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Film / Ghost World

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Not Daria and Jane, honest.

Ghost World is a 2001 indie film, directed by Terry Zwigoff, adapted from the comic series of the same name. It follows Deadpan Snarkers Enid Coleslaw (Thora Birch) and Rebecca Doppelmeyer (Scarlett Johansson) as they face the summer after high school graduation.

Seymour, a lonely and cynical middle-aged man played by Steve Buscemi, is a central character in the film, yet the characters from the comic of which he is an amalgam are only very fleeting presences.

Enid and Rebecca's conversations would not be out of place in a Daria episode, though they lack the moral core which would make them that kind of Deadpan Snarker.

Not to be confused with the tropes Ghost Planet, Ghost Town or Ghost City.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Subverted, despite their flaws. Enid's father is well meaning and patient with Enid, Maxine finds a job for her, and Roberta offers her a full scholarship and stands up for her at the art show. Seymour in particular is intelligent and insightful, helping her to move beyond her teenage snark. Enid, however, won't (or maybe simply can't) accept their help or listen to them.
  • Ambiguous Ending: At sunset, Enid, looking very somber, boards a bus (on a line that had supposedly been cancelled) and rides off to parts unknown. Some viewers think she is about to start a new life; others that the bus ride is a metaphor for death, seeing as a frail elderly man had boarded this same bus shortly before.
  • Ascended Extra: Seymour's character and plotline is greatly expanded from the comic. The character appears only as the victim of the girls' Prank Date in the comic and was made significant at Terry Zwigoff's suggestion.
  • Black Comedy Rape: Enid notices an obnoxious preppy couple at her graduation dinner and wisecracks about the boy getting AIDS after date raping the girl. Rebecca may be having a Dude, Not Funny! moment when she shushes her.
  • Blues: Seymour's main interest. Enid's unironic enjoyment of an old blues record he sells her suggests she is growing as a character.
  • Book Ends: The Bollywood song 'Jaan Pechan Ho' plays in the opening as well as over the end credits.
  • Brick Joke: When the woman Seymour met at the airport actually answers his ad. It's much more plot-relevant than most brick jokes though.
  • Butt-Monkey: Josh's every appearance involves him messing up at work, getting yelled at by his boss, or tormented by Enid and Becky.
  • The Cameo: Will Forte of all people has a cameo for a second. This is his first film role and he's uncredited, making this a retroactive example. He appears when Enid and Seymour visit Anthony's.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The film starts out as a lighthearted coming-of-age story for the two outcast protagonists, but gets darker in the second half, eventually ending with Enid and Seymour worse off than they were at the start of the film.
  • Composite Character:
    • Seymour is based on the bearded windbreaker guy and Bob Skeetes from the comic.
    • Johnny "Apeshit" was merged into John Ellis.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Norm, an elderly, slightly shabby gentleman who is perpetually waiting for a bus on a line that was cancelled a long time ago.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Norm tells Enid and Becky that they don't know what they're talking about when they say the bus line was cancelled. Towards the end of the film, the bus does in fact arrive and Norm boards it.
  • Cultural Posturing: A Greek store owner rants about how his people "invented democracy" to an obnoxious customer.
  • Dancing with Myself: The film opens with Enid dancing to a videotape of an Indian musical the night before graduation.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Enid, Rebecca, Josh, and Seymour.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Deadpan Snarker character type and to large extent also of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
  • Demoted to Extra: Josh is a more prominent character in the graphic novel, whom Rebecca eventually ends up in a relationship with.
  • Downer Ending: Unlike other coming-of-age films where the guy gets the girl and everyone lives happily ever after, the film ends on a down note for the main protagonists. Enid loses her scholarship, still hates her home life, and gloomily rides out of town on a bus, her fate unknown as the film draws to a close. Seymour patches things up with Enid but is receiving therapy, mentally and physically broken after the events of the summer. And though Enid and Rebecca seem to patch up their differences before the former leaves town, it's clear that there is still some estrangement, that they have become completely different people after high school.
  • Dramatic Drop: Josh drops the ice cream cone he is about to serve to a little girl when Enid shows up with Seymour at the Sidewinder Mini Mart.
  • Eagleland: Type 2. Enid's nameless town is a wasteland of strip malls populated by the lonely and troubled.
