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Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) – What Does It All Mean?

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  • Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) – What Does It All Mean?

    Enid seems to be so concerned with hating others and things that she misses out of the enjoyment of life. Enid does not know what she wants to do, but instead she knows what she does not want to do. It could take her whole life to figure out what she wants if she only focuses on what she does not want. She is denying herself happiness because she is too concerned about the things that make one unhappy. She is a very serious pessimist. This idea makes me wonder, why people who do not take part in the societal norms, are viewed as pessimists? It should be perfectly fine for Enid to view life as she does, but it is not because if everyone was like Enid, most people would have committed suicide a long time ago.

    Enid appears to be authentic, but I think that all of her negativity is out of frustration of not wanting to be like everyone else. She finally admits that she has a crush on Josh, but that is the only interest that she maintains through out the film (or at least I did not see her reject her feelings for him by the end of the film, he just does not appear much). Even Seymour is not enough for Enid. She wants to deny the normality that society has placed on her in order to be rebellious. She secretly enjoys art, but she maintains an uninterested persona for most of the summer art class. Perhaps the teacher has something to do with this, but Enid was already against the art class before she entered the classroom. So, authenticity, in this film, is being able to represent the things one likes no matter why others may like it. For example, Seymour enjoys blues and he continues to admit that he likes it no matter how others perceive him because of it. I think that Seymour is the only true authentic person in the film because he is honest and genuine with himself. He admits that he does not expect to get a beautiful girlfriend, but as long as she is presentable he will be happy. He even admits that he does not entirely enjoy his life. He is just surviving. Surviving is something that does not concern Enid. She does not understand why so many people live tedious and unhappy lives because she has another option, which is suicide. However, when one does not consider suicide as an option, then surviving is the main goal. I think this is why Seymour does not completely understand Enid when she mentioned going away and disappearing.

    It seems as though Enid is a coward. Committing suicide is easy to do (not physically, but in a sense), but finding happiness or finding meaning to one’s life is harder. I guess when thinking about the film I want to say, “So what?” to Enid because at the end of the film my mind is left blank. So what Enid does not like her life, deal with it.

  • #2
    In general, we believe that ghosts live in “the in between” and I completely agree that Enid was trying to avoid this in between that everyone else seems to be living in. All the other characters were sort of just apparitions of the exciting, individual people that they could have been. Enid, on the other had, did everything she could to fight against becoming what she was told. She did seem to hate the art class, but only because, technically, it was still high school, which Enid hated. And the art class was Enid’s last stop before she really did have to enter into the real world, where people (such as her dad) did what they were told just to get by.

    It did seem like Enid was becoming a “ghost” for a little while. She ripped off Seymour’s idea of the Coon’s painting, not because she liked it, but because she knew that her Art teacher would love it. And then, when we really thought that she was going to pass the class and get the scholarship and join the real world, society pushes her back down. No wonder she was afraid of graduating. She had nothing but spite for society but it turned out that that was the way society felt about her and Seymour as well.

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    • #3
      I definitely would have to agree with your statement. Why was Enid always out to make herself so different from everyone else. What did she need to prove? Was going to college and getting a career just too normal for her? Clearly, the girl has grown up in an unusual situation. She has no mother to look up to or go to for advice. Her best friend could almost give a dam about anything; she kind of just goes with the flow. Although Enid does have her dad but he’s basically given up trying to please her which leads to her undisciplined lifestyle with no guidance at all. She doesn’t listen to anyone’s advice she just blows them off and changes the subject. Towards the end of the movie everything starts crumbling to the ground when Rebecca won’t talk to her, Seymour starts ignoring her and her dad tells her his notorious girlfriend is possible moving in with them. On top of that she loses her one chance of redemption with a scholarship to an Art Institute. These multiple tragedies in her life basically led to her demise. However, I truly think what led to Enid’s suicide was because she was too scared of having a happy and normal life. I mean it’s not like she had a normal childhood either. When Enid tried so hard to stand out and be different then everyone else, she started losing her sense of identity. Anything she saw that was right, she made wrong. In Enid’s case, the more unusual and different she made herself out to be like her appearance and attitude the more people drifted away from her. She was so busy and filled with trying to make herself different that she never took time to do the little things like enjoy her life or listen to what other people had to say. Ultimately, this lifestyle left Enid in a world of ghosts and nothing else.

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      • #4
        Enid definitely was cowardly in the film. Her driving force was fear. In my opinion, she was afraid of failure. I don’t like how the film dealt with Enid’s final action. Her getting on the bus was clearly a suicidal act. The film could have been much more realistic by showing her actually commit the act. The movie itself took a cowardly position with the symbolism of the bus and the old man. I don’t think Enid was compelling or interesting in any way. She was insecure and she hid her insecurity with her annoying cynicism.

