my friend Jordan worked there at the time and I got in for free).I was 100% with Enid and Seymour, not their relationship but their alienation from the world. I didn’t see them hurting others, I was so deeply self absorbed myself that I considered them to be icons, heroes! They had such wonderful taste, and such a great eye for detail that they had my most profound respect. Looking back, it seems so much more tragic than it did then, with a resolution that seems so much more uncertain than it once did for me. I also found, sadly, that the rise of the hipster erodes SOME of Enid’s charm. I like the think the ending is about moving on and growing up. It is now far too easy to imagine her moving to NYC taking up with some exclusive hipster coven and being annoying forever! Either way she is a rich character that I hope will live on, in both the movie and the comics too (read it!!)! Maybe she picks up where Holden Caulfield left off?


  4. kristen

    i read the graphic novel after i saw (and enjoyed ) the movie. But my favorite part of the movie is the Skip James song.

  5. mkz201

    When I saw this movie I powerfully disliked the character of Enid. She sort of explains why I didn’t have many female friends in High School.

  6. This was a good movie choice to cover! so much color and quirkiness. love it.

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