As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Ghost World, or: Enid > Juno

Posted by Hedwig on February 10, 2008

I think tonight was the third time I saw Ghost World. In any case, it was the time I liked it most. Loved it, even. And it crystallized, to me, why I couldn’t love Juno.

On the surface, the two films are rather alike: the protagonist is an adolescent girl, an outsider with eclectic taste and a general contempt for the world at large. After a critical juncture – graduation, pregnancy – they develop a bond with a middle-aged man who shares some of their tastes and hobbies but who is seen as a loser by the world at large, a bond which ultimately becomes uncomfortably close, and in the end… well, in the end they grow up a little, not necessarily wiser or better, just slightly older.

Yet, it’s the differences that matter. Juno likes punk and Dario Argento. Enid goes through a punk phase too – but specifies original punk, not the 90’s kind – but she’s into a lot of different things, from Indian music from the sixties to old blues records. Juno has an admittedly cool hamburger phone, but this is pointed out twice, while Enid has a transparent phone which is much cooler, and never called attention to in such a “look how cool!” way. Juno hates cheerleaders and looks down on the cool guys who secretly have a crush on librarian-type girls, while Enid’s main beef is with the wannabes, the people who spend a lot of time developing their ‘style’ only to fall short of her. She looks down on the squares AND on the earnest art teacher.

Of course, she herself – like Juno – very much defines herself by her eclectic taste. She just finds her taste inherently superior to that of others. How very… teenagerish? What’s more important, she’s confronted with this fact, where Juno is not. And I don’t mean the moment where her green hair is misunderstood. No, I mean that by the end, the approval of the crazy art teacher actually means something to her, and she realizes that she has the power to hurt people.

Is Ghost World better in all respects better than Juno (the movie, not the character)? No, it isn’t. For instance, I think Bren is a wonderful character in Juno, a stepmom that isn’t the standard annoying stepmom, but someone who truly cares and who, for all her dog loving, Juno cares about too. Next to that, Maxine is just an empty caricature.

Still, for my money, Ghost World is by far the more interesting movie, because it dares not to be likable. Enid, quite frankly, is an inconsiderate bitch at times. Juno’s influence on Jason Bateman’s character is presented as involuntary, but what Enid does to Seymour is clearly wrong. Understandable, yes, but cruel. Ghost World offers no pat resolutions, no reassurance that there are people who’ll love us for just what we are. It offers the insecurity of not knowing what you’ll do with your life, unfiltered. It offers not just a character who is ten times more fascinating and more controversial than Juno, but also an unwillingness to pander. An unwillingness to play to our emotions. And because of that, it’s a movie that I think every Juno champion should be forced to watch. Twice.

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11 Responses to “Ghost World, or: Enid > Juno”

  1. Paul C. said

    I’m with you on this. Ghost World was the first movie I thought of when I saw Juno, and I find it much, much more interesting. Despite all its punk-rock posing, it’s mostly a sweetness-and-light version of the world, in which nothing really bad happens when a teenager is pregnant. Yes, Juno has plenty of attitude, but she never takes it far enough that we dislike her. One can’t help but wonder if it’s all a pose, a method by which Juno can distance herself from the uncool stuff around her until she finds something she likes.

    Enid, on the other hand, is the genuine article- a real teenaged misanthrope. And Terry Zwigoff clearly feels sympathy for her character, as he tells the story from her point of view. The people she objects to in the world is portrayed as buffoonish or square, or both- Maxine, for example. But Zwigoff is also clear-eyed enough that he doesn’t necessarily celebrate her misanthropy. As a result Ghost World almost unbearably depressing at times, because by taking her side without cheering her on Zwigoff has made a film about how lonely life can be for those who are true outsiders. One can never imagine Enid perched on the front stoop, singing a little ditty with the guy she loves. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any happy ending for her at all.

  2. sarcastig said

    It’s hard to imagine a happy ending for Enid indeed, but you CAN imagine another movie about her life 5, 10 or even 30 years later to be fascinating still, while Juno’s story kind of needs the pregnancy to exist. Juno’s a feelgood movie that masquerades as a snarky one, while Ghost World is -indeed- a lot more depressing, not more realistic in detail, perhaps, but much more realistic in feeling.

  3. Kaj said

    But why does it have to be realistic, or more realistic?

  4. sarcastig said

    I never said it had to be realistic: fiction is fiction, and I hate when bad fiction is defended by people saying “but that’s how it really happened!”. In fact, in my original piece on Juno, I referred to the fact that many people who dislike Juno use her perceived lack of realism as an argument. My thesis was that this is beside the point: the problem with Juno is not that the character Juno is not true to life, it’s that the movie Juno is not true to the character.

