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Coming of age is a theme often presented in cinema that attempts to connect with the lost soul inside all of us. Usually, these films are wrapped up in poetic pink and blue aesthetics and delusional depictions of teens attempting to navigate the rough waters of young adulthood; we follow them on their paths of self-discovery (or emotional development), riddled with sex, drugs, and maybe sometimes rock and roll.
So here is a sort of love letter to my favourite coming of age film, a piece of cinema that captures exactly how it feels to be an angry, self-loathing teen gal drowning in the dullness of life’s potential.
Written and directed by Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, (based on the underground graphic novel of the same name), Ghost World follows the pessimistic journey of two unusual aggrieved high school graduates. Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are best friends, two outcasts fused together through cynicism and bitchy sarcasm only the 90s can produce. Both have been ‘unfairly’ tasked with answering that ever demanding question, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ And so the story that follows is one not only capturing everything about teen angst, but also the sad truth that best friends aren’t forever and everyone has to grow up.
Now 17 years old, Ghost World is an adolescent in itself. Yet it still captures what it feels like to be so young and full of potential in a world that demands conformity, a world that asks who you are and what you want to be, yet offers no understanding if you do not fit the norm. However, the teenage experience of Clowes’ classic is not one completely full of doom and capitalistic gloom. Riddled with colour, character and bizarre yet utterly timeless aesthetics, we see the world through a difficult lens, through the eyes of Enid, a character so full of genuine feeling.
Enid is, by every definition, lost. Refusing to accept adult responsibility or embrace any potential she has to offer, she passes her time wilfully mocking and torturing others, resulting in the weird yet oddly real relationship with one of her victims, an older man named Seymour (Steve Buscemi). Side by side with Rebecca, the only person she deems worthy enough to show any real affection or actual personality, Enid embarks upon a cruel experiment, answering Seymour’s pathetic personal ad in the lonely hearts section of a local newspaper. After a prank call, Seymour becomes Enid’s obsession, invading his life and neglecting any real life decisions, she ignores her best friend and their plans for the future.
As the film unfolds, so does Enid’s life, reflecting the harsh realities everyone can relate to. Underneath the cynicism, critique and contempt of Ghost World lies an honest philosophy, one that the film tells again and again with each plot point. Whether it be the actual sweetness and caring nature of Enid and Seymour’s relationship that is designed to fail, or the eventual disappearance of Rebecca and Enid’s friendship, one that presented itself as concrete in the first ten minutes of the film, or even Enid’s refusal to embrace her future, squandering every opportunity of happiness. This coming of age classic speaks volumes on the damaging yet undeniable rites of passage adulthood throws at everyone.
Ghost World is a film that is hard to forget, and one that offers comfort in not knowing who you are or why. The end is open to so much interpretation and in no way conforms to Hollywood norms, that you can take what you want from it. Ghost World is a personal experience, designed to make us all feel something different, yet entirely the same.
You can view Ghost World on Criterion here.
by Kelsie Dickinson
Kelsie Dickinson is a super-gay film student at UCLAN in Preston. She writes part-time for her uni’s paper The Pulse and is a lover of any indie horrors and films with nice lighting. Her favourite films are Lost in Translation, the original Evil Dead and It Follows. You can follow her on twitter @punkrocket_ and under the same user on instagram.
Categories: Anything and Everything