Ghost World, one of the most unique modern classics out there, turns 15 this year! Director Terry Zwigoff co-wrote the screenplay with Daniel Clowes, adapted from Clowes graphic novel of the same name. Both of them were extremely invested in keeping Ghost World as close to the comic as possible.
The story follows Enid Coleslaw (Thora Birch) and Rebecca ‘Becky’ Doppelmeyer (Scarlett Johansson), two cynical girls finding their way after graduating high school. They’ve been outcasts during high school, and have to learn to find their own paths through the world from here on out. Throughout the movie, we see their friendship slowly deteriorate. Becky attempts to live a “normal” life while Enid is confused about what she wants, and rebels against normalcy.
The girls play a prank on an older guy called Seymour (Steve Buscemi) by responding to an ad he placed in the personals. Seymour is an eccentric, who obsessively collects jazz and blues records. Clearly with too much time on their hands, they set up a fake date with him and watch as he sits alone in a diner. After following him home and chatting to him at a yard sale, Enid buys a record from him. She starts to feel really bad about what they’ve done to him, whereas Becky thinks he’s so pathetic that he should “kill himself”. It’s at this point that Enid starts to notice that Becky is changing. Enid starts to spend time with Seymour, realising that he’s as odd and cynical as she is – if not more.
To this day, I still relate to Enid. I never related to the character of Becky, who tries her best after school to fit in. She gets a job that she hates, while constantly shaming Enid for not conforming and doing the same. Enid is unapologetically weird, sticking to her ideals of not fitting in, but also feeling conflicted about them. While she knows that getting a job is important, she’s just not able to sacrifice who she really is to do it. Secondary school had just ended for me the first time I watched Ghost World. Like Enid, I was the class “weirdo” and had no idea what I wanted to do afterwards. So you can tell why this movie really resonated with me.
Although I think I’ve pretty much turned into Seymour.
I think this movie captures the time between graduation and “real life” perfectly. Becky represents the people who know what course of action they want to take. Enid represents those of us that are stuck, not knowing what to do, but not wanting to change who we are to do it. Enid is attending an art class in summer school and hopping between jobs she can’t stand. But instead of focusing on that, she decides to fix Seymour’s life. She makes a project out of getting him a date, distracting her from her own conflict. He also fills in the gap that Becky is leaving.
One thing Ghost World does really well is show us how easily high school friends can drift apart. Enid and Seymour also drift apart once Seymour starts dating. We can all relate to that for sure. Even though it was her intention to get a date for him, she is bitter about it.
Things start to brighten up for her when her art teacher informs her that she’s been put in for a scholarship to art school. But after things go horribly wrong at their exhibition, she becomes disillusioned again. She shows up at Seymour’s house, looking for comfort. Enid tries to make some decisions while drunk, saying she’ll move in with Seymour. Things end up rather confused after they sleep together. Enid realises this is not what she wants after all. She ends up leaving a trail of destruction behind her, but it’s unintentional. She’s just a young woman trying to adapt to real life and figure things out.
I think Ghost World is remarkable in the way that it can always be relevant. It’s essentially about not knowing what the hell to do with your life. It ends without closure, we don’t know what Enid went on to do. She gets on a bus, and the rest is up to your imagination. As someone who has watched this movie probably every couple of months for the past ten years, I’d like to think that Enid ended up figuring things out, finding a balance between real life and her principles. I also really hope that Seymour didn’t live out the rest of his days with his mother.