Scott Pilgrim and the Power of Understanding

I watched the Scott Pilgrim movie, and then I read the entire book series. The book is essentially about growing up and how we need to one day realize we’re no longer children. One day we need to do things for ourselves, be responsible and understand how our actions effect the people around us. That’s not what the movie is about. It’s all about being ok with yourself, being alone and being ok. It’s all about self-respect. Those are completely different messages from the same property, and that’s totally cool.

In the book, Scott Pilgrim is this hyperactive character who is oblivious to the rest of the world around him. He’s not ignorant. Despite his apparent stupidity, he accepts all walks of life. He sleeps in the same bed as a gay man, he and his friends cook vegetarian food in order to be ‘inclusive,’ even when no one is actually vegetarian. Scott’s problem is that he never truly understands what his actions do to people. He frequently forgets people, events, whole conversations. He’s selfish, but not any more selfish than anyone else is. The problem lies with his inability to deal with that selfishness.

He starts a relationship with Knives Chau to get over his ex-girlfriend, but once he meets Ramona, he ditches her. There’s nothing wrong with losing interest in someone, it happens all the time. Knives was never that important to Scott, but Scott was very important to Knives. To Scott, she was nothing more than something to lean on, because ‘it was easy,’ but when he falls in love with Ramona, he does something wrong. Instead of breaking it off with Knives, he ignores the relationship completely. Wallace continually reminds Scott what he needs to do; ‘you need to break up with your fake high school girlfriend,’ but he refuses to. He doesn’t think he needs to. It meant nothing to him, but he fails to realize what it could possibly mean to someone else.

Scott and Kim Pine have a vague relationship that is only hinted at most of the time. Basically, they dated in high school, and then Scott moved away. That’s all the characters ever say about it. Throughout the series, Kim is often inexplicably angry at everyone, especially Scott, asking him if  he’s ‘evil, or just stupid.’ It’s only much later that you find out the root of their connection. Scott’s family was moving away, but he seemingly had no plans to tell Kim about it, until she found out herself. She eventually moved too and they were reunited later on in life. Nothing happened. They were just friends. To Scott, their relationship was uneventful, but it was anything but. There was tension and longing and pining. Kim Pine, get it? They were friends, but Kim also cared about him deeper than Scott could understand or even realize and that made Kim bitter. She’s there in Toronto, with the boy she followed. She’s not going to school, she hates her roommates and she lives for their band. She comes to terms with Scott and Ramona, but when the band breaks up, she has nothing left there. When Scott and Kim part, he apologizes to her. He apologizes for everything he put her through. Their relationship wasn’t important to him, but for the first time he saw that it was important to someone else.

Ramona finds out that he was still with Knives when they started dating. She says he is a terrible person, and Scott admits his shortcomings and agrees. Maybe he’s not a terrible person, but he does have flaws and he can see them now. He admits it and he hates it. In a world where metaphors are as literal as possible, Scott fights Negascott, the antithesis of everything that Scott Pilgrim wants to be. He is a manifestation of his inner demons, the skeletons in his closet, and all the mistakes he’s made that he has locked out of his mind. He immediately decides he needs to kill Negascott in order to forget Ramona and everything he’s ever done to hurt someone. He admits that he’s conciously locked away the bad things he’s done so he can actually live with himself.  Kim thinks he needs to come to terms with his dark side so he doesn’t continually make the same mistakes again and again. He decides he doesn’t want to forget Ramona so Scott and Negascott become one and he ‘remembers everything.’

He understands that he hurt people, but he also learns that he manipulated his own memories to make things better than they actually were. He didn’t save Kim from an evil master mind like he thought he did; he stole her from some kid that she was dating at the time. He understands who he is and what he’s done and only then can he stand up to Gideon and win Ramona back. He realizes that Gideon is his true opposite. Gideon doesn’t forget, he remembers. He has a collection of girls who didn’t love him and are locked away, ‘awaiting the day when they’ll all go out with me.’ Gideon actually imposes his selfish desires on others, which is something that Scott never wanted to do. He understands that this is what he could have been and he knows he has to stop him. At this crucial point, Scott gains the Power of Understanding to defeat Gideon.

In the movie, however, Scott is much more timid and quiet, he’s essentially Michael Cera. This Michael Cera Scott Pilgrim can’t be the same oblivious character he was in the book, so he can’t learn any of the same lessons. The movie focuses on his relationship with Ramona giving him an identity and something to live for. In the end, at the crucial moment of the film, instead of fighting for his love for Ramona, he fights for himself. He finds the inner strength he’s had all along and gains the Power of Self-Respect. It makes perfect sense in the universe that this movie takes place in, but the funny thing about it is that this is the exact same character arc that Ramona takes in the books.

The only thing the characters or the reader know about Ramona is that she has seven evil ex-boyfriends. She is constantly defined by her relationships and as Scott fights each one, Ramona sheds a little more light on who she was. Not who she is. Each boyfriend had changed her in some way, but there is no acknowledgement about who she is as an individual. She hops from relationship to relationship, afraid to be alone and afraid to be dependant on others. She had been hurt by Gideon and feared it would happen again with Scott, so she left. It’s not until Scott attempts to save her from Gideon, that she learns to stand up for herself.

Like all lovers, they leave a piece of themselves with you. The piece that Gideon leaves with Ramona has been controlling her and when Scott literally goes into her mind to save her from his influence, she learns to accept what has happened. She can’t pretend Gideon didn’t hurt her, so once she acknowledges it, the power he has over her disappears. Ramona casts Gideon’s control out of her, embraces her love for Scott by seizing the Power of Love and stands up for herself. For the first time, it’s about what she wants. She wants to be rid of Gideon and she wants to finally embrace the idea of loving someone.

In some way that’s still the power of understanding. She learns to understand her own inability to face her problems and she breaks through. Michael Cera Scott understands that he has to be ok with himself before he can fight for someone else. Scott Pilgrim learns to understand the universe around him, and only then can he triumph over his literal opponents and the figurative obstacles he creates for himself. It might seem outlandish on the surface, and it is, but it’s also very real.

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