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Ghost World

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
Ghost World
from Film Forum, 08/09/01

Or try Ghost World, which won accolades at the Seattle International Film festival and a Best Actress award for star Thora Birch (American Beauty). The movie, based on a graphic novel, is about a melancholy girl named Enid (Birch) and a depressed middle-aged man named Seymour (Steve Buscemi) who meet and struggle to find consolation in a world that seems cold and uncaring.

So far, Movieguide is the only religious media site to cover the film. Movieguide's critic describes the film as "a poignant look at the harsh reality many people face after their structured school life ends. It reminds viewers of the pain of a godless life and shows a lost world in need of a Savior." Their conclusion, however, is not complimentary: "Ghost World offers little hope … other than advising people to conform to the strains of career and existence."

But Ebert argues, "I wanted to hug this movie. It takes such a risky journey and never steps wrong. It creates specific, original, believable, lovable characters, and meanders with them through their inconsolable days, never losing its sense of humor. The movie sidesteps the happy ending Hollywood executives think lobotomized audiences need as an all-clear to leave the theater. Clowes and Zwigoff find an ending that is more poetic, more true to the tradition of the classic short story, in which a minor character finds closure that symbolizes the next step for everyone. Ghost World is smart enough to know that Enid and Seymour can't solve their lives in a week or two. But their meeting has blasted them out of lethargy, and now movement is possible. Who says that isn't a happy ending?"'s Andrew O'Hehir calls the film "an exquisite tour of the twilight zone between high school and the so-called real world, as well as between bohemian subculture and the even stranger culture of America at large." He describes it as "a blend of cultural satire and visual poetry, along with a profound fellow feeling for obsessives, compulsives and maladjusted searchers for authenticity."

And Jonathan Rosenbaum at The Chicago Reader raves that the film "either captures with uncanny precision what it's like to be a teenage girl in this country at this moment or fooled me utterly into thinking it does. Never predictable, this movie is often hilarious as well as touching. It's been years since I've seen a movie about teenagers as good as this."

I'd have to agree that, sometimes, if a movie shows characters inching their way toward understanding, it can be much more affecting, encouraging, and realistic than those dramas that show characters completely changed and redeemed in a blink of an eye, suddenly freed from all their struggles. While God's grace may stand ready with its transforming power, the walk through life's obstacles and ills is a slow and difficult journey, and in a film like Ghost World, where the characters' role models are not providing good examples or examples of God's grace, they have to fight for every scrap of insight they can get.

from Film Forum, 08/16/01

Last week, a few critics offered Ghost World as one of the summer's best-kept secrets, a sad and touching story about the plight of disillusioned teenagers. Some critics in the religious media found the film too bleak for their liking. But Doug Cummings at Chiaroscuro grabbed hold of some meaningful threads woven through this unconventional story: "By the film's end, [the central characters] will have encountered various life choices and rejected them all for something they can barely perceive—a search for significance the world cannot offer. The movie ends on a mysterious note, suggesting faith and hope is perhaps all we have to cherish. While the characters' perpetual indecision can be grating at times, for social critique and intergenerational confusion, I'd take this over the insulting self-righteousness of American Beauty any day. The film rings far more true to the spiritual condition of American society at the beginning of the 21st century than most films in this genre."

from Film Forum, 10/25/01

At Cornerstone, Mike Hertenstein offers an in-depth review of Ghost World. The movie has probably disappeared from theatres, but should reach video soon. Hertenstein considers the film's portrayal of contemporary cynicism and the hopelessness and ineffectiveness to which it leads. He also ponders whether the film ends on a hopeful note or a despairing sigh.

from Film Forum, 03/14/02

"Another recent film about teens I really enjoyed was Ghost World. It was very dark, but again—honest. I felt like I knew the two cynical girls who seem to be living in a dumb, insane place, because that's how I felt when I was a teen in my own little alternative subculture. The way they hated everything around them was maybe not 'Christian' or 'admirable', but it was so recognizable to me that I thought it was terribly funny and sad at the same time. The movie definitely has a message: negativity will make you bitter and lonely. I like the fact that the movie doesn't have a happy end, but does show a bit of hope for the characters at the end (just like in real life)."

from Film Forum, 04/04/02

Every year, well-funded, widely released movies powered by aggressive promotional campaigns end up winning awards at the end of the year. But a very different list of titles shows up on the ten-best lists of critics, and several of them show up out of nowhere in video stores. These are the movies that lack the funding to compete, but often are better-made and tell more original and exciting stories than A Beautiful Mind and the blockbusters.

This week, yet another critic comes forward praising the virtues of the new-on-video Ghost World (see our earlier coverage of the film here). Terry Zwigoff's movie follows two meandering high school graduates as they struggle with cynicism in a grownup world fraught with hypocrisy, superficiality, and loneliness. It stars Steve Buscemi in a role that won him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Michael Leary (Relevant Magazine) describes Ghost World as "daring, epic, well directed, even better acted, but unfortunately underrated." He points to "layers of meaning and purpose that will stick with you long after you rewind the tape. This is 'not another teen movie.' Its subtleties do not have the immediate impact that characterizes films of the 'teen film' genre, but will linger with you and bring to light those areas in your mind and heart [in which] you are pushing away the world instead of dealing with it."

While most 'teen movies' are preoccupied with fornication and rebellion, Ghost World stands apart as an honest exploration of contemporary teen disillusionment. While troubling, it has far more to say about the real world than a hundred American Pies.