The local two-drop theater showed Scott Pilgrim vs The World a couple weeks back. I really didn’t know much about it other than that it starred that nerdy guy from Juno and that it was based on a non-superhero comic book. One of my favorite movies of all time, Ghost World, was similarly based on a comic, so that was a point in its favor. But mostly it was just about time I saw a movie at a theater again. I’m really, really glad I did.

Back when I was single, one of my habits upon meeting someone with whom I might have a future was to run up a catalog of the guys (and sometimes not-guys) they had dated. I’m not positive why this held such a fascination with me, though I suspect it had to do with an insecurity on my part that I was somehow illegitimate compared to most guys. I could write a post on that alone and maybe at some point I will. But I, like a lot of you, went through junior high and much of high school never really garnering much interest from the opposite sex while those around me seemed to be having a better time of it. And when I finally did get a girlfriend, it lasted for years. So in addition to my insecurities, it was also somewhat alien to me the notion of having a series (large or more often relatively small) of people in your past. Anyhow, so I would tally up her exes and then invariably compare myself to them. Were they more legitimate guys? Were they more or less attractive than I was? Why did their relationship fail? Am I at risk of having a relationship fail on similar grounds? Am I able to overcome what guilt or hurt the other guy (or not-guy) caused her?

It was through this prism that I watched Pilgrim. That was the metaphor that pervaded my viewing of the movie. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it involves protagonist Scott Pilgrim meeting a girl, Ramona, and getting into a duel with her League of Seven Exes. Her ex-boyfriends. Some have looked at this movie as a geek fantasy about “protecting the girl,” but I almost entirely watched it through the lense of the above metaphor. It wasn’t about the exes. In some ways it wasn’t even about Ramona. It was about his insecurities regarding her more lengthy romantic past than his and the baggage that she told him about almost immediately. On a sidenote, one of the lessons I learned the hard way is that when a girl tells you first thing that she has baggage, believe her. At the least she is being very honest and she has baggage, but also it’s frequently the case that she is laying the groundwork for “I warned you!” when things fall apart as a way of evading responsibility.

This particular insecurity dogged me from most of my early relationships. Julianne only had two or three exes and only one that lasted more than a month or so. But the guy – whom she dumped – was an instant topic of interest to me. It took me less than a week to determine that I had nothing to worry about from him and it took me a month or so to determine that there was simply no way the guy stacked up against me. Julie and I were right for one another in a way that they weren’t. He made a play for her early in the relationship and she shot him down cold.

This tendency of mine became most pronounced when it came to Evangeline. Eva had a more substantial romantic history and a more dramatic one. She had more baggage. The figures from her past loomed particularly largely. I didn’t even have to ask about them the same way that I had to ask Julie about her ex. She unloaded on me the first week I knew her as I unloaded on her. And immediately the cataloging and appraising began. Unlike with the others, this actually turned out to be very helpful in seeing what was to come. Before we were ever even officially together she ended up back with Shane, the ex that I had immediately focused in on as the most likely to cause problems (despite the fact, at the time, she hadn’t spoken to him in two years). I wasn’t even worried about the guy that she was dating and leaving at the time, but I was worried about Shane. And I was right.

Of course, that was the thing. Though I often had a better idea of what was going on than she did because of my keen analytical skills and all that crap, there wasn’t anything I could do about it. It helped me see the oncoming storm, but it didn’t give me so much as an umbrella. Shane came and went and then came Vince. Vince did not have a whole lot going for him, but he was nonetheless a figure from her past and she had a little obsession with her past that wasn’t exactly of much help when it came to ridding myself of the non-productive cataloging instinct. And as soon as Vince entered the picture, that was when I knew it was time for me to leave. And she, either by virtue of seeing how crazy everything was making me, knew it was time for me to go. I used to joke that it would only be once I was out of the picture and became a figure from her past that I would become important. It turned out not to be a joke so much as the absolute truth. I was too dim to get it, but she made a play for me about eight months into her relationship with Vince. Then, after Vince when she got together with my friend Kelvin, she cheated on him with me near the outset of the relationship.

Once I was a mythical Ex, suddenly I wielded a certain power. Ramona’s exes in the movie were similar in that regard. Their powers coincided with whatever their “hooks” were – whatever made them interesting or attractive. Brandon Routh’s character was a Vegan whose awesome powers depended on his diet. Despite being a musician and looking like Routh, Veganism was his hook. It was only when he could demonstrate that he was not a Vegan that he was able to vanquish his enemy. Ramona’s ex-girlfriend could go intangible, as is the case when confronting a relationship of your partner that you can’t seem to fully gab onto or understand (except, perhaps, through pornography). The musicians had musical powers. And so on. Her Shane was a guy named Gabriel, whose success made him larger than life. And so on, and so on.

