‘Teen Moments’: Ghost World
Originally published as part of “Teen Moments Special” Issue of Transit.
After years of growing up together, best friends Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are wading through their high school hangovers and starting to grow apart. Fresh from graduation, their paths begin to diverge and we follow Enid as she meanders through suburban American, weighed down by her societal malaise.
An uneasy embodiment of defensive contradiction, Enid is angst-ridden yet sensitive, snarky yet introspective, skeptical yet unaware. For the most part, Enid is monotone and seemingly emotionless; there is a distance between her and the world that is filled with derisive disbelief and understated, forlorn longing. It’s not until late in the film, after a brief and stubborn war of words with Rebecca, that Enid is shown directly expressing emotion. Collapsing on her bed, she sobs amongst the detritus of her life. It is a short outpouring of grief that demonstrates her true fragility, and if you listen closely, you can hear a few notes from David Kitay’s ‘Ghost World Main Theme’ hover lightly on the air. Subtly aching in the background, the notes quietly linger, offering Enid a gentle, empathetic embrace.
Kitay’s composition perfectly haunts Ghost World, punctuating the film at such points of personal despair and melancholy, as well as moments of mischief and discovery. Whether wandering with Rebecca or Seymour (Steve Bucemi), or during a solitary walk of lonely contemplation, ‘Ghost World Main Theme’ accompanies Enid, attributing a sense of emotion that hammers through my heart upon each viewing
The concept of alienation and teen films go hand-in-hand; depicting the awkward sense of confused and isolated displacement one feels during those tumultuous adolescent years is inevitable and necessary. Alienation blatantly forms and informs Ghost World’s universe – everything that Enid experiences orbits around this feeling – but, similarly, it is also conveyed with subtlety.
As Enid moves through her world, past the neon glow of average shop faces or the solitary man waiting at a defunct bus stop, Kitay’s theme accompanies her detached steps; her plodding boots march in time to the delicate beat that fills the sequence with feeling. The use of this piece resonates delicately to reveal the emotionality, implicitly giving voice to Enid’s internal and external sense of displacement, conjuring the self-involved sadness that comes from making mistakes and not yet belonging.
At the end of the film, the piece is played at length, coming to a crescendo as she hops on a bus toward an unknown destination. In that moment, as the theme builds with perfect pauses and pace, the air is filled with dread and hope, wisdom and mystery: Kitay’s sound stands to accentuate how stubborn isolation, often self-inflicted, mixes with a potent (and paradoxical) sense of neediness and longing that is too difficult for someone like Enid to articulate. How, with a frustrated stance and clenched jaw, we teeter on the edge of reason until you come to realise, with time, that you’re not alone in feeling that way, but sometimes you need to be on your own.