        How can someone go to their after-graduation party and sit and criticize everyone in the room just for being there? Enid was there too! What was she doing there if it was such a lame get-together? The same goes for her attitude towards high school. If high school was so pointless and trivial, why did Enid even go? Enid used this cynical attitude to cover up her shortcomings. This attitude was presented over and over throughout the film. I found myself saying, “Ok we get it already.” For instance, when Enid and Rebecca were sitting in the café and the young man with the flyers approached them, Enid was totally ignored by the guy. She could not express that it made her feel uncomfortable that Rebecca received so much attention from “single guys.” Instead she felt it necessary to totally trivialize this person and dismiss him as if he were no better than a pile of excrement. The poor guy just wanted to promote his band. Did Enid even have the capacity to understand what kind of courage it takes to approach people like that? It’s like being mean to a Jehovah’s whiteness for knocking on your door. Someone in that position is so vulnerable. It’s just kicking someone when their down. I’ve never enjoyed being around people like this. Throughout the whole film I felt like I was being subjected to Enid. It is an experience that I do not plan to repeat.

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        • #5
          Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)

          In “Ghost World”, Enid is a lost character. Never daring to express passion for anything (for fear of criticism), Enid seems to only be able to view a situation or a person (other than Seymour) based on what she doesn’t like about it. The way I saw it, her anti-establishment, who-cares-I’ll-do-what-I-want attitude is a result of fear. If she tries something, she may be ridiculed for it. A telling scene in the movie is when Enid dyes her hair green, and is actually going for something with it (classic punk), and when she is made fun of for it, she yells that everyone is stupid, then changes her hair back that night. She cares what others think of her, even if she pretends that she doesn’t.

          While it can certainly be said, as by aburns, that the city in the film is an in-between world in which all the characters are trapped between having their own passions and becoming tools of society, I believe that Enid is similarly trapped. Not only in the obvious way of kinda being out of high school but not really, but in that Enid, in her search for identity and attention (as evidenced by the girly song she listens to near the end), in growing more and more isolated from everyone else (even her best friend).

          Although I find the suicide theory at the end to be interesting, that’s not how I understood the ending. The clues pointed out in class certainly argue for Enid’s suicide, but I took her journey on the bus to be one of self-discovery. That the bus isn’t labeled says that her destination is uncertain, and that it might not even matter. And the fact that she’s the only one on the bus, while supporting suicide, also might show that this is a personal journey. Also, Enid’s intense reaction shot after the old man gets on the bus could be explained by the fact that what she calls the only constant in her life was taken away. For the suicide theory to work, she’d have to literally be looking at him actually committing suicide, and in that case her reaction just doesn’t seem big enough.

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          • #6
            fetishism of the hungry ghost

            One thing (among many) that I found disturbing about Ghost World was the high level fetishism of objects that most characters displayed. It seems that Enid goes from seeing Seymour as a pathetic dork to an enviable person, not when she meets him, but when she sees the objects he has collected in his record room. She suddenly can’t understand why he is so unhappy, saying, “I would kill to have this stuff.” Seymour at least realizes that things are not ultimately fulfilling, saying, “you think it's healthy to obsessively collect things? You can't relate to other people, so you fill your life with stuff... I'm just like all these other collector losers.” (I have to say, I think Seymour is the most authentic person in the film. He’s the Socrates of the collector losers, because at least he knows that he is a collector loser). Seymour’s yuppy girlfriend Dana is also obsessed with objects, going antique shopping constantly. She shows her love/desire to control Seymour by buying him yuppy jeans. She is as superficial as Enid, who can’t figure out who she is, and so tries on different personas constantly (the “original 1977 punk look” she tries until someone makes fun of her, the scene in the bar where she self consciously changes her glasses, the mention by Rebecca of her “little old lady phase”, her unwillingness to let go of her belongings during the yard sale scene). Rebecca also objectifies what it means to grow up. She thinks that if she just buys pretty cups and has a fold down ironing board that means she has a life -- something worth going to a lame job to pay for. Even the art teacher seems to prefer “found object” art pieces to anything the students create themselves.

            I think the Buddhist/Hindi concept of the “hungry ghost”-- desirous and insatiable by definition – is applicable to this film. It is a ghost world because the people in it have not really achieved personhood, are not awake to all of reality (only the bad parts!), and are not engaged in the vivid experience of being fully alive. Instead, they are empty shells; they become different characters by putting on different masks, obsess over and hunger for objects, and remain profoundly unfulfilled. They oscillate between fear and desire in an endless cycle. Enid has the feeling that there should be more, but does not have the courage to seek it out. She is afraid. She looked to Seymour as a mentor/hero, but he disappointed her. Enid needed a teacher or exemplar who affirmed life, but only got Seymour who was like an older, wiser, more beaten down version of herself. If she had had more imagination, she could have found this mentor in history, in books or art of the past. But I don’t want to sound too harsh; this is a difficult thing to do, especially when you are 18 years old.

