Ghost World (2001) – Terry Zwigoff


First, let’s talk about the structure.

The movie is divided in three acts. The first and second act setup the action and elaborate on it. The third one wraps things up, but not too tightly. We are left feeling confused. What did she do exactly to fuck things up with the people around her? How does she suddenly alienate herself? It’s almost as if the entire movie comes undone…the knot is untied…and reveals its true nature: this is the biography of a cool but emotionally fucked up girl, and we won’t be told why exactly.

So we surf over her personality, sometimes hitting deep waves, but we always resurface. We will be allowed to take a peek, but blink and you might miss. There is soul to uncover, but never any core. And why? Because this is her art: to pacify you with jokes, attitude, even beauty, but to block off the entrance to her soul. You will have to imagine your way in.

Let’s break down the story.

Cool chick into all kinds of cool obscure stuff wears many costumes, has a knack for banter, is some kind of gorgeous prop you want to turn on and off at will. She knows how to entertain you, walks a thin line between hilarious and obnoxious, and has a delicate sense of restraint. In other words, she is some kind of born performer. One problem: she needs somebody to talk to…to really talk to, to say the really deep stuff she carries inside.

She falls for an older gentleman. A loner, obsessed with what is probably the coolest music ever invented, old American blues. He shares a record with her called “The Devil Got My Woman” (hint hint). The song is a haunting track, pulled from the depths of an unknown world. Our girl listens to it repeatedly. She is hypnotized.

This is the first and second act, this love story that never gels between these two lost souls. Surrounding that is all kinds of clever observations about artistic creation,  cultural appropriation, and commercial exploitation. One particularly clever situation deals with a racist cartoon that  was used to sell fast food in the 1920’s. This movie here is also based on a cartoon. You can trust these storytellers, they seem hyper aware.

The Third Act

This is when things begin to get messy. Our girl gets drunk and has sex with the older gent. He mistakenly believes she wants to be with him. But she doesn’t. And this is the trick, the ambiguity, the nuance, that is hard to grasp.

What was all the teetering, jokey platonic banter about? They seemed right for each other, but only on the surface. In actuality they are more complementary than symmetrical. Her shape cannot fit inside his mold, but he doesn’t know it. He doesn’t see things in shapes.

They have opposite urges. She wants touch, deep touch, but not too much that she loses mastery of shapeshifting.

He wants something that will distance him from his mother but without too much complication.

She is too deep for him. He is too simple for her. She wants to be seen with deep eyes by a deep self. He wants to erase himself in a motherly figure.

We’re left with nothing. She flees. We’ll never know her secrets. But we did get some worthwhile art in passing. She keeps a book which we see at the end and it contains every scene from the movie drawn in a crude but soulful way. We get to keep that. And it’s enough. Because in a way, everything we need to know is there.


Categories: female leads, Notes

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