GHOST WORLD: “Well maybe I don’t want to meet someone with my interests. I hate my interests.”

Ghost World – 2001 – 112 minutes – ★★★★1/2

Directed by Terry Zwigoff

Starring Thora Birch (Enid), Scarlett Johansson (Rebecca), Steve Buscemi (Seymour), Brad Renfro (Josh), Illeana Douglas (Roberta Allsworth), Bob Balaban (Enid’s Father).

Where to watch:  Criterion Collection blu-ray, released in 2017

We’ve all known someone like Enid.  Remember the self-proclaimed “outsider” in high school who spoke dismissively of everyone?  The person who dressed with a seeming disregard for fashion, but simultaneously cultivated a look designed to attract attention?   When someone ridicules Enid’s green hair and leather jacket, telling her that punk is over, she angrily says that she is not displaying copycat punk, but a genuine 70’s punk look.  What’s the difference?

The movie begins with Enid (played by Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) graduating from high school.  And they have a plan, of sorts.  They will get jobs, and rent an apartment together.  That is as far as their concept of “adulting” has taken them.

While looking at apartments in the classifieds, the girls see a missed connection ad, written by a  man who helped a woman find her contact lens and believes they may have “had a moment.”  Enid responds to the ad, pretending to be the woman in question and setting up a date at a retro diner called Wowsville.   Enid and Rebecca show up at Wowsville to spy on the man and have a laugh at his expense.   When he shows up in his prearranged green cardigan, Seymour (played to perfection by Steve Buscemi) is just as pathetic as they imagined he would be.  But his growing discontent at his absent date becomes unbearable for the girls to watch.

What starts as a cruel joke leads to the  friendship at the heart of the film, as Enid follows Seymour home, and finds in him a kindred spirit.  Seymour is also an outsider, who claims he “can’t relate to 99% of humanity.”   Enid claims that she will help Seymour find a woman, and they bond over the course of the movie.

While Rebecca begins to move on with her dream, getting a job and finding an apartment, Enid seems stuck.  Those high school classmates that she looked  on with such disdain?  Perhaps she isn’t so ready to leave that world behind.   Her feeling of confusion, of being trapped in the netherworld between childhood and adulthood (whatever that is) is captured perfectly.  This movie does have a plot, and a story arc, but it is by no means a conventional film.  The genius of this movie is in the little things, the small details, the background characters that inhabit this almost fairy-tale world.

At least Seymour is self-aware enough to realize his life could be better.  He owns 1,500 vintage 78’s, having pared his collection down to “just the essentials.”    But he understands that his passion for his hobby has helped to sequester him from the world.  “You can’t connect with other people, so you fill your life with stuff” he tells Enid., a commentary not just on himself, but on consumer culture.   The sad irony is that in helping Seymour to expand his horizons, Enid begins to lose him, much to her disappointment.  After all, he is the one who gets it, who gets her.  He can’t become one of “them.”

There is an underlying theme in the film that attacks not just consumerism in general, but the lack of authenticity in modern society, whether in the 50’s diner that plays innocuous 90’s electronic bubble gum pop, the aptly named band Blueshammer or Enid’s art teacher (the always wonderful Illeana Douglas) who isn’t so much concerned that art moves people as that it makes a “statement”, and any statement will do.

This is a movie about people whose lives are in stasis.  Everyone is looking for a change, looking for the spark that will get them from here to there, wherever “there” may be.   No one is more symbolic of this than Norman, an old man sitting on a bench every day at a decommissioned bus stop, waiting for a bus that will never come.  Until it does.  Maybe belief has to precede action.

The movie is based on a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, and retains the emotional feel and overall aesthetic of the book, while expanding the story greatly.   The performances in the film are wonderful throughout, not only in the main characters, but also those who show up for a scene or two, or inhabit the background.   The late Brad Renfro has a good supporting role, as does the sublime Bob Balaban.

Ghost World is a movie that rewards multiple viewings.  There are so many subtle details are that easily missed.  Listen for the TV commercials, heard but never seen, for an oil company that cares about the environment.  Or watch the background of the scene where Enid and Rebecca go apartment hunting.   Did you see that young woman pass left to right, on screen for only a couple seconds?  (Yes I meant the pregnant woman, smoking a cigarette and toting an open bottle of beer! )  I won’t disclose any more;  I’ll leave it to you to find our own details.

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without mentioning the music.  Most of the soundtrack consists of existing music rather than original scoring.  And the director Terry Zwigoff  assembled one of the most unique soundtracks ever created for film.  The opening credits feature  “Jaan Pehechan Ho” an Indian song from the 60’s movie Gumnaam, which is so infectious I couldn’t get it out of my head for days.  The bulk of the film features music from the 1930’s, early blues and Lionel Belasco instrumentals which fit so perfectly, it’s as if they were written expressly for the movie.

This is a movie that takes chances; it mixes tone, it doesn’t follow a conventional story line, and it has an ambiguous ending.  That can be a recipe for disaster if it doesn’t work.  In this case, everything works perfectly.  I love this movie.  I love every single minute that I  inhabit this world, and I’m sad when I leave it.

Some people see the ending of the movie as a pretty dark and final metaphor.  I guess it depends on what you bring to it, but I think this misses the overall tone of the film.  Enid ultimately wreaks havoc on the life of Seymour, and his only response is to forgive her.  In this forgiveness she finds the courage to believe in herself.  I think the future could be bright for Enid.  Maybe even Seymour will love again.  But he’ll always keep those 78’s.  Just the essentials, of course.



