film: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
When Kirk Honeycutt reviewed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World for The Hollywood Reporter, he said: "Why must [Scott Pilgrim] battle former loves extending back to seventh grade? Who knows?"
There's a clear reason for this.
Reviewers have called the style of Scott Pilgrim "comic book" and "video game" because it's based off a comic book and, indeed, has video game elements such bad guys becoming coins and stat increases and swords of fire.
These comic book/video game elements are part of the Form of SPvTW.
So we have to define Form. A thing's Form is the sum of its sensory details. For example: the Form of a regulation NBA basketball is what? It's round. It has pebbled skin; a leather exterior. The color is an orangish/brown. There's "SPALDING" and an NBA logo.
The question becomes, how does Form relate to Function. Function is how a thing is used.
Part of the game of basketball is dribbling the ball. Which means consistently bouncing the ball against the floor. This is why the ball is round. If the ball were a square, you couldn't control the bounce, the edges would shoot the "ball" off in all sorts of directions (try dribbling a football and see what happens). So the shape of the basketball is directly tied to the use of the ball. The Form and Function are one.
But what about the color? Is the color of the basketball important? Arguably, no. At least I would say no. The ball could be black or blue or green or yellow or rainbow and it wouldn't really affect how the game was played (unless some players complained the ball was hard to see).
What about the leather? In 2006, the NBA benched the leather basketball and replaced it with a microfiber composite. From a New York Times article on the ball:
Since the beginning of training camp, players have been upset with the switch to a ball that was supposed to have more consistency in the way it handles and bounces. Instead it has less. According to many players surveyed over the past two months, the new ball has stuck to the players’ hands, become frequently lodged between the rim and the backboard, and has also not been able to absorb moisture as well as the leather ball.
Steve Nash, the Phoenix point guard and two-time league most valuable player, wore bandages on his fingers last week because of cuts caused by the new ball. The Nets’ Jason Kidd, and the Dallas Mavericks’ Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki have all spoken out against the material, complaining of cuts on their hands.
Two months into the season, so many players had complained the NBA switched back to the leather basketball.
In other words: this aspect of the Form of the basketball affected the Function of the basketball (not in a good way).
If we look at the Form of Scott Pilgrim, the film is, as it's been described: "ADD", "Video Game", and "Comic Book". Scott Pilgrim having to fight the 7 ex-boyfriends becomes video game esque because of the "vs." that appears before each fight, a clear staple of any fighting video game ever (see games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Pit Fighter (such a fucking fun game; go Genesis)).
The odd cuts early in the movie--where Scott goes from his apartment to suddenly being with Knives in the library and staring at Ramona Flowers, to lead singer Stills yelling in Scott's ear and he's suddenly at band practice, disoriented by being there, glancing at his guitar like "what? how?", to suddenly walking down the street, at night, with the band, on his way to Julie Powers' party, to being at the party, to the "hunt through the Party for Ramona" cutting between shots of the party and extreme close-ups of Scott's face, eyes wide, then the terrible conversation with Ramona, the stalking of Ramona, the "information gathering" about Ramona, to being in bed--this is what a critic might describe as "ADD" and the non-diegetic text that appears on screen during this time seems "Comic Book" like, these are part of the Form of Scott Pilgrim. The question becomes: what's the Function?
The lazy response is: "The Function of this cutting is because the film is made for the younger generation who doesn't have the attention span to pay attention to anything that isn't 'cut cut cut cut cut cut cut cut'. The Function of the text is to emulate the source material of the film, the Scott Pilgrim comic book. There's no greater purpose."
Ehhhhhhhhhhhh. There's more than meets the eye, so to speak.
Which I didn't start to suspect until REALLY LATE in the film.
When Scott Pilgrim gets the Power of Love and Levels Up.
I didn't KNOW until the "replay" when Scott earns the (stronger) Power of Self-Respect.
