I knew far too many teenage girls like Enid. They were always closeted about their own interests because what we saw on the outside was the fact that they were always so cold and bitter about their place in life. They come from the supposed “ghost world,” and to everyone else they’re just invisible. I read Daniel Clowes’s comic during my own early high school years and something about Enid’s personality struck me as something that rang a tad too familiar. My own high school years have oftentimes left me within a state of disconnect from everything else that was happening around me, because I was always seen as the introverted freak who took no interest in most of what other teens seemed to like. It’s a particularly disturbing feeling that Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff found themselves capturing with such ease it’s uncanny.
Enid and Rebecca are two peculiar girls who kept a cynical outlook on life and they have been best friends from the 1990’s. They have just graduated high school and at this point of their life they now carry an outlook that they are to permanently remain invisible inside of the world they inhabit. Enid is a particularly self-centered young soul who has a tendency to criticize everyone whom she meets, whereas Rebecca has a more sensible personality. Without a sense of general direction in their lives, they break out of the shells for which they are perceived as and the general feeling it leaves upon oneself is everything Ghost World is about. Outcasts, or social “ghosts” per se, are seeking to find meaning within their lives at a point where it almost seems too late for them. What exactly are you going to make of girls like them? Like them or not, Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson not only form a great pairing but they were always fascinating because of their peculiarity.
The apt titling for the comic, “ghost world,” is one that fits to represent its metaphor so perfectly. The setting of Ghost Worldis left unnamed, but we can tell it resembles a town just like our very own. The whole world that Enid and Rebecca live within is such an ordinary and boring town which at some point may be set to disappear in favour of a growing economy. As time passes by, the world slowly becomes all the more alienated with a sense of connection among others because Ghost World doesn’t merely stick to examining what sort of place in life such sarcastic girls will be heading off for. Rather instead, Ghost World goes beyond that area by showing this world crumble upon itself because there’s a clear positioning that refuses to allow connections to form. We think we’re able to connect more as a result of social media and whatnot but slowly we find ourselves falling apart.
Steve Buscemi’s Seymour is another peculiar soul. When we first see him on the screen, he is the victim of a prank that Enid pulls off. Something about Seymour reminds me of myself: a middle-aged collector who prioritizes his vintage records that Enid feels sympathy for. But the relationship that Seymour forms with Enid is yet another aspect where Clowes and Zwigoff deserve the credit because it goes beyond showing how cynical and nerdy girls like Enid are actually much more than what they appear as. There’s a parallel that comes between the personalities of Seymour and Enid as maybe during his younger years Seymour was a boy who was just like Enid and those years have finally come to him. But perhaps it comes from these relationships that Enid has with people whom she knows where Ghost World allows itself to flourish, she is finally coming to see the world around her and potential uprisings or downfalls without the sort of influence she leaves.
The label “coming-of-age comedy” is not an appropriate one when talking about Ghost World, for as we are introduced to Enid and Rebecca their cynicism is clearer than ever based on the mannerisms they show upon interacting with others. Moments of humour come by but they’re incredibly dark and they allow Ghost World to stand apart from most other teenage comedies. Rebecca and Enid are two cynical pseudo-intellectuals at their young age but they don’t necessarily come of age, rather instead they are searching for meaning if this crumbling world might not have any place for their introverted self-loathing outlook. Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff allow their writing to capture an attitude without any trouble coming their way, but it never feels too quirky for its own good, instead it always rings as genuine.
Somewhere out there I’m still thinking about those girls, and where they have gone under the outlook that they carried. Are they really the same people outside of school? Did the world really have a place for them given a state of disconnect that we are all finding ourselves within? They weren’t too bad, I don’t think – but I never glanced up close. But Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World just allowed me a moment to imagine what it must be like for them. It captured an atmosphere that surrounded such figures so perfectly, they were always fascinating because of their peculiarity, but there’s still a big mark left behind by their own presence. But even by the time Ghost World ended, it just left me wondering if Enid even had all that much even coming for her. This town she lives in could be our own, we think we are so connected but maybe that atmosphere is much more intact than we thought.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via MGM/UA.
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Screenplay by Terry Zwigoff, Daniel Clowes, from the comic by Clowes
Produced by Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith
Starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfo, Illeana Douglas, Bob Balaban
Release Year: 2001
Running Time: 112 minutes
Great review. I’ve thinking about doing a review/essay about Ghost World myself. It could be fun to return to these two main characters with the same actresses. Would that even be possible? Odd, don’t you think, how life imitates art? I mean, and you’re probably anticipating this, it’s pretty uncanny how the real-life actresses mirror the characters. Would it not make sense for Enid to go off on her own, never to seek the spotlight? And then to have Rebecca, who didn’t sweat the small stuff, to just rise way up beyond the limits of a Ghost World existence?
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Thanks – and I’d actually like to read that when you finish it up. It sounds like an interesting idea to look back on given as we almost never hear of Thora Birch anymore and yet Scarlett Johansson is just everywhere.
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Yeah, I know! It would be too much to ask for Thora, even Scarlett, to reprise their roles. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks.
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