I had insomnia as a teenager. Not as bad as some, but bad enough. During most of high school I slept a couple times a week at best and for a couple hours at most. Besides the fact that I didn’t know what I was saying or doing most of the time (I like to think it made me more entertaining than awkward), it wasn’t an entirely bad thing. With 8-10 extra hours per night to yourself, undisturbed while the rest of the world is sleeping, it’s amazing what you are free to enjoy and accomplish. I read so many books. I taught myself to play the guitar. I wrote music and poetry and stories. I drew. I owned the night. But during all of these activities, I always had a movie on in the background to keep me company because sometimes that quiet was just a little too quiet. But I had a habit of watching the same movies over and over again for weeks (sometimes months) during those years. When I finally was able to sleep regularly, for a long time I still put a movie on before bed, one of my ‘old friends’ that I’d spent so many sleepless nights with. The one that was chosen most, the one that always knew how to make me feel a little less alone and a little less lonely, was Ghost World.
The 2001 film adaptation of Daniel Clowes’s graphic novel of the same name stars Thora Birch as Enid, the punkrock vintage queen weird one, and Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca, the pretty and relatively normal one. Graduating from high school, the girls are equal parts naively eager and grossly unprepared to take on life in the real world. Enid struggles to find herself, trying out a variety of looks and attitudes, while Rebecca remains essentially the same in a comforting and respectable yet unexciting way.
The girls struggle with wanting things to stay the same – still make fun of their annoying ex-classmates, play pranks on unsuspecting victims (poor Seymour, the homely record collector who “can’t relate to 99% of humanity” played by Steve Buscemi) – and wanting to grow up and live boring adult lives – get an apartment, get a job, get married, bla bla bla. Over the course of the film, the two best friends, once thick as thieves, drift further and further apart. They start living their own separate lives, their goals differ and their willingness/unwillingness to evolve mentally and emotionally drives a wedge between them. This happens between Enid and Rebecca as well as between Enid and Seymour in such a natural and predictable way that it’s actually quite unpredictably devastating. It’s a sad truth that the people who were most relevant at certain times in our lives, the people who shaped and molded us into the people we will be forever, often end up someday just being people we used to know, whether by choice or by circumstance.
Aside from the heavy and depressing underlying messages in the story, Ghost World is also very funny. Enid is a clever smartass who always finds something to hate in every situation, but in a completely lovable way. She’s quick, she’ll speak her mind, and she is not afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings. In fact she’d probably prefer to. Not that she’s mean-spirited, she’s just honest, and if someone can’t handle her truth, screw ‘em. “Everyone’s too stupid!” Her contempt for modern society is 100% genuine, and her detachment and self-centeredness is too. Even when Enid is trying to be someone else she’s still being herself, because that’s who she is – she’s someone trying to find herself. In both the comic and the film versions of Ghost World, I adore her.
Seymour’s character is a close second favourite as his transparency is on par with Enid’s, though his heart is softer and his personality far gentler. They complement each other so well they clash. He’s so pathetic he’s endearing.
Ghost World has been a late-night companion of mine for close to a decade and a half now and it’s seen me through a lot, from angsty teen sleepless nights to new mom sleepless nights. It’s a constant in my ever-changing life and a reminder that people come and go, and a reminder that that’s ok, because most of them are just extroverted, obnoxious, pseudo-bohemian losers.