Scott Pilgrim, Nostalgia and growing up

Okay, so if you know me, you know that I actually can’t stop talking about this movie.

I know it’s not perfect. I know it drags at the end. I know that there are a couple too many evil exes, but still, I can’t help liking it.

I can’t think of the last time that I really enjoyed watching something this much. More to the point, I find myself engaging with the film as a fan for (perhaps) the first time since Star Wars. Part of it is borne of the fact that I really enjoyed the graphic novels, which unfold more slowly and take time with the characters that the movie doesn’t have room for. There’s also the whole immersion in Toronto, which making Scott Pilgrim one of the great “city films” as far as I’m concerned.

I also really think that the movie captures something elusive and kind of true. The self-obsession of boys in their early twenties.

Part of it also relating to Scott Pilgrim and the biggest part is probably my nostalgia, as Scott and his friends drink in the same places, go to the same schools and talk about the same pop culture stuff that I remember doing in my alternative life back in Canada.

(There’s also the whole matter of living in a basement apartment, sleeping on a mattress, being poor and owning no stuff.)

So yes, I relate to this movie. Or, at least a younger version of me does. I certainly relate to the location, as it all takes place in a city I used to live in and in neighbourhoods I frequented.

Some of the similarities continue. I played bass in a terrible band called Sexual Chocolate (Scott plays bass in a terrible band named Sex Bob-Omb).

I was usually in-between jobs or under-employed, I constantly obsessed about my relationships with women, and I wasn’t always necessarily the nicest person, even though I really thought I was. Plus, I was a starving artist (a playwright? really?) who expected the world to come to him instead of making the effort to tackle it myself.

(my [terrible] plays and unfinished  films all attest to this fact, as they all deal with Gen-X slacker figures who are similar to Scott and who likely sleep on mattresses too)

For me, the graphic novel (and movie) presents that whole in-between phase of being a young, poor guy in the city and not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing with yourself. For the most part, as with many post-adolescent protagonists, this means immersing yourself in pop-culture, hanging out with your friends and going to parties.

The question of identity is also pretty important to the way the film and the story works. Scott is definitely the center of his universe. He relates to everyone as an extension of himself, in very much the same way that literature and moviedoms appealing youth protagonists – Holden Caulfield, The Graduate’s Benjamin Braddock to name a few.

Both stories deal with boys growing into men, even thought they’re not quite ready to enter adulthood.

What I find almost touching about this film (and book) is that as opposed to the aforementioned protagonists, Scott not only finds that the secret to his problems was himself all along, but that this realization forces him to apologize to the people he’s wronged.

In other words, part of the reason that Scott appeals to me is that he actually grows up, gets a job, becomes responsible and owns up to his mistakes.

For me, this is different than what happens to Holden and Benjamin. They remain static, trapped in a presumably youthful state and remain fixed there in our minds for good. A favourite English teacher of mine said that  as he got older the more he would get sad for Holden Caulfield and his mixed-up adventure. In other words, Holden is trapped in snowy New York City forever, just as Benjamin’s future is uncertain, despite his last youthful act of rebellion.

Alternatively,  the last impression that we get from Scott is something altogether different. He faces his existential drama and comes out of it changed for the better and slightly more independent for having gone through the whole adventure.

Scott and Todd Face off in Toronto landmark Honest Ed's

Ultimately my personal engagement with the film has allowed me to remember my early twenties more fondly than I have in recent years. By relating to Scott, investing myself in the film’s youthful energy and slackerdom left behind, I feel like I have forgiven myself for some of my youthful mistakes.

Steve Martin’s Shopgirl is another film that makes me feel this way. To me, it’s one of the other rare films that’s not overwrought or heroic in its depiction of post-university folks growing up, but merely (and realistically) chronicles what this feels like as you transition between phases of your life.

I’ve heard that the Eclipse series has a similar effect on women (though, feel free to call me on this…). That they don’t necessarily love Jacob or Edward per se but that the series helps them revisit a time when they experienced the beginnings of teenage love, the burgeoning self-awareness and the life-and-death stakes of it all.

And perhaps, ultimately, that’s what nostalgia is all about – allowing yourself to wallow in  homesickness for a place you never really lived and the heartsickness for a person you never really were, while reconciling your past and present selves.

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5 responses to “Scott Pilgrim, Nostalgia and growing up

  1. Two Things…

    1) Sexual. Chocolate. Baby!
    2) As my female students would tell you, Eclipse is the third installment in the Twilight series of films and books (not the Eclipse series as you have pointed out)

    Again (say it with me…) Sexual. Chocolate. Baby!

    Jas (ex-hornmeister, Sexual Chocolate)

  2. In addendum to my previous post…

    Eclipse is the second installment in the Twilight Series, New Moon is the third.

  3. Actually I’m pretty sure New Moon is the second movie and Eclipse – Twilight actually totally did take me back to my adolescence in a really weird way? It probably doesn’t hurt that I dated a Mormon dude in high school, so the whole dynamic was very familiar.

    I actually totally thought of you when I saw Scott Pilgrim, because of the whole Toronto movies compilation you did for the cities class. I didn’t relate to it as much as you did, but I still got a nice warm feeling seeing the Annex again.

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