Ghost World
***.9 GM
Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Dave Sheridan, Brad Renfro


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What do you do if you're disgusted and disillusioned with most everything in life, but there's just enough goofy, fun stuff in the world that you love and treasure to keep you from simply killing yourself to end the misery?

That seems to be the central question that Enid (Thora Birch) has to confront by the end of the film. She's a quick-witted and intelligent girl freshly graduated from high school with copious disdain for most of society and its accompanying values, but a healthy appreciation for weird people and unusual items. Her best friend Becky (Scarlett Johansson) seems to share most of these feelings, but she's still plugging along, getting a job and looking for an apartment, preparing to move on with life while Enid is resisting it all. She's also growing a bit obsessed with Seymour (Steve Buscemi), the misfit guy she met while playing a cruel joke on him anonymously, but has since befriended and found ceaselessly interesting, to the point of alienating Becky. When Enid's attempts to play matchmaker with Seymour start to prove surprisingly successful, she finds herself even more isolated than she was by simply being a dour, snarky little snot to so many people, the astute and comically incisive nature of her observations notwithstanding.

The whole concept of this story hits right home with me, as I'm certain it does with a lot of people that think the world is full of horseshit. There is SO many obnoxiously pathetic and maddeningly insipid concepts and ideals treasured by Western society, made all the more disheartening due to their rapid spread into other cultures, and it can really get to a person. You get ONE go-around on this hunk o' dirt, and THIS is the kinda shit you gotta do in a day's time? When you really stop to think about what goes on in this world - not just your garden variety evil murder/violence/what-have-you, but even the benign, accepted things like "hum-drum, work-a-day" existences, mindless celebrity worship, trendy scenesters of any sort, the tacit assumption that humanity is the acme of life's evolution, and the planet was designed specifically for us to do as we will with it - you can really start to take that George Carlin stance on life.

An aside for those who want clarification on what the Carlin stance entails, it's basically the belief that humanity is fucked, another "closed-end biological mistake" that'll make itself extinct in the not-too-distant future. Very bleak, very disgusted view to take, and quite possibly the truth. For the sake of accuracy, I quote "Brain Droppings":

"Humans are the only species that systematically tortures and murders its own for pleasure and personal gain. In fact, we are the only species that systematcially tortures and murders its own, period. We are serial killers. All our poems and symphonies and oils on canvas will never change that. Man's noble aspect is the aberration. Those who argue that art and philosophy are proof of human worth neglect to mention that, in the scheme we have devised, artists and philosophers are completely powerless and largely without prestige. Art, music and philosophy are merely poignant examples of what we might have been had not the priests and traders gotten hold of us."

Those of you familiar with Carlin (and if you're not, for shame) might take this opportunity to note that having his outlook on life also means there's a great delight taken in the minutiae of shared human experiences, like uncomfortable wedgies at inopportune times, the "piss shiver," and quirks of language, etc. Things about existence that are amusing, funny, interesting and that help make the time spent in this weird, fucked-up society more bearable. For me, it's things like the groovy folks around me, Tenacious D, black-and-white Popeye cartoons, chocolate and peanut butter, movies like "Ghost World" and the phenomenon that is Mr. T. For Enid, who doesn't have the bedrock of a worthwhile family and who's finding her sole friendship on shaky ground, it's interesting oddball guys like Steve Buscemi, really good song discoveries, hilarious maniacs like the Mullet Guy in the convenience store and certain fuzzy knick-knacks from her childhood that she can't bear to part with.

So I can readily identify with her state of mind. Fresh out of high school, having mistakenly harbored the notion that the end of that adolescent nightmare heralded true freedom, only to run smack dab into the wall of responsibility, financial need and other such annoying adulthood shenanigans. Enid does what most of us would love to do - just BALK at all of this bullshit that's expected of everyone that reaches a certain age and try to ignore it for as long as humanly possible. Sooner or later, though, that hunger and inability to afford food to sate said hunger will drive you into this frustrating lifestyle that's so prized by everyone else.

The film's ending initially felt like a bit of a sidestep to me, offering no real solutions or ideas about how to get through a crisis of conscience like this, but upon further reflection, it seems like the only way to end it. Daring to suggest anything that Enid could find herself doing that would pacify her frustration would only serve to make the people like her in the audience scoff and find reasons to fault the very thought of it. It's once again like Carlin, who has found a kind of happiness by simply separating himself from humanity as a whole, looking from it as an outsider and pointing out all the flaws, gleeful in the fact that he doesn't feel remotely compelled to come up with legitimate solutions due to the assumption that the shitstorm of ridiculousness we've wrought is inescapable. Enid is funny enough that she could probably pull off becoming a stand-up comic, too, but this film is geared towards an audience full of disenchanted snappy-comeback types, and there ain't enough room for 'em all on the circuit.

Overall, the film brings into sharper focus a lot of the suffocation and futility felt by those who are smart enough to be revolted by society at large, but it also balances it with enough fun and interesting character interaction to make the quandary legitimate... and it seems the answer alluded to here is a metaphorical suicide rather than a literal one. It's a thought-provoking and interesting film, definitely worth checking out for everyone, if for no other reason than to see where you fall on the cynic-ometer.

It definitely needed more of the nunchuck mullet maniac guy, though. "It's America, dude, learn the rules."

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