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            • #7
              Enid is trapped in the in-between of childhood and adulthood, also representing the title, becuase ghosts too are in between life and death. She is stuck in the easy ways of high school, being allowed to be apathetic and negative about life. Rebecca discarded this attitude I believe after the graduation party and resented Enid for not transitioning as well. Enid never recieves a push from anyone except Rebecca to leave the immaturity of high school, which is why she seeks out other ghosts (Seymore, Norman etc.) instead, to feel not so alone. She makes herslef a ghost, because she felt like there no more alternative.

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              • #8
                The self being in society

                Personally I find your view on Enid very bare and cynical. She is by no means a hero of sorts or model of any kind; she has no real personality other than not identifying with the things she doesn’t like. I found, however that she wasn’t happy with her life because it was it was almost impossible to find any in a society obsessed completely with individuality through conforming to the purchasing of consumer goods. Of course blame must go upon the individual for not making lemonade with lemons, but that does not excuse the brokenness of this society. This society is so broken that the only two options that the film presents for the viewers and its characters is either conforming or opting out entirely. I personally don’t believe in the notion that Enid’s decision in the end resembled specifically suicide, but rather a decision to leave society completely, or just go away to a faraway place as Enid put it. Seymour, however, seemed to do the exact opposite of her. Again I have to disagree with you on Seymour being the ideal figure of authenticity. He began as a man I could respect, he did his own thing and really didn’t care too much on what other people thought, or he just never really got the chance to see how it felt to be accepted by society until Enid came in. Here when presented with maintaining his own identity, Seymour seems to conform to what other people want for him. The pants moment is a good example, Seymour stats “It’s nice to have other people worry about these things for me”. This implies he has let his own personality go in the wake of his decision to conform to society through his new girlfriend. In this respect Seymour doesn’t really become a noble person, he was just another consumer waiting for his chance to join the game. Enid and Seymour end up become polar opposites of the societal spectrum in the ending scene; Seymour is put under the wing of his mother and is made to go to therapy secessions as a means of conforming him more to society, while Enid opts completely out of society by taking the bus out of town. I believe the film here is suggesting we must find a medium between these two extremes if we wish to truly live in society without having to remove ourselves completely from it to maintain our own personality. It’s not that the viewer shouldn’t care about Enid’s decision at the end as you have suggested, but we should consider how we perceive our own self being in society and if that being is authentic to what we truly believe, rather than just a regurgitation of what society has placed upon on.

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                • #9
                  A Touch on Depression

                  Throughout the movie, “Ghost World”, we are shown a particularly different way of thinking that is becoming more and more common in this day and age. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking about things in this area but I believe that the writers of this film decided to go there, figuratively speaking, for a very important reason. I would say it is a fair reading of this film to say that this is a look at depression in society today.

                  Throughout the film we look at Enid. She is this young girl right out of high school and she is instinctively looking for happiness. I would say that this is talking about depression because when you are a person struggling with depression you become very pessimistic and that is what Enid did. She was looking for happiness but she wasn’t looking for what would make her happy, she was more looking at the things that she didn’t want and that she didn’t like. All Enid’s focus throughout the film was the things in life, the people that annoyed her and made her uncomfortable. This is an effect that in my opinion is caused by her conception of herself. She states throughout the film multiple times that the freaks and weirdo’s were her people. She compares herself to the people that are believed to be lower then others. This film is just the depiction of the average depression burdened teenager dazed and confused by the question, what happens next in life?

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                  • #10
                    Bvangundy’s statement that ‘Ghost World’ is a “look at depression in society today” is valid in the sense that everyone in the film is despondent. Not only are the people depressed but everything in society is sickened and phony. The film tracks Enid and through that trail the viewer becomes privy to the ache in the lives of others. I respectfully disagree with bvangundy’s statement that rather than looking for something to make her happy that she was looking for things that make her unhappy. It seemed more like the things that made her unhappy came to her and that she was trying to find an honest way to appreciate life. She identified herself with the freaks because at least the freaks had something about themselves that made them stand out from the rest of the phonies. Observing “freaks” became a hobby of Enid’s because they made her excited about life. There was so much to discover in those people and through them, she could discover more about life that would make her want to last longer in the ghostly world. The world persistently disappoints her and in the end she feels defeated and so mistreated that she gets on the bus to the unknown.

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