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: Most of the strangers Enid and Becky encounter as they wander around their neighborhood, also the listless tenants shown in their tacky apartments at the start of the film.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Nearly every guy they come across zeros in on Becky and ignores Enid.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Subverted or deconstructed. Enid dyes her hair green, aiming for an authentic '70s punk rock look, but the other characters, including Becky, don't get it. (A guy in the 'zine store asks if she's supposed to be Cyndi Lauper). Irritated, Enid washes the dye out of her hair as soon as she gets home.
  • Le Film Artistique: The hilariously incomprehensible short film "Mirror, Father, Mirror" made by Enid's clueless art teacher, Roberta Allsworth.
  • Foreshadowing: Enid tells Seymour that her dream is to just get up, drive off to somewhere without telling anyone, and never come back. That's exactly what she's doing when she gets on the bus in the end.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Rebecca on her coffee server's salary can afford the entire rent on an attractive townhouse apartment. (Enid calls it a "shithole" but all it needs is a change of curtains.)
  • Garage Sale:
    • Seymour meets Enid during his garage sale.
    • Enid has one, but ends up pissing off all her customers.
  • Genki Girl: Melora.
  • Gilligan Cut: When Enid and Rebecca want Josh to follow Seymour with his car, he refuses. Cut to the next scene where the three pull over behind Seymour at his place.
  • Greasy Spoon:
    • The "Quality Cafe" where Enid and Rebecca use to hang out.
    • The authentic fifties diner "Wowsville".
  • Growing Up Sucks: One reason why Enid keeps stalling about giving up her childhood possessions and moving on with her life after high school. She is afraid that nothing better lies ahead than a service job at Computer Station.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: Enid's father remarries the worst possible (in Enid's opinion) of his previous romantic interests.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Subverted, as Enid and Rebecca are clearly drifting apart throughout the film.
  • I Have Just One Thing to Say: The art class teacher pulls this on Enid after the latter presents the racist drawing in class.
    Teacher: I don't really know what to say, Enid... [looking concerned] ... I think it's a remarkable achievement.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: Enid thinks of herself as deeper, more intelligent, and more individual than other kids her age in the small town in which she lives, but the story suggests that she hasn't spent much time outside of this small town. So she may be aware of the possibility that she would be nobody special in a more cosmopolitan setting.
  • Hippie Teacher: Enid's summer school art teacher.
  • Hypocritical Humor: While engaged in a stalking expedition, Becky and Enid continually disparage the man they're stalking as "creepy".
  • Insane Troll Logic: Invoked and played for laughs. The note to Josh: "Dear Josh, we came by to fuck you... but you were not home. Therefore, you are gay."
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Subverted. The paralyzed valedictorian at Enid and Becky's graduation tells the rapt audience that her car accident taught her she doesn't need alcohol to have a good time. (One graduate gulps even before she starts speaking.) Afterward, Enid says she preferred her when she was an "alcoholic crack addict" and that getting into a car wreck turned her into "Little Miss Perfect" overnight. Later, the valedictorian's date is shown pouring alcohol down her throat.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Enid and Seymour. Enid thinks only stupid people have relationships and Seymour says he can't relate to most of humanity (and his actions do not contradict this).
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Enid and Seymour, although Enid wanted it to be something more almost from the start.
  • Invisible Parents: Becky's. A passage from the script that never made it into the film suggests that Becky lives with her grandmother, as she does in the comic.
  • Jerkass: Becky and Enid certainly have their moments of jerkass-ness and immaturity, especially in the film's beginning.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Despite their moments of jerkass-ness and immaturity, Becky and Enid do genuinely care about each other. Likewise, Enid does care about Seymour and want the best for him (even though her attempts at propping him up backfire horribly in the end).
  • Jewish American Princess: Enid and Becky's annoying, stuck-up classmates Melorra and Naomi are disparagingly referred to by Enid as "the junior JAPs of America."
  • Kissing Under the Influence: Enid and Seymour. Enid regrets it as soon as she sobers up, but afterward, Seymour wants to have a romantic relationship with her.
  • Lonely Piano Piece:
    • A dynamic piano piece turns into a sad version the first time the two girls meet the old man waiting for his bus.
    • The lonely piano theme is heard again when Enid lies on her bed after Rebecca refused to go out with her for the night.
  • Male Gaze: A male bar patron blatantly stares at a female server's ass right before the Blueshammer show.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Subverted. Enid is a quirky outsider who actively tries to liven up the life of dour, sad Seymour, but their romance doesn't work out and she ends up ruining his life and her own in the process.
  • Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration:
    Enid: I think I'm going crazy from sexual frustration.
