Viking Night: Ghost World
By Bruce Hall
December 7, 2011
A cynical teen is about as rare as a hot day in July. Teenage bitterness is a natural outgrowth of the narcissism that afflicts us all during our developmental years. And when you combine those vestiges of self absorption with the (alleged) intellectual growth that occurs during adolescence, you build yourself a pretty stereotypical kid. You know the type - a conceited know it all who assumes that just because they can’t understand something, it shouldn’t exist. Unfortunately, cynicism is a slippery slope. Once you’ve convinced yourself the world is a rotten place, you quickly lose the ability to see things any other way and before long you can’t even remember what true happiness feels like.
When you have friends who agree with this, and are willing to enable your bleak worldview, it’s easy to insist that everyone else is the problem. But to live that way on your own is a special kind of hell. This kind of self administered torture forms the basis of the wonderfully quirky, terribly bleak film Ghost World, one of 2001’s most pleasant surprises.
Speaking of obnoxious teens, there are two of them at the center of Ghost World. Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are recently graduated high school students who are having a difficult time figuring out what to do with their lives. Enid has above average intelligence, and is a talented artist. But she has a very nasty superiority complex, and she happens to look a lot like Velma from Scooby-Doo. Needless to say, this does not endear her to her peers. Rebecca is slightly less intelligent and considerably more catty than Enid, but she also happens to look like Scarlett Johansson. Needless to say, this DOES endear her to her peers.
It’s a subtle, enduring source of friction between the two, particularly when it comes to their relationship with Josh (Brad Renfro), a classmate of theirs who works at a convenience store. The girls enjoy proving their superiority by playing petty pranks on strangers and they just love tormenting Josh like a couple of bitchy sirens until he helps them. Josh plays along because he’s attracted to Rebecca, who finds him less appealing than an ape. Enid is attracted to Josh but is disgusted by her feelings, since she considers him beneath her. This unacknowledged competition helps foster the growing disconnect between the girls as they approach adulthood and begin to grow apart. If that sounds silly to you, then old age has robbed you of your memory.
At MY high school, every day was filled with stupid crap like this.
One day, the girls are thumbing through personal ads in the newspaper (it’s like an iPad made out of paper), mocking the sad state of affairs that would lead someone to look for love this way. They drag Josh along, all seemingly oblivious to the irony of three perpetually lonely people making fun of someone who is at least trying to find a date. The girls single out one especially sad ad, and decide to make a prank call to the man who placed it. They invite him to meet his Dream Girl at a kitschy local eatery and arrive early to witness the spectacle. The disheveled looking guy shows up, enjoys a delicious milkshake and leaves, dejected. The girls follow him home in Josh’s car and proceed to go through his mail. Seymour (Steve Buscemi) is his name, and Rebecca immediately declares him a plague. Enid takes pity though, and regrets their insensitive joke. Josh is appalled, but puts up no resistance since he’s still hoping to hit it with Rebecca someday. The whole thing ends up being one of those unanticipated turning points in life, after which nothing can be the same again.