BY Ali Subotnick in Profiles | 10 OCT 01
Featured in
Issue 62

Hard to relate

Delighting in the misery of Ghost World

BY Ali Subotnick in Profiles | 10 OCT 01

Ghost World (2001), based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes and co-written by Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff, is a breath of fresh air in the wake of the recent rash of uninspired, formulaic teen movies. It's full of vivid window-like frames that subtly mimic the comic strip panels of the original book, and the languorous tempo is a welcome break from the fast-paced, dizzying camerawork that's so prevalent today. The sets are littered with an amazing array of vintage curios and props, while the cast includes a hilarious circus of pathetic losers, weirdoes and eccentrics, from the pretentious art teacher played by Ileanna Douglas to the flail-swinging lunatic at the convenience store (wearing cut-offs, knee-high socks, a mullet, and a 'Zen Guerrillas' T-shirt). These are Enid's people.

Enid (the main character) is a girl who can't relate to most people, and that's why she is drawn to the dorky, record-collecting Seymour - he's as detached from the human race as she is. Like MTV's Daria and Claire on HBO's Six Feet Under, this brooding teen update of Holden Caulfield is a sharp-tongued smart-ass with a dry sense of humour and a stare that could cut a block of ice. Enid loathes everything mainstream: she obsessively collects kitschy 1950s memorabilia, hoarding objects from the past that seem to hold more authentic value than the products of today's mass-culture. She is the antithesis to the clueless, cruel-intentioned, American-pie waifs and back-stabbing Heathers of the standard Hollywood teen movie. We've seen characters like Enid in films before, but very seldom as the lead.

It's far more entertaining to watch someone bitch and moan about all the annoying people infecting their lives rather than trying to empathize with a conventional teen beauty's silly travails of unrequited love or the monsters living in the school's boiler room. Plus, Enid's pessimism is grounded: she's seen the dismal possibilities of love through her thrice-married pushover father (and absent mother) and she believes that 'only stupid people have good relationships'.

This film doesn't come with a moral (or a Prince Charming, thankfully). Enid's number one fantasy is to leave town without telling anyone and just disappear, and at the end she does exactly that.