    Rebecca: And you haven't heard of the miracle of masturbation?
  • My Beloved Smother: Seymour's mother.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Enid after she has drunken sex with Seymour.
  • Never Trust a Title: Needless to say, no ghosts actually appear in this film.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The male "Satanist" is a virtual dead-ringer for the late founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The protagonists certainly don't explore a ghost world, let alone encounter any actual ghosts.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: Seymour wakes up alone after his one-night stand with Enid.
  • Odd Friendship: Seymour and Enid, especially to Dana.
  • Prank Date: Enid and Seymour first meet after Enid pretends to be the object of his "missed connection" personal ad. She sets up a date with him but then never shows up, instead watching and laughing while he waits alone.
  • Purple Prose: During the paralyzed girl's graduation speech: "High school is like the training wheels for the bicycle of real life."
  • Real Trailer, Fake Movie: The trailer for a pretentious art film called "The Flower That Drank The Moon" plays at the video store Enid and Becky visit.
  • Self-Insert Fic: The character of Seymour is based in part on director Terry Zwigoff. Like Seymour, Zwigoff is an avid collector of 1920s jazz and blues records. Seymour's room was modeled after director Terry Zwigoff's own — particularly the shelved record collection, pinup art and historical memorabilia.
  • Slice of Life: The film follows around a graduating teenage girl in the summer as she tries to decide what she's going to do with her life. The subplot about her trying to act as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for a 40-something man is only one of the many things she tries.
  • The Snark Knight: Enid.
  • So Bad, It's Good: Discussed in-universe between Enid and Rebecca at their prom night.
    Rebecca: This is so bad, it's almost good.
    Enid: This is so bad, it's gone past good and back to bad again.
  • The Stinger: After all the credits roll, there's another take of the scene where Seymour (Steve Buscemi) gets attacked by Doug in the minimart. Only this time, Buscemi's character easily wins the fight, choking Doug with his own weapon, and stomps out triumphantly. He finishes with a little Mr. Pink type dialogue.
  • Stopped Reading Too Soon: Seymour discovers Enid's sketchbook at one point and feels crushed when he sees a portrait of himself showing him as depressing and alone. When confronting Enid, she points him to the later pages in her sketchbook which has many more portraits of Seymour in a completely different light, which he didn't see when initially skimming the pages. Seymour is visibly touched by this discovery.
  • Stylistic Suck:
    • Roberta Allsworth's incomprehensible art film, "Mirror Father Mirror".
    • The abysmal blues-rock band Blueshammer.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Most of Enid's classmates.
  • Teacher's Pet: Margaret from art class, who gets constantly praised by her teacher for her comments and incomprehensible art works.
  • Techno Babble: We are treated to some serious geek talk at Seymour's record collector party that Enid and Rebecca attend.
  • Tempting Fate: Seymour is devastated when Enid won't return his calls; his roommate Joe tries to comfort him by saying that at least things can't get any worse. In the next scene, Seymour is fired from Cook's Chicken.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: Towards the end, Rebecca tells Seymour about their Prank Date upon which he gets furious and ends up in hospital. Enid then shows him her sketchbook and points to the later pages that show how differently she actually felt about him. Seymour is visibly touched by this.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: Disclaimer after the end credits, stating that characters and events depicted are fictitious.
  • This Loser Is You:
    • Seymour.
    • An argument can be made for Enid in the movie, much to the ire of fans of the original comic. The film comes off as a deconstruction of the comic.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Seymour in The Stinger.
  • Trash the Set: Hilariously averted when Seymour tries to knock a shelf over at Josh's shop but fails miserably because it's tightly fixed at the back.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible:
    • In-universe, the art film "Mirror. Father. Mirror." that Enid's teacher shows to the class as an example of her work is hilariously awful, whilst the actual, looks-like-a-person drawings Enid creates are lumped in with the boy who traces his favorite video game characters in felt-tip pen. Then they're passed over for another girl's wire coathanger sculpture.note 
    • The tampon-in-a-teacup "found art" that is lauded as being genius.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: Deconstructed with Enid and Seymour.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Enid and Becky's friendship has pretty much run its course by the end of the film. A bit of an unusual example in that there's no single deed, word or event one can point their finger at as a reason, nor is either of them really to blame; they're just slowly drifting apart as it's becoming more and more obvious they never had much in common to begin with, besides both being Deadpan Snarker outsiders.