They can’t relate to 99% of humanity. Rebecca and Enid are outcasts in a town some would call a “Ghost World.” The girls are facing the end of high school and the beginning of their lives which take them down a path neither expected. This is all encapsulated with a killer soundtrack in the 2001 film, Ghost World.
Cult comic creator Daniel Clowes penned the graphic novel “Ghost World” in 1997. It stemmed from a line of comics Clowes had put together called “Eightball” from 1993. Fans couldn’t get enough of the two moody teens from Clowes wild imagination , so when it came time to create the film version, Clowes had to teach himself how to write a screenplay alongside director Terry Zwigoff, which he initially failed at. After the trials and tribulations of writing, Clowes and Zwigoff found their screenplay for Ghost World had persevered.
The film is its own unique sort of continent, unlike any other you can visit. That’s what Clowes always seemed to aim for. His writing style was his own, never to be replicated. Of course this is true of his on screen style as well.
Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) and Enid (Thora Birch) are the inhabitants of Ghost World. The girls don’t want to “be” anyone or “do” much of anything. They are fresh from high school graduation, thrust into the world of adulthood. Enid is put through the rigors of a remedial art class to receive her diploma. She focuses her efforts on not focusing on her art class at all.
A man named Seymour changes the course of the girls’ summer. When they find an ad in the paper seeking a missed connection, Rebecca and Enid use the sad tale to amuse themselves for the time being. They contact Seymour, the writer of the ad (Steve Buscemi), pretending to be his missed connection. The girls set up a date at a local diner only to watch him get stood up. Rebecca and Enid take pity on Seymour as they realize their prank has gone a bit far, leaving Enid feeling pangs of an alien emotion; sympathy. A few days later they notice that Seymour is helping host a garage sale. Enid takes this opportunity to befriend Seymour, which has repercussions Enid never realized she’d actually care about.
Ghost World is a film about everything and nothing. There’s a sense of emptiness and a lack of emotion within Enid and Rebecca’s lives. Their abandoned world is very reminiscent of the Clowes comic. One can even sense that the film is something of an homage to John Waters’ offbeat storytelling technique of rendering outcasts as main characters.
Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson do a top notch job, their performances reminds one of Napoleon Dynamite characters, one note and unknowingly hilarious. So indelible are their performances, down to their nuanced wardrobe, that many people still cosplay Enid and Rebecca. And Buscemi’s performance as Seymour is truly incredible, crystalized in a perfect union of loneliness and sadness.
Although the indie-teen-moody-dark-dramedy had critics divided, the Academy Awards and The Golden Globes took note. Birch and Buscemi each received Golden Globe noms, and Clowes/ Zwigoff got Oscar noms for adapted screenplay. Although no one netted any statues, Ghost World went on to cult status, where awards are immaterial.
There was also a built in audience of Clowes comic fans from the start that helped push the film out towards a mainstream audience. It captures the spirit of the comic, down to eliminating extras in the background, to give visual context to the characters’ isolation.
Clowes and Zwigoff teamed up once more after Ghost World, with the equally unique Art School Confidential in 2006. Both director and writer are perfect at what they do, creating something insanely great from odd beginnings.
It’s only fitting that Criterion gave Ghost World the Blu-ray treatment it deserves, newly restored to 4K, supervised by Zwigoff himself. The famous soundtrack also has been remastered for this new viewing experience. There are new interviews with Birch and Johansson, deleted scenes and an extended excerpt from Gumnaam (1965) which is the Bollywood music number featured in the opening credits of the film. Inside the packaging there’s also a Clowes “Eightball” comic, a perfect addition for any collector’s shelf.
If you are a fan of Ghost World, you need to own this Criterion edition. Watching the blu-ray remastered version is like watching it for the first time.
Ghost World is now available from The Criterion Collection and it’s as good as Rock n’ roll, baby! Freedom of speech!
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