The movie doesn’t carry off the metaphor perfectly. At times it can’t decide how pseudo-real it wants to be. There is a point where one of Scott’s bandmates asks why being a Vegan gives someone special powers. In terms of reality, this is a good question. But in terms of the ethereal nature of the metaphor, it’s blatantly obvious why being a Vegas is a selling point. It’s something that Ramona or any future girlfriends can point to in order to demonstrate what makes her boyfriend special and unique. Being a Buddhist or a writer has a similar hook, I’ve noticed. Moreso than guys – though we do it, too – there seems to be an attraction among women (or the perception amongst guys of such an attraction amongst women) towards guys with a demonstrable uniqueness. Veganism, Buddhism, or writing. It’s worth noting that this is all in addition to, not in placement of, being of appropriate attractiveness, fitness, and other more superficial qualities.

I personally managed to conquer – more or less – the cataloging of exes by the time I met Clancy. I went through the usual motions of finding out about her romantic past. But she was not particularly forthcoming. She would tell me when she was ready. There was no telling when she would open up, so we would be sitting and having a conversation when something reminding her of someone would come up and the next thing I know she would be telling me all about some important thing from her past (sometimes romantic in nature, something not) and I would have to shift gears into “Information Gathering Mode.” Ultimately, though, it was the case where I determined early on that she, unlike Eva and I, did not have the fixation on her past. Even when I belatedly found out about her somewhat brief history with Rick, the friend who introduced us, I was relatively unphased. It turned out that my relationship with Clancy was best judged on its own merits. My contribution to the relationship had nothing to do with my predecessors and all to do with me.

The movie touches on this point, but it comes at a place in the movie where the metaphor is being muddled again. But despite all of this, I really enjoyed it a great deal. It’s definitely something I am going to get on DVD when it comes out. I don’t know how many of you I can recommend it to since I think my enjoyment of it revolved pretty heavily around my personal hang-ups. Though if you like oddball, you may enjoy it regardless because it is so joyfully unhinged.

Category: Coffeehouse, Theater

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8 Responses to Will Truman vs The World

  1. ? says:

    Vis-a-vis Evangeline: I know from personal experience that its easier to see this from the outside than the inside, and impossible to believe even when you know it in fact to be true.

    But having said that . . . Evangeline was always going to be Bad News. You are fortunate to have extracted yourself with no more damage than you received.

    [That’s as empathetic as I ever get, by the way . . . ]

  2. stone says:

    “Back when I was single, one of my habits upon meeting someone with whom I might have a future was to run up a catalog of the guys (and sometimes not-guys) they had dated.”

    Me too. I think it was mostly just because I’m extremely nosy, although I didn’t think that at the time. At the time I thought of it as a necessary comparison of our experience levels and values.

  3. trumwill says:

    Phi, at best, my path to happiness with Evangeline was pretty narrow. It took Clancy and I two weeks to get to where Eva and I didn’t get for two years. You’re right about outside-looking-in and vice-versa. After we parted ways I was glad we did. A part of me wondered if it was sour grapes, but when she popped back up in my life to break up my engagement with Clancy, I had the time and distance and perspective to make the right call.

  4. trumwill says:

    Sheila, it’s probably not a coincidence that I am pretty nosy, too. But I think for me it had more to do with insecurity and male status-sorting. How did you view experience levels? Worried about guys without much experience? I got dinged on that one a couple of times (the first who was flabbergasted that I had only had one serious relationship and then horrified that it had lasted four whole years, the second who falsely assumed after having met me in person that I had never had a girlfriend with a real live girl) and once in the other direction (she preferred inexperienced guys and seemed let down when it turned out that I was slightly more experienced than she was in relationships).

  5. Meadowlark says:

    A part of me wondered if it was sour grapes, but when she popped back up in my life to break up my engagement with Clancy,

    She tried to break up your engagement? I’m imagining her standing up at your wedding when the preacher asks if anyone objects. Details?

  6. Kirk says:

    I don’t have any exes. I could see being judged harshly for it but…meh. What am I going to do, invent a bunch of exes just to satisfy some woman’s view of how many I should have?

    I’m probably one of those rare guys who would benefit from dating women who talk incessantly about themselves.

  7. trumwill says:

    She tried to break up your engagement? I’m imagining her standing up at your wedding when the preacher asks if anyone objects. Details?

    Haha, nothing like that. Basically, in the run-up to the marriage we started spending some time together again (initially so she could apologize for all that happened) and before long she was wanting to get back together and not wanting me to get married to someone else. At first it was so that we could see if maybe we could try again and before long so that we could move in together and get started on things right away.

    She didn’t attend the wedding itself.

  8. Mike Hunt says:

    [Scott Pilgrim vs. the World] starred that nerdy guy from Juno

    I prefer to think of him as that guy from Arrested Development.

    Even worse than the ex-boyfriends is the Guy Best Friend. They always seem to be Mr Wonderful. Of course, Mr Wonderful is out of her league, but she always carries a torch and holds out hope, and the guy she is currently dating compares very poorly.

    Yes, girls are more than capable of befriending a guy in the hopes that he eventually falls for her. It’s not just guys who pull this move. See “You Belong with Me” by Taylor Swift and Liz Rose.

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