Thora Birch On The Cult Legacy Of ‘Ghost World’

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I first discovered Thora Birch in Monkey Trouble, a 1994 film about — get this — a monkey who causes trouble. Apparently, so did Quentin Tarantino.

“I get compliments on that one from the oddest people,” Birch told me. “One time I met Quentin Tarantino, and that was what he knew me from. And this was just not that long ago, not long after American Beauty came out, and I thought for sure maybe that would be the one. And he’s like, ‘No, no, no. Monkey Trouble.’ And I go, ‘Oh, okay’.” Rest assured I’ll be using that story to prove I’ve got great taste in movies.

Birch was one of the surprise guests at the Cinespia at Hollywood Forever Cemetery screening of 2001’s Ghost World, an adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel, along with co-star Illeana Douglas and director Terry Zwigoff. It was a chance to see the impact the film had had on an entire generation in the 16 years since its release, packed into roped-off sections of a field filled with a hundred different shades of Enid Coleslaw, thanks to the many cosplaying attendees. There were Enids in the purple “raptor” shirt, Enids in the sex store cowl, Enids in her 1977 original punk rock look. I sat criss-cross on a “VIP” blanket in a field in a cemetery with Birch looking at younger versions of herself, in a moment so far beyond weird it went past normal and back to weird again.

Is it strange to watch a hundred version of yourself from 16 years ago circling you, I asked?

“It’s a trip to see,” Birch replied. “What’s fun for me to see is how nobody picks one specific look to mimic. They all have a look that speaks to them. From certain scenes and certain moments, and it’s trippy to see that. But it’s not that weird to me, because I just… Maybe it’s an LA thing, or just a West Coast thing, but I see a lot of Ghost World types, in general, just always around. So, I see a lot of Enids. I’ll definitely see somebody walking or just going to work or whatever, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s an Enid.'”

Back in 2001, when it was released a month before September 11, Roger Ebert wrote he wanted to “hug this movie.” And while it didn’t have much of an impact at the box office, it’s a film of earnest and lost sincerity that played off the decade that came before it and set the tone for the unexpectedly false-facing, jaded decade that would follow, a decade without an identity, one we’re still trying to climb out of today by drifting backwards.

“Honestly, I think for this moment in time, it fits perfectly right into the ’90s love that we’re experiencing,” Thora said. “Now, granted, this is a 2000 film, 2001, but it really encapsulated the last of that ’90s vibe. It was a film deeply rooted in a pre-internet culture, kind of, even though the internet was very much there and around, it wasn’t what it became. It was before it invaded everyone’s life. And I think it was this time where I think people felt that culture was becoming stale, and that nothing was real anymore. And there was… Everything was just faux. Faux happiness, faux celebrations, faux jazz, faux all of it. And I think that right now, we’re probably in a time where we’re hoping things aren’t real. So we can look back to this and like, ‘Remember kind of like when we were happy?’ even though this is a film about sadness and misery. We were still like, ‘We were happier then, okay.'”

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