By Kalid Hussein
Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Ghostbusters in a crowded theater. I thought it was hilarious and I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Just about every scene garnered a laugh from me (that goes double for any scene with Chris Hemsworth) and the action sequences were pretty jaw dropping. For whatever my recommendation is worth to you, go see this movie. If you have a child that’s old enough to appreciate this kind of movie, bring them along.
More than the comedy, action, or even the fantastic performances by the titular cast, I left this movie dwelling on the underlying message. Ghostbusters isn’t exactly a “message” movie but a prominent recurring theme was treated as the connective tissue for much of the plot. In essence, what the film presents us with is an unfortunate victim of bullying who ultimately serves to propel the main conflict.
The character of Rowan North (played by the underrated Neil Casey) could very easily be played for laughs. And while he certainly was at times, the film never downplays the seriousness of what he is planning to do. Effectively, he is a mass shooter with something exponentially more dangerous than an assault rifle. Just about every scene with North shows him visibly eager to “cleanse” the world of the people he’s convinced are subjugating him.
Conversely, Kristen Wiig’s character, Erin Gilbert, is afraid that her past in paranormal studies will get her laughed out of a tenured university position as a respected particle physicist. In a nice moment of character building, Erin reveals that when she was a child she saw a ghost and spent most of her adolescence ridiculed for it. That is, until she met Abby (Melissa McCarthy).
Both Erin and Rowan have been profoundly affected by bullying and yet their lives went completely different routes. Granted, a litany of factors played into how their lives turned out, but the film makes a concerted effort to shed light on the similarity of their backstories. Both are incredibly brilliant in a field that’s far from credible and their peers ridicule and mock them for it. If just a few things had gone differently for Rowan, his expertise would have made him a great Ghostbuster.
In a sad case of art imitating life, the film has been under fire from vocal minority since it was announced. Leslie Jones has received some of the most vitriolic messages prompting her to speak out against the abuse (see: Why Leslie Jones wanted the world to see the hateful tweets she receives from the Washington Post for more on this). What I found fascinating was that when her abusers were called out and reprimanded (by way of being banned from Twitter) they had the nerve to argue that they were the ones being victimized.
The sad irony of this is that in a more logical world, a success like Leslie Jones would be heralded by these supposed underdogs. Like Louis C.K., she’s an example of how sheer talent and years of hard work (she’s 48, which… wow… she does not look 48) can pay off in a big way. But unlike C.K., who has a specific outlook that many of these commentators can relate to, she represents something new to them. And that’s scary. So much like Andy Garcia’s Mayor Bradley, who would rather not admit he was dealing with something he didn’t fully understand, it’s easier to discredit and disrespect anyone that challenges a specific notion of the status quo.
Lastly I have to say I love that Paul Feig directed and co-wrote this movie as I’ve been a fan of his since Freaks and Geeks. Paul is also a famous self-proclaimed nerd who has experienced his fair share of bullying himself. He could have just as easily let those years of ridicule turn him into a spiteful person; someone that would like to see everyone hurt as much as they hurt him. Instead he embraced what made him different and challenged the world to see things as he did. So did Leslie. So did the Ghostbusters.
Kalid Hussein is an assistant editor and comedy writer based out of Los Angeles. He has also never been seen in the same room with Batman.