At one point or another in our lives, we all feel the dilemma presented via the bifurcating paths taken by Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) in Terry Zwigoff’s masterpiece, Ghost World. Although the two best friends agree to move in with each other and skip college after graduating from high school, Enid finds herself growing wary of this notion as the summer wears on and she’s forced to retake an art class she failed in order to be permitted to keep her diploma. Realizing that succumbing to the working world is just another form of high school imprisonment, Enid does her best to drum up the impending life lull by answering a personal ad put in the paper by a lonely man named Seymour (Steve Buscemi). Although Rebecca is initially happy to join in on the prank, she quickly transforms into one of those responsible people Enid and she promised themselves they would never become. This marks the beginning of a theme in every human life: the decision we must make to conform fully or to maintain that part of ourselves dead set on freedom and rebellion.
Because female friendships have a tendency to harbor animosity and competitiveness at their root, Enid and Rebecca feel themselves starting to pull away from each other without fully comprehending the reason why. At first, it seems as though it’s because they both have a crush on the same guy, Josh (Brad Renfro, RIP), a self-effacing convenience store employee who takes pleasure in their bizarre sense of humor–except in the case of accompanying them to Wowsville, a “1950s” diner that plays hip hop on the jukebox, to engage in Operation Watch Seymour Look Like An Asshole.
After Enid and the others watch him wait for the woman that won’t come in mild discomfort, Enid insists that Josh follows him in his car so that they can see where he lives. While her obsessive fascination comes across as faintly appalling, it isn’t off-putting enough to Rebecca and Josh for them to say no. Josh drops Rebecca and Enid at Seymour’s house, where Enid starts rifling through his mail, which includes, among other gems, a catalogue from the National Psoriasis Foundation. It is at this moment in time, that the distinction between Rebecca and Enid begins to become clear: Enid finds an affinity with the so-called “freaks” of society, whereas Rebecca doesn’t.
Although Enid tries her best to appear interested during their apartment search together, she points out something wrong with each one, indicating to Rebecca that she’s not truly interested in moving out of her father’s house. Meanwhile, Rebecca has already succumbed to a menial barista job at a local coffee shop where she begins to let her soul go in exchange for the trappings of a bourgeois lifestyle–which, admittedly, is still better than living with one’s parents. Enid, on the other hand, overtly digs her heels in about getting a job, even when her dad’s ex and now current girlfriend, Maxine, offers her a drone position at her company, Computer Station.
When Enid goes to visit Rebecca at her coffee shop, Rebecca complains of the customers, “It’s mostly weirdos.” Enid protests, “But those are our people.” Rebecca shrugs, no longer relating to what it means to be immune to the tyranny of normalcy post-high school. Enid then only becomes closer to Seymour, who has taken a shine to her in spite of his curmudgeonly ways and has no idea that she was the one responsible for making a fool out of him at Wowsville.
As the disparate life pursuits of Enid and Rebecca augment throughout the film’s progression, it is obvious by the story’s culmination that there are ultimately two desires one can relent to as she grows older: to be comfortable and without worry, yet bored and complacent or to be in constant flux both financially and emotionally, accepting the tradeoff for comfort in exchange for avoiding the treachery of sustained ennui.