Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: Scott Pilgrim vs. Himself

I cant speak for the comic book series, but the movie version of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World works best if you assume the entire thing is happening in Scotts imagination.

The movie is most of the way there already. It plays with the laws of physics and reality, using comic book and videogame tropes in a live action setting, giving the movie a dream-like quality. What would happen if we applied the same unreality to the character of Ramona and her seven Evil Exes?

As a personality, Ramona is insubstantial as morning mist. Shes less a person than a phantasm that exists to be fought over by Scott and the Exes. Aside from her physical attractiveness, Im not sure why Scott cares about her. More importantly, Im not sure why she cares about Scott.

But lets not imagine her as a character. Let us instead see her as an extension of Scotts personality. Imagine instead that she exists only as a projection of his brain, the embodiment of the type of woman hes always wanted.

Lets take it a step further and say that the Evil Exes are not real either. They too are psychological constructs. They are the personal demons that stand between Scott and his ability to have a relationship with a woman he loves. Scott can either face them or settle for what hes been getting--one-sided relationships where the woman cares about him more than he cares about her, relationships that are unsatisfactory and unfulfilling, not just for Scott, but ultimately for his partner as well.

Hold on, I hear you say. The Exes arent Scotts exes. Theyre Ramonas Exes. So isnt Scott doing battle with Ramonas problems? Are the Evil Exes not the issues and baggage Ramona is carrying forward from the past? Is Scott not metaphorically cutting her free from the chains of previous disappointments, healing the scars of left by previous lovers, and showing her that she is worthy of more than the assholes shes dated in the past have given her.



The movie certainly points in that direction, but Im choosing to ignore it, because it undermines everything Im going to say next. Also, Scott rescuing Ramona from the damage of her previous bad choices is  a fucked up message on a number of levels. It basically says Ramona cant choose a romantic partner on her own; she needs Scott to SHOW her who she should be with. It also tells us it is Scotts role to save Ramona from her problems, which--as anybody who has tried to rescue someone else from their own demons can tell you--is not a dynamic that ends well for anyone involved.

The only dragons we can slay are our own.

So for our purposes, lets accept this admittedly arguable point: The Evil Exes do not represent Ramonas past romantic choices per se. They represent Scotts ISSUES with Ramonas past romantic choices. The World that Scott Pilgrim is versus-ing is not the external world, but Scotts inner world, and more specifically, his inner romantic insecurities.

If this is the case, Scott Pilgrim isnt alone. Many of us have evil exes to conquer. Just for funzies, lets take a look at mine:

1. Tommy Conlon (Thomas Hardy) - Warrior (2011)
The Danaged Alpha Male

I hate this guy. I may have talked about it before.

Tommy is that breed of angry alpha male that I assume women find irresistible. Hes a violent, dangerous man, who is also deeply broken inside.  In movies these characters are romantic. In real life, they have a disturbing tendency to cause people--mostly women people and their children--a lot of pain.

At the same time, theres no question that these men are ones you want around you when the shit goes down. Compared to that level of aggression, confidence, and competencewell, salsa dancing Buddhist crisis workers like myself have a hard time measuring up.

FEAR: Women find it sexy when men take what they want when they want it, regardless of consequences. I dont do that. Therefore, I can never be sexy. Also, I cant cope well with anger, whether its my own or other peoples.

2. Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) - Crazy Stupid Love (2011)
The Charming Manipulator

There is an art to seduction, and some people are better at it than others. For some its a technical exercise, like Xs and Os in a football playbook or a game of human chess. Others turn it into an art, the art of knowing what to wear, what to say, how to take another person on an emotional journey. I admire people who are good at it even as I resent them. Its also a temptation to think there is a magic formula or a game plan to romantic success, that every situation has a right answer and that if you can make anything work if youre just GOOD enough.

FEAR: I will lose you to a slicker, glibber man, because he is more technically skilled at knowing what women want and how to give it to them, even if that experience is short-lived and insincere.


3. Edward Cullen (Rowan Pattinson) - Twilight (2008)
The Romantic

Ive always been on Team Edward. Team Edward Van Halen, that is. But this guy..?

Edward Cullen is the Backstreet Boys of vampires--threatening in his very unthreateningness. Oh sure, he says hes dark and brooding and could totally accidentally kill Bella, but its faux-darkness, a danger more theoretical than real. No, what makes Edward intimidating is the depth and breadth of his devotion.

