Enid is alienated from the world around her. She never connects to anyone else. She coasts through her mundane existence without a care for anything and persists to pass judgment on everyone.
Enid is a ghost.
In her world of a nameless and faceless American suburbia, Enid (Thora Birch) thinks she knows who she is. But she eventually discovers her bitterness toward a world she has yet to explore spawns from her never looking beyond the flaws of everyone she passes by, including herself.
Ghost World, a dark comedy by director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb), works as an examination into the life of a teenager who has yet to find her way, and takes us all on her journey to discover who she really is.
In a way, Enid is inside all of us. While we may not have all experienced teenage angst to the extent our hapless protagonist suffers, we still relate to her struggle to find herself in a place where people can’t even find a coffee shop without “incorporated” attached to it.
Enid’s best and only friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) is a sarcastic brat just like her. We first meet them after their high school graduation where we get the sense these girls were neither in the running for valedictorian nor Miss Popularity. But rather, they were those two cynics who enticed fear because they looked down on everyone and subjected them to their own private and uncensored ridicule. Their dream is to move in together at the end of the summer, but first Enid needs to take a remedial art class in summer school and Rebecca needs to save up money by working at the local Starbucks.
Enid is the type of person who is so intent on escaping the mainstream, she constantly interchanges her image as well as her likes and dislikes. She dyes her hair green and attempts an authentic original 1970s punk rock look and is distraught when her peers fail to pick up on her intention. She changes between three pairs of different-shaped eyeglasses depending on her mood. She rents obscure films that most people have either forgotten or never heard of in the first place. She takes up listening to the beginnings of jazz because it is the obsession of a pathetic malcontent named Seymour (Steve Buscemi).
Enid first comes across Seymour when she and Rebecca read a personals ad in the weekly tabloid where a man asks an anonymous woman he bumped into one day, “Did we have a moment?”
Perversely interested in how pathetic this guy must be, the girls prank call him pretending to be the anonymous woman and schedule a meeting. Of course, he shows up and we begin to follow Enid on an unwitting journey to find herself through an odd, to say the least, relationship with Seymour.
After voyeuristically watching him squirm on a stool at the bar of a fast food chain diner, Enid becomes increasingly curious about Seymour. She follows him to his house and goes through his mail. Seymour, complete in his spiffy green cardigan, is the opposite of mainstream – a perfect candidate for Enid’s new hobby.
They finally approach their subject at a mini flea market run by him and his slob of a roommate, where Seymour can extract his vast knowledge of old and rare music.
Rebecca is already tired of the prank while Enid is just getting warmed up. From there, Enid takes it upon herself to find the self-deprecating Seymour a date. She tells him she doesn’t like the idea of living in a world where a guy like Seymour can’t find love. Seymour keeps his attraction to Enid a secret, never quite comprehending why she would waste her time with him. Enid takes him shopping to the local S & M shop and bakes him a birthday cupcake.
Meanwhile, her relationship with Rebecca is feeling the brunt of her obsession with Seymour. Enid is forced to grow up when she and Rebecca get in a fight and she realizes all she has in her life is a dysfunctional relationship with a 40-year-old loser. This comes at a time when the real anonymous woman calls, and Enid is no longer the center of Seymour’s, or anyone else’s, attention.Subplots, including a psycho, shirtless construction worker’s disputes with a Middle-Eastern convenience store manager and Enid’s assignments in her art class taught by a New Age feminist (Illeana Douglas) further explain Enid’s skewed perspective.After getting fired the first day of her job as a concession stand worker at the local cineplex and finding out her father is dating a woman she doesn’t like, Enid realizes her life is just as pathetic as the people she sneers at on a daily basis.
Similar to American Beauty, where Birch played the hapless loser’s daughter, Ghost World examines a life unfulfilled. While Beauty plays on many different levels on the broad scope of extreme dysfunctional suburbia, World takes a tighter look at how a loser lives his or her life and the reasons he or she is sheltered. Just as every character wears a proverbial mask in American Beauty, the characters of Ghost World choose to alienate themselves from the society around them.
While everyone here breaks through in som way, only Enid truly escapes because she finally realizes her life is simply a hollow teenage existence posing as a pre-determined string of ironic bitterness.
Enid finally gets out of town and we get the sense that she just needed to grow out of a phase where a bleak outlook and an ill-conceived desire to be different eventually left her lonely and depressed.
Ghost World teaches the lesson that we all need to start anew sometimes, especially at times when we are starting from scratch.