Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 08/16/2010
In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright has redefined the plight of boy-meets-girl, and even love itself, for a 21st century with an increasingly invasive pop culture which oppresses and alienates the individual. Identity, and even reality itself has been disrupted by the constant and violent influx of technology, video games, movies, and comic books. The young are told who they are again and again until it is hammered into their heads consequentially sparking disingenuous and compromising trends in fashion and lifestyle. Wright articulates this confusion through a chaotic misé-en-scene, hyper-montage, and a cacophonous sound design of video game themes, effects and pop music. The hero of the film, Scott Pilgrim, is a victim of the aforementioned threats, and must figure out how to be himself and how to love in a world where truth and beauty hide in between the notes of a Final Fantasy bass-line.
In order to secure his relationship with the object of his desire, Ramona, Scott must fight and defeat her seven evil exes. Each ex is a manifestation of pop-culture by-products and he must reclaim the art and authenticity they’ve stolen from our culture. Faux hipsters, sell-outs, vegans, lazy minimalist musicians and the potentially insincere bi-curious are all lampooned. Scott is pitted against his environment and must overcome it. Essentially, his arc throughout the film is one in which he journeys from ignorance to consciousness. Some don’t succeed as Scott does, as suggested by some of the final moments, in which certain obstacles such as capitalist-infused fantasy and the superficiality of personal image get the better of certain characters.
In order to pursue the girl of his dreams, Scott has to leave behind Knives, a girl who idolizes him much in the same way he idolizes Ramona. His friends criticize him for dating a teenager (he being in his 20s), but both Knives and Scott are essentially at the same level of emotional maturity. When his interest shifts from Knives to Ramona, he cruelly ignores her and in a poignant scene dumps her at the record store, a source of both common interest and disagreement. As Scott breaks the news to her, the record store fades away and we are left with just our characters and a black background. Knives reacts as expected, looking as if her heart has broken. Then the film cuts to Scott, alone, sitting on the bus. Then this image begins to slide to the left, and the frame incorporates split screen as it often does, the images begin to cycle, the next is of Knives, still heartbroken, left behind in the black abyss succeeded by a fantasy image of Ramona as we see Scott begin to smile on the bus. Scott’s infatuation with Ramona seems irrational and immature in that he seems to fall simply for her image (and perhaps conforms to the negative perception of Knives). While his relationship with her gains authenticity as the film progresses, its origins once again touch upon the themes of the film. Knives, in an effort to recapture the attention of Scott, dyes her hair blue like that of Ramona’s, compromising her own identity to conform to an image.
The disturbance of Scott’s reality is captured perfectly by Wright’s montage, which has the location of a scene jump several times (from the record store, to a clothing store, to band practice) in the midst of single sets of dialogue. The consistency and tranquility of space are erased, and what remains are the people and objects through which these characters make meaning. The rapidity of references and jokes, in conjunction with the animation and effects, also contribute to this tone, feeling as if very little holds the narrative in place. The sincerity of the characters’ feelings are not successfully conveyed by the English language, which no longer seems to be an adequate form of communication, and thus action, referential behaviour and especially music, become equal modes of articulation.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an astute representation of modern times; Wright’s stylization is appropriately hyperbolic and formulates a sharp, visionary work. However, one of the most striking touches comes from the frank portrayal of homosexuality. One especially important moment is when an all-male-three-way is alluded to (in a PG movie no less!) as innocently as any other sexual innuendo. Gone is the derogatory nature of past generations as in Scott Pilgrim such things are touchingly matter-of-fact. Of course, something must be said for the experience of the film, which is exhilarating to say the least. While the connotations of the film set it apart, the sheer amount of fun to be had is remarkable. Rarely have I seen a film that maintains such a level of energy, such consistent creativity and such genuine hilarity while also adding up to more than the sum of its parts.
The quality of the auteurs that spring to mind should make Edgar Wright blush: Chaplin, Tati, De Palma, Powell & Pressburger, and even Godard. This of course sparks the question: is Edgar Wright an auteur? The short answer is that it’s too early to tell. His first two films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are both very good and are also highly stylized, but that doesn’t necessarily make Wright distinct. His use of the camera is informed by the work of the directors he loves, not his own invention, although Scott Pilgrim demonstrates he is capable of more. The first two films work as pastiche and homage, but in Scott Pilgrim, his evolved form moves beyond those humbler ambitions. Wright has often publically revealed which films and filmmakers he admires. Two films he loves are of particular interest: First, Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, a satiric rock opera, and second, The Red Shoes, the Powell & Pressburger masterpiece. One hints at a satiric sensibility and the latter hints that Wright’s admiration of cinematic technique extends to filmmaking in service of ideas. Indeed Wright’s films are as technique-heavy as the work from all of the these filmmakers and with Scott Pilgrim, his form has been set free from his inspirations and has moved into unfettered creation.
The blissful blend of satire, poignancy and mastery of form is something worth championing, and certainly more so than the more-talked-about but lesser & less inventive (and even less mind-bending!) Inception. Surely this is the most memorable film to come out of mainstream America this summer and of 2010 so far. The ultimate victory of Edgar Wright and his protagonist is to bend the onslaught of pop culture into beauty. Ultimately, individualism prevails and in the final image of the film, the oppressive environment is transcended. Scott Pilgrim 1; The World 0.