Scott Pilgrim and the disdain for Generation Y
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a fascinating film but it performed relatively poorly at the Box Office. I find that particularly strange especially because another film which I consider similar in important ways, performed an order of magnitude better. Both films have roots deep in the Animé tradition. Scott Pilgrim respectfully acknowledges it and does its best to transcribe it to screen but the other more successful film tramples all over that tradition so that only a farcical pastiche of its Manga roots remain. The film that was so successful while Scott Pilgrim was less so, is Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender”.
But while SPVTW is exceedingly brilliant, I found myself cringing at the apparent disdain that the writers and directors have for Generation Y —in particular the men of that generation.
Scott Pilgrim’s day-to-day unfolds as a dream with one moment fading or flying into the next in what feels like a continuous series of non sequiturs writ-large. However, it’s not just a dramatic or stylistic device; all around me I see my generation walking around in a haze of nonchalance so that our days really do feel like dreams where nothing of permanent significance actually happens and if it does, you can be sure we don’t remember it.
Michael Cera, who plays Scott Pilgrim, performs the role perfectly. His mealy-mouthed falsetto, and permanent unfocused stare into the middle distance (except when he’s fighting) convey a hilarious but ultimately repellent picture of today’s young man. He doesn’t have a job not necessarily because he can’t get one but more likely because he’s too footloose to pursue one. The last job that he held “was a long story filled with a lot of sighs.”
It’s his indecision that turns him into a passive, strange womaniser. For a good portion of the film, he has two girlfriends simultaneously. He doesn’t actively maintain the duplicity but nonetheless accepts it by refusing to make a decision of consequence. He seems content to let fate make its decisions for him. His philosophy is that if one postpones decision-making for long enough, then the world will make a decision for him.
Pilgrim is only ignited into action by his new love interest, Ramona Flowers, with whose Seven Evil Exes he must do battle. I found it particularly hilarious that his first adversary, Mathew Patel, sends him an e-mail announcing the duel. When Patel shows up, battle-ready and charged, Scott is puzzled and can’t understand why he’s being attacked. Mitch, mortified, asks if he received his e-mail to which Scott replies that he only skimmed it. In reality, he barely read it, hardly even skimmed it and quickly deleted with a loud groan of boredom. After all, it is well known that Gen Y do not read, not even when it’s a matter of life-and-death.
Towards the denouement of the film, there is a subtle but telling moment when Pilgrim struggles to defeat his ultimate foe, Gideon. Initially Scott manifests the power-of-love which appears as a sword but Gideon repulses him and kills him. Luckily Scott had picked up an “extra life” and spawns at a check-point earlier in the day (game iconography is part of the conceit). He returns to the fight and this time manifests the power-of-self-respect, ostensibly a more powerful sword, which enables him to defeat Gideon and finally, truly, win Romona.
In the film, there are no consequences and as a result, no responsibility or sense of duty in Gen Y. Scott Pilgrim is told that every fight is a fight to the death but the one moment when he appears to die is inconsequential because he resurrects —his life is a life of guaranteed second chances (or at least perceived chances, because his life might be so inconsequential as to be a dream or a dream of a game).
The other subtlety lies in the deep statement of youthful narcissism the scene makes. Only in the inherently solipsist mind of our generation would we find that our love for ourselves, as individuals, is more powerful a force for good than the power of love for another individual. Our generation fights for nothing except ourselves, forgetting the greatest lesson of all: that there is no greater love than that shown by the man who is willing to lay down his life for another.
This film is an exposition of a wonderful monologue in “Fight Club” where Brad Pitt says, “We’re the middle children of history with no purpose or place. We’ve got no great war, no great depression; our great war is a spiritual war; our great depression is our lives.”
I think I found the films depiction of Gen Y so disturbing because it feels true; parts of it felt very much like my life; the overall verisimilitude felt very frightening; the over-riding disdain felt justified. Gen Y is simply quite despicable.