7 June 2017

Ghostbusters (2016)

I was going to do a more general film catch-up post, but it turns out I have a lot to say about this film. I saw Ghostbusters a while back when it was in the cinemas and I very much enjoyed it (I didn't go to the loo during the screening even though I was pregnant). It's one of those rare films where the more I think about it the more I like it and notice stuff that was clever (usually it's the opposite way round and reflecting upon a film exposes its flaws).

The film is a fun, action-packed summer blockbuster, with lots of humour and great chemistry between the characters. There are strong themes of friendship, which feel very solid and some of the performances are incredibly fun, the portrayals of Holtzman and Patty especially. I loved the characters, and even though the comedy was goofball at times I always enjoyed it (goofy stuff can be kinda hit and miss for me). The only thing I didn't enjoy so much was how much Kevin was mocked for being stupid, and how his stupidity got very over the top at times, but that's a minor niggle and I know that that characterisation was included for a reason. Plus it looks like Chris Hemsworth is having a lot of fun with the part and that does shine through. The film absolutely works on this fun, entertaining level, but it also does more than that if you want to look deeper.

The story is about a group of scientists (and a colleague without a science background) struggling with credibility who discover that ghosts are real and then work to capture them both for their own research and to help the people of New York. Put like that it is similar to the original film, and features a lot of nods to the originals with loads of cameos, in fact there were more references than I was expecting. What I want to talk about though is the differences, because I found them very revealing.

There are some spoilers below, but I'm talking about themes more than plot points.

First off, the main characters are all women, that this was a point of contention shows just how messed up some things still are. In fact the way women are treated becomes a massive theme in the film, in both subtle and obvious ways. The first act feels a bit choppy in places, like it was heavily edited, and there were reshoots to include scenes which poke fun at some of the real-life, misogynistic detractors. It's a funny and creative reaction to awfulness. Erin is terrified of her past indiscretion -publishing a book about ghosts being real- destroying her serious, academic career, which it absolutely does. While a male academic who's close to tenure might well be as nervy and awkwardly eager to please, depending upon his personality. But would he have his entirely-appropriate outfit choices critiqued by a superior? Almost certainly not! This is just the setup and background for Erin's character, but it occurs to me that she's in a precarious position that perhaps a man in her position wouldn't need to worry so much about. She's made sure to fit in and stick to what is mainstream and ignore her past findings/research/belief in order to get ahead.

"Too sexy for academia?"
Secondly, I've heard people say that the villain isn't very epic, which is true. He's just an angry little man who's disappointed in his life, got obsessed with ghosts and enacted a plan to destroy the boundaries between worlds in order to make himself feel big (both physically and emotionally). The thing is, women have to deal with small-minded men all the time, the reaction to this film just existing is proof of that. Maybe they aren't fighting a gribbly, extra-dimensional being because their time and energy is filled by the enmity of an angry guy and they have to deal with that before they're able to get much else done. Also Rowan isn't shown to be specifically a misogynist, he's generally unpleasant because he has no joy. His life didn't turn out the way he felt it should and he decided everyone else must be to blame and therefore deserved punishment. Patty is the only character who is nice to him early on. She doesn't mock him for being weird and off-putting towards her, and though that is a requirement of a public-facing job (believe me!) Patty is very genuine in her interactions. We see that she tries to be friendly to everyone even though she's ignored and rebuffed she doesn't let it get to her (she's like an anti-Rowan). Later on the Ghostbusters try to save Rowan from himself and the sad thing is that he actually shares a major interest with them and was inspired by Erin and Abby's work. In fact he probably took it more seriously than anyone, so even in the execution of his plan he's inspired by/relying on the work of these women. Had they met under better circumstances the Ghostbusters would have probably seen him as a valuable collaborator.

The other big difference in this film is that although the authorities (the Mayor and the FBI especially) believe the Ghostbusters and already know that what they're saying is true, they absolutely will not acknowledge this publicly. Compare this to the reaction towards the original Ghostbusters team, the respect they receive, and the difference is massive. A PR lady from the Mayor's office makes very clear that all attempts to publicise their work and the existence of ghosts will result in them being derided and called crazy. All they are offered is the opportunity to continue their work discreetly and give the results to the authorities, who will of course disavow them while benefiting from their research. Basically doing useful and important work entirely for others while receiving no credit and being mocked in the process. Hmm, I wonder if this is based on real things that have happened?

While characteristion is a big factor within the story I found that parts of the plot stem from these differences in the character's status, respect and the treatment they received. IIRC the original Ghostbusters were laughed at, these ones are threatened and suppressed. It's a great example of how taking an existing story and changing significant things about the main characters can give you a very different tale and one that examines more things.

I just hope that the sequel moves the story along from here, expanding the ideas and letting us really see what these ladies can do.

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