Pilgrim Ponderings

Scott Pilgrim Versus the World opens nationwide in theatres today. It’s not like I have to tell you that. The advertising campaign since San Diego Comicon has been intense. It’s an indy comic darling, an online phenomenon and a major motion picture.

If you haven’t already, I hope you read the books and watch the movie this weekend. The onslaught of media attention its receiving right now may be overwhelming but, believe me, it is worthy.

When I read the first couple books in the series as they were released I was thoroughly amused at the snappy premise, character antics and witty banter. Mal (Bryan Lee O’Malley) knows how to write dialogue that pops. Volume 1 and 2 read like the comic book equivalent of a fantastic fizzy root beer float.

The only aspect of those early Pilgrim books to disappoint me was that there was barely any of the emotional depth I’d previously seen in Mal’s first book, Lost At Sea. Lost At Sea was an emotionally resonant and introspective story that really worked for me. I was worried that the depth Mal showed there was going to be washed away by the video game rock hoopla of Pilgrim.

Thankfully, I was wrong. With each book released in the series Mal peeled away layer upon layer and showed that he was very aware of that emotional content. Everyone in the Pilgrim cast starts off as immature, selfish, wishy-washy and messed up in the best tradition of romantic-comedies and manga that influenced him so much. Mal showed them becoming aware and growing up bit by bit without taking away the vitality that made the books so fun in the first place.

However, the real masterstroke of it comes in volume 6. The entire concept of evil exes and the battle for Ramona’s heart is pop culture kooky but it’s also a symbol of something everyone can relate to.

Past relationships cling.

They infest our minds and hearts, keeping us tied to the past and hurting our self confidence. They’re a wall separating us from new love and friendship. Evil exes and Nega-Scott are a brilliantly simple way of symbolizing our own inadequacies and fears.

Ramona isn’t a prize to be won or a damsel in distress. She hasn’t put up barriers on purpose and she doesn’t enjoy watching Scott endure these trials. Seven evil exes are the physical representation of relationships she can’t forget, mistakes she’s made and personality flaws that keep her from growing up and being something more. They’re the reason why she runs away from problems and they’re entrenched in who she is until Scott helps her break beneath the surface. In the twisted cartoon logic of Scott Pilgrim, she’s quite literally “the girl of his dreams” and he’s literally helping her “break-up” with her ex-boyfriends (er, exes).

That’s the Mal who I felt hit a home run with Lost At Sea and that’s what makes Scott Pilgrim a great story.

If you’re a young teenager you can read Scott Pilgrim and completely enjoy it on a surface level of video game romance, music battles and action jack-assery. If you’re a bit older you may relate differently to feelings of young lust and the fear/discovery that goes along with new relationships. Older still and you might see a whole spectrum of immaturity and emotional baggage defining these characters’ lives until they figure themselves out and grow up. Every level of it works and entertains. No one feels excluded.

The surface aesthetic is planted in the here and now but it has a message that echoes deeper and ultimately rings true.

Marrying that emotional core concept with video games, music and frenetic witty banter is the way Scott Pilgrim deftly dances between genres. It’s the reason why it will last long after the movie fervour dies down.

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