I Confess, Her, Minority Report, Captain America: Civil War

Movies watched:  I Confess (home – 91 minutes), Her (home – 126 minutes), Minority Report (home – 145 minutes), Captain America:  Civil War (AMC Kent Station 14 – 147 minutes).

Total elapsed time:  2 days, 12 hours 8 minutes


This week I watched the Alfred Hitchcock movie I Confess so I could analyze and write about it for my alfredhitchblog site.  I hadn’t seen it for many years, and I was watching it with a particular eye for the religious symbolism.  It is a better movie than I remembered it, but far from Hitchcock’s best.  For a detailed look at this movie, look here.


Next I watched the Spike Jonze movie Her.   This was one of my two favorite movies of 2013. My son Kevin and I see all of the Oscar-nominated movies every year, and we both really enjoyed this one.  I was very happy when Spike Jonze won the Academy Award for best original screenplay for this movie (happy for Jonze because I thought he deserved it, and happy for me because I picked him to win in my Oscar predictions).

I like futuristic movies that are set in the near-future, as opposed to hundreds or thousands of years hence.  This movie is not some fabulist’s tale of bizarre unfamiliar machines, but a future that is palpably close, and therefore much more real.  The set design, costume design, and cinematography all work together to form a very believable aesthetic.

Will people ever fall in love with operating systems?  It would not surprise me;  the Japanese are already working on very life-like robots that will provide unconditional love and emotional support for people who live alone and feel alone.   Now whether those operating systems could ever achieve a state of self-awareness, and act autonomously, is another question entirely, with the answer farther away from us.


The performances are good (particularly Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson) the visual look is unique, and the screenplay is great.  The screenplay covers a wide range of emotion, not least of which is humor;  there are a few laugh-out-loud moments in this film.  This is one of those movies which makes me feel good about being alive, on this world, at this moment.

It was a pretty natural progression to go from Her to Minority Report.  After all, it is another movie set in the not-too-distant future, although the premise is not believable.  This was about the time that Steven Spielberg began to explore different genres and themes than he had for most of his career.   There are times when Spielberg seems to play it safe, to coast, but there are certainly times when he has taken chances, and many times they have paid off.


This movie is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick.  I purchased a collection of his short stories many years ago, but had never opened it.  I figured it was about time, so I read the story this week, after re-watching the film.  The basic premise of the movie exists in the story, but honestly, the short story is weaker than the screenplay.

About that screenplay.   Overall, it is very good.  There are a few moments that don’t quite ring true to me.   (I mean true within the confines of the story.  Of course the very premise of “precogs” who can see crimes before they happen is ridiculous;  but once the premise is established, the story must follow its own logic.)  It’s actually a very engaging premise.  Isn’t there a fundamental paradox in arresting somebody for a crime they have not yet committed?

Visually, the movie works very well.  Spielberg used a “bleach bypass” on most of the film, giving it a washed look, drained of most color.  One exception is the color red, which is used as a color cue.  Many directors have used red as a color cue (Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Spielberg himself), and it works well here.  Next time you see this movie, watch for scenes with red in them.  They happen when the character of Danny Witwer (played by Colin Farrell) is on-screen.  This is foreshadowing; in his final scene the color red has a very strong significance.

Tom Cruise was just reaching the peak of his power at this point, and is very well cast in the lead role.  Max von Sydow, alas, has played so many villains over the last 20 years that the audience becomes immediately suspicious of him.   Samantha Morton is very good in the difficult role of the “precog”,  one of the three people who see the future crimes.   Peter Stormare and Tim Blake Nelson are memorable in small supporting roles.  Their characters give the movie the feel of an old film noir, in the vein of The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, which have a bizarre cast of memorable supporting characters.


This material definitely inspired Spielberg to up his game visually, with several memorable shots, including the one seen above.  There are also a couple of deliberate nods to Alfred Hitchcock (one involving umbrellas), and a fantastic overhead sequence in a tenement building.  Overall, this movie succeeds.  If you don’t pause to question the logic of what is happening, and just go along for the ride, it is a very entertaining movie.

Speaking of not pausing to question story logic, we get to Captain America:  Civil War.  

Nobody is more surprised than me that I saw this movie.  But my car was being serviced and I had some time to kill.  A few years ago, I declared a moratorium on comic book movies.  I just decided that I wanted a break.  I did see all of the Nolan Batman movies  I saw the first Iron Man.  I saw the second Captain America movie because my son and I were in London, and the movie premiered over there earlier than in the States, and he wanted to be able to scoop his friends and see it first.  I saw the first Avengers.   And that’s it.  So I’m missing a few pieces of the puzzle.  It’s not that I dislike the movies.  And it’s not that I’m highbrow or something like that, and frown on these types of movies.  I just got a little tired of the constant reinvention/rebooting of franchises.


That being said, this Marvel franchise has done it right.  They had a long-term plan, and it has paid off immensely.  So maybe I’m going to have to watch the movies I missed, to fill in the blank.  This movie is exactly what you want it to be, just a pure popcorn movie.   The premise of characters that the audience all love facing off against each other is a good one.  The problem, of course, is that we know ultimately that none of them will die, and that they will be reunited, so that takes a little of the suspense away.  That being said, it is a good movie.  It did feel like it had about 3 endings.  Couldn’t it have ended with a cliffhanger?   Leave some of the Avengers in prison, and open the next movie with their escape?  Apparently not, everything has to resolve itself.    Performances?  Well, everyone is playing characters that have already been established in earlier films, so they are all comfortable and enjoyable to watch.

I liked this movie enough  that I will go back and see some of the movies I missed along the way.  At least the Marvel ones.  I will never watch Batman v Superman..