The ADD aspect of the cutting we discussed earlier is an example of, I think, the disconnectedness of someone who is lovesick ("You only played one note for that entire song."). The text that appears in this sequence ("This one girl..." and "And then...he stalked her...until she...left...the party.) serves to reinforce the importance of Ramona to Scott, his "can't get her out of my mind" stricken-ness. Not only that, but, moments later, in the next scene, when Scott is back in his apartment, the sudden passing of information, the way roommate Wallace sends a text while passed-out and the sister calls Scott and knows all the gossip: this is hyperbole of the way gossip/information seems to spread so fast sometimes.
The video game/RPG/Fighting game style of the film gets at a truth of relationships: there's always someone else. Both Scott and Ramona have previous romantic interests. Ramona doesn't really have to "defeat" any of Scott's past flames. But Scott has to deal with his own baggage (Knives, Kim). And he has to overcome the men and woman who are vying for Ramona's attention.
Maybe people don't have to actually physically fight like Scott has to fight in the film. But that's what happens. There are girls I have crushes on right now. If I meet a new girl and she likes me, she has to win my affection. If we are to quantify this, you could assign values for each girl I like. I like Girl A a number of 80. Girl B 72. Girl C 55. Girl D 32. The New Girl is like...a 45. Then we go on a date, and she rises to 55. I'm now torn between her and Girl C. Then we have a long phone call and she goes up to 60. I think about her more. She's up to 65. We go on a second date, not she's a 70. Now Girl A tells me she likes me. Who do I choose? It's a close call, but probably Girl A. But interacting with Girl A, after having dating New Girl...Girl A starts to wilt, she goes to 75, and New Girl is suddenly at 75. Then I go see a movie with Girl A and she LOVES the movie and I hate the movie and I'm like...freaking out that I made the wrong decision, so I call up New Girl and she says she just saw the movie and it was stupid and we start laughing about it: New Girl rises to 95.
Did New Girl have to physically battle all the other girls? No. But, within my heart, there was a struggle going on. Scott has to WIN Ramona over. Where as Ramona wins Scott immediately. She's the Dream Girl (literally). She is, for him, right away, at 100.
The "Pee bar" is a good simple example of what's going on in this movie. How much someone has to pee is an abstract thing. We may have a general idea, but I can't say "I'm 65% of the way through this current urine session." When Scott pees, we get a video game-style bar.
I think we can take any situation or aspect of the film and justify it through this spectrum of "Form and Function making abstract concepts concrete, primarily concepts inherent to two people meeting, liking each other, and trying to date."
So Kirk Honeycutt, why does Scott have to battle former loves dating back to seventh grade? Because, in a way, that's what we all have to do.
If you want to see this "abstract made concrete" thing done really well, check out The Future. Scott Pilgrim looks at two people starting a relationship, The Future is the conclusion of a relationship. Future doesn't use video game concepts though, is something between absurd and surreal expression.
I would say there's a third movie to add to this chain: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With Eternal focusing mostly on the aftermath of a significant relationship that has terminated.
All three of these movies, Scott Pilgrim, The Future, and Eternal Sunshine, take abstract concepts related to romance and find ways (often odd) to make such things concrete (Form = Function). The films are not realistic by any means, but their absurd elements are born from truths, which is why all three films resonate with viewers.
The Future is horribly under-watched. You can watch it here. But it's also, I think, a little horrible to watch?
Pilgrim is fun because it's the beginning of something good.
Eternal Sunshine is sad at times but is, ultimately, someone coming to terms with what's plagued them--there's hardcore levels of catharsis.
The Future is about falling apart, about rifts and pain, and fucking up. I don't know how anyone could watch the movie and feel good when it ends? It's not some awful conclusion...it's just...a sad movie?
If you watch The Future as a realism-based film, you're like...WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS? But when you understand how it's "concreting" abstracts, everything makes sense (The Cat = The dream of The Ideal Future). The same can be said of Eternal Sunshine (which is probably the most realistic of the three, since there's actually a "realistic" mechanism which causes the surreal elements). And Scott Pilgrim. The Form of these films will seem superficial to a superficial viewer. That's not to say a superficial viewer will or will not enjoy these elements, the viewer just won't appreciate WHY these elements are present.