Ghost: A Retrospective
November 9, 2007
As I mentioned before, 1990 is somehow the only year of BP/BD reviews not to have been recapped since I started this blog. However, several of the films for this year were very prominently featured in other posts: Goodfellas was the essence of YS Salutes: Ray Liota, and both The Grifters and The Godfather Part III featured in my post on imitation and defamiliarization. So, given the fortuitousness of this bizarre coincidence, I have decided to encomiate this otherwise undistinguished year with individual posts on the contenders, or to review them in the context of elaborate, yet poorly conceived (mis)readings and Freudian speculations.
Today’s retrospective of Ghost will better resemble the former than the latter. Like the new Philip Roth novel, Exit Ghost, Ghost is based on that famous stage direction in Hamlet, “Exit Ghost,” and is structured around the struggle between Thanatos and Eros. Still, lest someone accuse our country’s greatest living novelist of either plagiarism or suffering under the anxiety of Ghost‘s influence, there are many differences between the two New York-based stories: Roth’s novel depicts an elderly, no-longer virile Nathan Zuckerman out to score one last chick before death fells him; Ghost, on the other hand, is the story of a young, handsome, murdered (!) banker seeking a way to communicate and be intimate with his wife, Demi Moore.
There is, however, one other major similarity between the two: both are of questionable merit and not the best work of anyone involved (with the notable exception of Whoopi Goldberg). As the Washington Post put it in their ringing endorsement of Ghost, “strangely enough, it’s not that bad.”
Ghost’s nomination must surely have been as much of a surprise then as it is now; the movie didn’t even win the Golden Globe for Best Picture Musical/Comedy (which went to Green Card), usually the best indicator of a comedy’s chance of success. Perhaps reason can help. Ghost was 1990’s second biggest hit, only coming in behind the reifying, BAFTA award-winning Home Alone. It would appear that Ghost rode a wave of popular support to become the recipient of the traditional comedy/musical Best Picture nominee. Still, there were two other contenders with similar chops: the aforementioned Home Alone (which was also nominated for the Globe) and Pretty Woman, which received an Academy Award nomination for Julia Roberts, and was that year’s 4th highest grossing film. Of these films, Pretty Woman has best stood the test of time–and by that I mean countless airings on TNT and TBS.
With other contenders readily available, what could have pushed Ghost over the top? I would normally posit that the nomination was a makeup of sorts for the director, Jerry Zucker, for the academy’s slight of Airplane! and Top Secret (or, perhaps even an anticipation of BASEketball‘s omission), but Mr. Zucker was further slighted, and went unnominated for Ghost.
So what could have put Ghost over the top? Was it Patrick Swayze’s animal magnetism (a definite contender)? Zionist plot to reward Ms. Goldberg? Perhaps another explanation is in order: the NYC Subway. The trope of the New York City Subway is well-loved by academy members (see: The French Connection, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze), and was especially poignant and topical in Ghost.
Coming at the end of a dark era for the NYC Subway, Ghost provided evidence that the MTA’s war on graffiti had been won, that the infrastructure investment had paid off for the city, and America was captivated. Really this is the only logical explanation. After all, was Patrick Swayze really that good looking? (Please leave comments, Swayze-fans!) Grade: B.