Ive never loved a woman so much that I would break into her house and watch her sleep. For all practical purposes, thats a good thing. At the same time, when I hear Edwards words or listen to boy band lyrics, I feel I come up short in my ability to love. Im deathly afraid that if I were a boy band, my first single would be called I Really Really Really Love You (But If Things Dont Work Out, Im Confident Well Both Find Someone Else).

FEAR: I dont have enough capacity to love.

4. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
They Dont Make Em Like They Used To

In 1986, a movie called Tough Guys came out starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster as a pair of released train robbers. They were tough, virile, and wore cool suits. The men of the eighties paled in comparison. I feel the same way in comparison with Atticus Finch. Finch is wise and dignified, an excellent father who is also unafraid to stand up for what is right. He defends a black man in a racist southern town. The closest I could get to that is clicking Like on a Free Tom Robinson Facebook page.

FEAR: That I cannot live up to the standards set by the Real Men who came before me.

5. Cal (Seth Rogen) The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
The Guy Who Beats Me At My Own Game

I guess this applies more to Seth Rogen himself,  than any of the characters he plays, but I made the rules. No sense changing them now. Hes funny, smart, self-deprecating, and creative. He writes. He does comedy. And hes been successful at it. Hes a guy very similar to me. He is a guy who seems a lot like me--only hes doing well for himself. Every time I say women dont like funny, smart, self-deprecating guys, Louis CK, Seth, prove me wrong.  Which is scary.

FEAR: Other guys like me are doing well, even doing well at the things I Want to do. So whatever is not happening in my life is because of ME. Theyve been successful doing what I want to do, and I am not. Therefore, there must be something wrong with me. I am fundamentally unlovable.

6. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) - Iron Man (2008)
The Guy Who Has Everything.
Hes a rich, likeable genius who is also a superhero. How the fuck am I supposed to compete with that?

6a. Spike Witwicky (Shia LaBoef) - Transformers (2007)
The Guy Whos Worse Than Me But Gets The Girl Anyway.

Seriously, watch the first half of Transformers. Spike is the lamest protagonist ever. Things happen around him, but he doesnt actually do anything until the last scene.

Spike is lame.

Yet Megan Fox likes him anyway.

Im so glad I got into that car, She breathes.

Why? Because of the grand adventure shes now part of? What Spike had contributed to said adventure other than stuttering, running, and nearly causing the end of the world by putting a crucial McGuffin up fro auction on Ebay? Seriously. Fox should be humping Bumblebee.

FEAR: Stark and Spike are lumped together because theyre two ends of the same spectrum. In order to be loved, I need to earn it. I cant just have a woman like me for me. I have to earn it through my achievements. Although if theres a battle, Im hoping for Tony Stark. A man is known by the quality of his enemies; Spike as a nemesis would be embarrassing.

7. Corky  (Gina Gershon) -  Bound (1996)
The Woman: Anything I Can Do, She Can Do Better

I like to feel I bring something to the table that a partner cant get from someone else. Sex is part of that, but its not ONLY sex. I also feel vaguely threatened by stories of woman platonic friends like Thelma & Louise or even the Dixie Chicks Goodbye Earl. Sure, Earl had to die, but you could have asked ME to do it. Killing things has always been sort of man business, be it spiders, abusive exes, or your dreams of us one day learning to clean up after ourselves. If youve learned to do your own killing, I dont know what else we have to offer.

FEAR: Of not being needed, especially not being like a man, whatever that means. That whatever I bring to the table can be easily replaced.

*  *  *

Conquering our Evil Exes is an ongoing process. The better we deal with them, the better our relationships are.

But there is an eighth obstacle.

That final obstacle is Ramona, the woman of our dreams.

She doesnt exist.

Many of us labour under the illusion that if we say and do the right things, our romantic lives will be perfect. If we just fix ourselves, then nothing will ever go wrong for us again.

But  as we move past our own issues, we discover our  Ramona Flowers is far from the blank slate of our romantic ideals. Shes more than a prize to be won or a princess to be rescued.

Shes a person. Shes a woman with her own ideas, personality, and quirks. We can do everything we can do defeat our Evil Exes and still we find she isnt perfect--and neither are we. We change. She changes. The world around us changes--jobs come and go, parents age, sickness and health happen.

Happily ever after isnt where the love story ends. Happily ever after is where the love story STARTS.

I wish you all the best on your journey. I hope to see you on the path somewhere.

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