Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Paradox of the Ghostbusters


I was witness to a rare event this weekend: a child of the 80s seeing Ghostbusters for the first time. Actually, it's not really his fault -- he was raised in a pentecostal household, so it's my job as his friend to introduce him to some of the movies he missed out on. It's possible that I've seen Ghostbusters more than any other movie. Growing up, I watched it every time it came on HBO, and many more subsequent times after learning where the "record" button was on our VCR. I obviously know the movie backwards and forwards, but there's a few elements that have intrigued me during my last couple viewings.

It's easy to see why Ghostbusters was one of the decade's biggest hits, as it successfully combined the genres of comedy, sci-fi, horror and adventure. None of these genres really overshadows the other, as a well-crafted paranormal story is always building in the background as the jokes on the screen keep coming from the right and the left. The Gozer/Zuul plot is the stuff of childhood nightmares, and by the end you want to know more about these Sumerian gods and just what the hell they had in store for New York City -- nevermind the goddamned marshmallow parade. Ghostbusters leaves a lot on the table, and that's a good thing because the plot carries so many possible pathways and terror that it's never stretched thin. But what got me thinking during this last viewing were two lines that could have pushed the movie in another direction, especially if it was straight sci-fi/horror and not comedy.

Let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. Based on this morning's reading, it would be a Twinkie thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.

Egon is projecting huge paranormal activity on the horizon. While he has lots of scary data, Egon doesn't arrive at the conclusion his numbers should point to. From the outside, it appears that the number of ghosts in New York increases with the amount that the Ghosbusters catch, that no matter how many they contain there will always be that many more throughout the city. Emphasizing this point is that in the early stages of the film the ghosts are few to none, and it stays that way after they open business. Also, when all the spirits are freed by shutting down the containment grid, the city is obviously terrorized like never before. Whether it's the act of containing these spirits in a central location, or merely the psychological hysteria in the public that comes with knowing ghosts actually exist -- the Ghostbusters are the true public enemy by contributing to the city's ghost population.

Wait for the sign! Then our prisoners will be released!

Lewis, while possessed as Vinz Klothar, forecasts the chaos that will result when the containment field is shut down. So the question is, without the Ghostbusters, would the terror dogs and Gozer have been awakened/summoned? Are the Ghostbusters an unwilling participant in a paranormal apocalypse by harboring their collection of spirits? Or, was their enterprise merely one of the final steps of a plot set in motion thousands of years ago in Sumeria -- with Ivo Shankor and his interdimensional gateway of a skyscraper being yet another Earthly pawn?

Questions like these have to be asked because they are not touched on at all in the movie. Since its intentions are fairly light, the battle with Gozer ends with a parade. With a more serious tone, Ghostbusters may have ended with the team reflecting on their role in Gozer's summoning, and perhaps deciding to hang their proton packs up for good in the interest of mankind. As it is, the Ghostbusters never feel any weight of responsibility after the events in Dana's apartment building or speak of any closure with Egon's Twinkie data. The sequel brings down this way of thinking, as the paranormal activity in the city obviously continues after Gozer is turned back. It's a tribute to the movie that even with a comedic tone, Ghostbusters manages to weave such an involving and complex ghost story.

3 comments:

Piper said...

Wait! So what did your friend think of it?

I'm curious because I love revealing new movies to my son. I am sitting on such gems for him when he gets older. He has no idea.

Adam Ross said...

I think he liked it -- he laughed at everything I laughed at ("Annette Fleming, she's drawing a salary from a deferred bonus from two years ago") and was surprised when it was made because of how good the special effects were.

I can't imagine what that's like to show the classics to your child, I'm really looking forward to those years.

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