    Likewise, if you read my comment again, you’ll see that I mention Ghost World is “not more realistic in detail, perhaps, but much more realistic in feeling”, and that’s the main point: I don’t need movies to be realistic, perse, but I do need the feelings in it to be. I do need to believe in the characters, even if they could not exist in real life.

    Movies are about suspension of disbelief, absolutely, and I’ll gladly go along with, for example, the story of a boy getting bitten by a genetically modified spider and then squirting white goop from his wrists. But the reason the Spider-man movies succeed (the first two, in any case, I’ve decided to avoid the third) is because the emotions underneath the frankly unrealistic story are credible and, yes, realistic.

    Is that really too much to expect?

  5. Great comparison Hedwig. I love Ghost World, though like Paul I find it a bitter pill to swallow. What’s interesting about it to me is that Enid doesn’t really follow a standard character arc…the point of her to me is the fact that she doesn’t change and grow, but it’s not totally depressing because the people around her do. Everyone finds happiness but Enid. Technically you could say they sell out, but I see both Zwigoff and Clowes suggesting quietly that maybe a little selling out would benefit all of us even if we’re total misanthropes and will never do it.

    Ok, that was a rambling and disordered thought.

    Neither film is especially realistic, but one left me with something real and the other one never did. I fully appreciate that Juno really worked for legions of people and I’ve even tried to understand it and get to the bottom of it.

  6. I have never seen Ghost World, but I may just check it out.
    I am bored talking about Juno though, I would love to talk more about Ghost world, when I see it.

  7. sarcastig said

    So much discussion, I love it 🙂

    I love your interpretation, Craig. It’s interesting to compare THAT to Juno, too: Mark sells out, but the film seems to consider than a rather wise choice, and his decision to try to become a rock star after all as a mistake.

    And Nick, let me know if you ever see Ghost World, I’m very curious to hear what you’d think!

  8. I agree. It’s really a good interpretation!
    Marco Milone
    http://www.mellart.com (animation, art, cinema and comics)

  9. jean said

    seeing juno yesterday reminded me of ghost world and i am fortunate enough to come across this article. that is a good comparison between the 2 movies.

  10. I am so happy to find this discussion; I just saw Juno (had been avoiding it for no good reason) and immediately googled “ghost world” and “juno” to see who was saying what about both. I must admit, I did leave Juno feeling it was a lesser version of Ghost World, or certainly made many more, slightly scary, compromises. I also thought of “High Fidelity” not just because of the counter culture/music setting, but also the “former punk boy must grow up and be a family man” thread to it. A question: was Thora Birch nominated for an Academy Award for “Ghost World”? If not, why not? Ellen Page was great, but it was also a certainly less threatening character for the Academy and the industry to endorse. In fact, like it or not, her behavior could not have been more perfectly scripted for the xtian right than if they wrote it themselves: lowerclass girl breeds in order to satisfy maternal longings of the affluent.

    Besides a montage of heightened sense impressions in the clinic waiting room, we are given very little to understand Juno’s decision not to abort. The decision is seen as sudden, irrational, and based in the body: “it smelled like a dentist’s office” and the enhanced volume of the other people in the clinic. All of this is sensory rather than mental. Body over brains. But not rooted in or established by character.

    Oddly enough, the central tension of the film– Lolita-esque indeed–between Jason Bateman’s character and Juno–does NOT require that she be pregnant. She could be any young woman who he happens to meet who shares his interests and makes him realize he wants out. But, he ends up with TWO mothers, the only role the women are given to play: one a teenager pregnant only in body, another a grown woman already a mother emotionally BOTH demanding him to “grow up.”

    The movie is funny and sweet indeed…

  11. sarcastig said

    I never thought this post would get such an enthusiastic response, but I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    I do think Juno’s decision at the abortion clinic is a weak point of the movie, but on the other hand, I understand why it is: the movie is so clearly structured around the pregnancy that it wouldn’t have existed had another decision been made. It was demanded by plot and theme rather than character, and too obviously a hurdle they just needed to take. In all fairness, I can imagine a sixteen year-old seeing abortion as an abstract idea, and that the confrontation with something as tangible as fingernails would be a shock.

    I do think the interaction between Jason Bateman and Juno can only happen with her pregnancy, not from his end, but from hers: without the pregnancy, his interest would have revealed itself as slightly creepy right away, and her pregnancy allows her to fool herself into thinking it’s no big deal.

    You make a valid point about the Bateman character being mothered, and the parallel with High Fidelity (or more generally the 30-yo-boy books of Nick Hornby) is one I hadn’t thought of. In a way, Juno’s pregnancy forces her to grow up, and makes sure she won’t end up an adult child as Bateman’s character does.

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