First year Film Studies taught me that you are a metaphor for the things that trouble our collective psyche. Obsession with female purity, threatened masculinity, you’re stand-ins for all of it. Often, the protagonists’ quest to rid themselves and the world of your presence represents a desire to exorcise the more unsavoury aspects of ourselves and our societies. Then Internet trolls remind us of all the shit we foolishly think we’ve resolved and buried, and it’s obvious you aren’t finished haunting us.
I knew I was going to enjoy Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot long before I saw it. I’m not overly familiar with the original, but I’d give a 90-minute static shot of an oscillating fan two thumbs way, way up if it made sad men-children on the Internet as apoplectically furious as LadyGhostbusters has. Watching the film was actually a weird experience; it was formulaic, but also not. I guess I’m just not used to seeing this many women in a movie that doesn’t have any wet clothing or period jokes. Our heroines may get drenched in ectoplasm, but they don’t even smear it over their chests coquettishly - it was all very new for me.
I’m just kidding, Ghostbusters is a very clever and funny film. With four of the funniest women on the planet at the helm, all the one-liners, punchlines, and slapstick gags land with near-impeccable precision. I also admire the more activist aspect of the narrative, especially given the shitstorm of sexist temper tantrums that seem to have dogged the film at every turn.
When your corps of spooky spectres include men who chained their daughters up in cellars, and a large, white, puffed up, angry male, full of hot air, that literally tries to suffocate women, it isn’t hard to tell what Feig is getting at. By aiming their proton packs at all of you, our heroines aren’t merely busting ghosts, they’re out to exorcise The Patriarchy itself. Rather than ignoring the haters or bothering with all that ‘rising above’ crap, Feig and his cast harness all that vitriol, throw it right out in front of them, and then take aim. And they do not miss. The film further broadens its scope in order to call out institutionalized sexism in science and academia, and pokes fun at the way in which we gloss over the depravity and misogyny of history’s Great Men. Is it a tad ham-fisted and on the nose? Sure, but also pretty damn satisfying.
Still, Ghostbusters falls short in one glaring way. I was expecting the team to be comprised of four scientists, not three white scientists and a black woman who has to constantly defend her presence among them. And this has nothing to do with the fact that Leslie Jones is my very best friend (she just doesn’t know it yet). I was sorely disappointed by the way in which her character, Patty, is set apart from the other three. Their credentials and expertise are evident from the get-go; Patty, on the other hand, struggles to make space for herself and her awesomely encyclopedic brain. She has to constantly remind her teammates, “Hey, I’m smart, too!” while they stare back at her uncomprehendingly. For all the ghosts blasted away, one spectre unfortunately lives to see another day.