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Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) - Post-viewing Prompts

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  • Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) - Post-viewing Prompts

    1. In the frequent images of telephone wires (in fact the first and last images of the film are of telephone wires) Ghost World seems to be suggesting that technology is increasingly mediating our relationships, and thereby alienating us from each other. Although we likely communicate with each other more now than ever, is there something about the mediated nature of much of that communication that renders us less connected to each other (Rebecca’s last line to a despondent Enid is simply “Call me.”)? Now that telephones are largely without wires and all but ubiquitous (Ghost World was made before cellular phones became commonplace, and virtual social networks like Facebook were even invented), has this problem been deepened? Has there been a sharp qualitative reduction in our communication as it has expanded quantitatively through technology?

    2. Both Enid and Rebecca (but especially the former), up through their high school years, had created a sense of identity largely through the negation of that which they presume they are not (a variety of those whom they regarded as "hypocrites" and "phonies" with conventional projects and shallow enthusiasms). What enabled them to negate their way through life that long? Although Ghost World uses graduation from high school to provoke a crisis in their effort at self-identity through negation, would such an effort necessarily fail at that point? Is there manner of cultivating an identity through negation really that different from the approach taken by their classmates, or people in general, or was it only that which they negated (the very things that many people at least passively affirm) that set them apart? What is it that most people negate in order to identify and to affirm themselves?

    3. It is clear that Enid and Rebecca move apart from each other as friends through the course of Ghost World. It is also clear that Rebecca begins to take her life in a direction that she and Enid had been planning on for some time. Why does Enid abandon that plan? Does the film in any way support Rebecca in her persistence? Are the differences between the two characters such that they really needed to take different paths, so to speak, or does the film judge one or the other to be making a mistake?

    4. As Enid’s apparent options for anything like an authentic life (a life that would not be the equivalent of “Wowsville” or “Blues Hammer”, that is not the sham life of another “ghost”) seemingly disappear, does she miss any opportunities? Are their opportunities for a meaningful and authentic life (in the world of the film) that she does not recognize? This is to ask, does she really have to kill herself (if that is what the ending of the film indicates) to avoid becoming a ghost? If not, what are these missed opportunities?

    5. If there are no opportunities for a meaningful life present for Enid, is Ghost World fair? To what degree is our world a “ghost world”? Is our world full of nothing but Wowsvilles and Blues Hammers? Are there opportunities for an authentic life that are present to you that are not present to Enid? If so, what? If not, could that be changed?

    6. How does the apparent lack of positive options for an authentic life account for the xenophobia represented in Ghost World (highlighted by the name of the comic book store “Zine-O-Phobia” that the anti-Semitic supplier of video tapes works at, but also evidenced in the frequent homophobic jokes made by Enid and others)? How might one understand hatred of others as a symptom of inauthenticity, of one’s unwillingness or inability to live an authentic life? How does emphasis upon, and condemnation of, that which one is not allow one to sidestep the question of what one is, or what one ought to be?

    7. If you were to give Enid some advice, what would it be? How would you help her to carry on in a world “where nothing is what it seems”, to quote The Flower that Drank the Moon, the phony art-film that Masterpiece Video is promoting in Ghost World?

    8. Although Seymour has sought to find some traces of authentic life in remnants of the past (rare blues and ragtime records and other "old-time thingamajigs", to quote his girlfriend Dana), Ghost World seems to suggest that this is a desperate strategy that will not succeed. What problems does the film raise in respect to this approach to life? Is it (the film, that is) insightful in this regard?

    9. What should Seymour do? He suggests to his (obviously frustrated) counselor that he is ready to go back to his “old life.” Was his old life one that anyone should want to return to? It might be better than living with his mother, but does he have other possibilities?

    10. Roberta Allsworth, the summer school art teacher, initially belittles Enid's artistic efforts in class--deriding her drawings of subjects such as Don Knotts as "amusing, as a sort of a light entertainment" as opposed to "serious" work that "deals with issues" (abortion, the social construction of femininity, etc.). However, when Enid borrows Seymour's racist poster, submits it as a "found object", and repeats Seymour's explanation for his interest in it, she offers her a scholarship to art school. Is this a betrayal of her mission as an educator? What do these, and other episodes in the film, suggest about Ghost World''s attitude toward the role of art in an alienated and inauthentic society? Is Roberta just a poor teacher of art, or is the effort to "externalize the internal" (her own account of the purpose of artistic expression) also compromised in such a society?

    11. Ghost World, in contrast to most films about the transition from adolescence to adulthood, does not seem to entirely endorse the form that transition conventionally takes--the acceptance of adult responsibilities and roles (the adults in the film are all pretty pathetic). What does the film suggest is qualifying, or even undermining, the worth of that transition? Is the acceptance of what we call the responsibilities of adulthood in any way a betrayal of expectations and values deliberately fostered in us during childhood? If it is, should we foster different expectations and values in children or transform the nature of adult life?
    Last edited by Steven Brence; 07-11-2016, 11:57 AM.