In Ghost World, director Terry Zwigoff brings Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel characters to vivid, vibrant life. The movie captures the same ironic, bittersweet tone of Clowes’ writing, tracking Enid’s dogged search for authenticity in a world populated with Holden Caulfield-spite-worthy stupid, shallow phonies and creating a powerful adaptation which, although straying from its source material, remains serious and sad without ever losing its sense of humor. A loving and level gaze at the tedium and mystery of teenage life in contemporary America, Ghost World also approximates the author’s clean, quiet drawing style through its unhurried editing, unobtrusive, subtle compositions, and general unremarkability of the camerawork. In this universe, the characters and not the cinematics carry the story, and the form reflects the simplicity of their lives, helping to portray a realistic lonely and misunderstood (not least of all by herself) young girl who has just graduated high school, but, unlike her best friend, hasn’t quite entered the real world yet.
***This is an analysis, not a review, and it contains spoilers
While the graphic novel deals almost exclusively with the relationship between the two girls, the movie lets us know early on that Enid and Rebecca are growing apart. Becky is smarter, stronger, and more independent in the film than in the novel, getting a job and making plans for the future, while Enid floats through a world of strip malls, video stores and fifties retro diners with no plans for college, a career, or even the next day. Becky seems content to moving into a perfectly average middle-class suburbia and conform, even buying colorful plasticware for decoration. “Plastics,” everything that Enid, like Benjamin Braddock before her, hates, is slowly invading her life. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Enid strikes up a tentative friendship with Seymour, a kindred spirit also cut off from the world through self-imposed isolation.
Hermetically sealed in a universe of 78 rpm records and old (racist) advertisements, Seymour is a defeating and not too hopeful look into Enid’s future. He admits he “can’t relate to ninety-nine percent of the population,” filling his life with things because he can’t connect with anyone. While Becky gets “a total boner” for a wholesome-looking blond guy who listens to reggae, Enid is attracted to the quiet, painfully awkward Seymour not because of what he is, but of what he isn’t. A “clueless dork,” he is “the exact opposite of everything [Enid] hates”; and the list of things she hates is long: everything from “extroverted, obnoxious, pseudo-bohemian losers,” to the peppy, perky Melorra, made even more fake and annoying at 24 frames per second. Whereas in the novel Enid wallows in self-loathing and insecurity, in the movie she is contrasted with Seymour, becoming more assured and poised by comparison. Even Seymour begins to buy into the promises of a conventional, age-appropriate relationship when he meets Dana, changing who he is one stone-washed fitting pair of jeans at a time.
Everyone is changing around Enid, and in the end she, too, must grow up and move on. Ghost-like herself, ethereal and and unnoticeable, drifting directionlessly through a ghost town, Enid must let go of her past and its haunting implications in order to become a fully formed individual. By the end of the film the graffiti across the street from the bus station is painted over, a sign of letting go of the past, and even Norman, the only person Enid could count on to still be there, is gone. The scene of him getting on the bus becomes more forceful and compelling in the film because of the use of music, and the effect this change has on Enid is more palpable in a relatively long close-up take of her face than in a medium long shot panel featuring both girls in Clowes’ novel. Ghost World refuses its viewers a happy ending, choosing one that is altogether more poetic, ending on a note of haunting, lyrical beauty and authenticity not unlike what Enid is searching for.