LGBTQI Week: Women Empowerment and LGBT Issues in ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’: Strange and Nonexistent

This is a guest post by Marla Koenigsknecht. 
*As a note, I am not including anything about the comic series, only the movie.
*Synopsis from imdb.
 
!!SPOILER ALERT!!

Probably most women can say they’ve had their share of “evil exes.” Sure, your past may come back and bite you in the butt, BUT I’m also sure it’s never come back in the form of super-powered henchmen with quirky names. I’m also sure it’s never happened in the style of an arcade game, either. Well, that’s what happens in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. And while watching Michael Cera kick butt is super entertaining, and we all think Cera’s shrimpy (yes, shrimpy) voice is adorable, the movie doesn’t do women any justice. I find this to be Cera’s most misogynistic role because his character is…well…an asshole to women.

It all begins with 22-year-old Scott and his new high school girlfriend, Knives Chau. He says that he likes dating someone 5 years his junior because it’s simple. However, everyone else advises him to break up with her (he’s also only using her to get over his ex who cheated on him). But that doesn’t stop Scott, who begins cheating on Knives once he meets Ramona—a funky, hipster chick. Before he can begin dating Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil exes in fights to the death. The movie is filled with tons of funny quips and witty, fast-paced jokes—and I’ll be honest, I loved it the first time I saw it. But the more times I watched it and thought about it, I realized that Scott Pilgrim is too much of a “guys’” movie—something rather disappointing, in my opinion.

Knives Chau (played by Ellen Wong)
I’ll start with Knives. Not only do they repeat the fact that she’s only 17 over and over, but it’s definitely apparent she worships the ground Scott walks on; yeah, so I dated an older guy at a young age. It’s exciting—but Knives doesn’t have enough self-respect to leave a guy who doesn’t respect her. She even becomes obsessive and stalker-ish, changing her looks to look more like Ramona and trying to make him jealous. She is portrayed as crazy, and we’re supposed to roll our eyes and laugh. She even says, “I hate her stupid guts!” like Ramona ruined her love life, when Scott’s the one stringing Knives along in his game. Ramona didn’t know that Scott was cheating on Knives with her and shouldn’t be blamed for stealing Scott when he lacked the nerve to break up with Knives. It’s just another way to pit girls against one another, acting like Scott is the victim, and therefore okay for him to hurt a vulnerable teen because he’s in love with Ramona. Following this scene, one of the evil exes “punches the highlights” out of Knives’ hair because she tries to stand up for Scott, and it’s clear then. No one respects this poor girl. And her lack of respect from others is reflected from her own lack of self-respect. The biggest issue I have with this is that she never finds her own self-respect either. It is never resolved in the way I would like it to be, which would be Knives finding self-respect on her own. Instead it’s given to her from Scott (more on this later).

As for Ramona, I personally love the character at first. She seems really strong, but then after Ramona’s exes arrive she’s just a girl in a man’s world. In this movie, Ramona isn’t the love of someone’s life, but a prize to be won. It is even stated that they are “controlling the future of Ramona’s love life.” She waits around while Scott fights these battles for her, when really all she should have to do is tell them to stop. At one time she says, “I’ve dabbled in being a bitch.” So, standing up for herself means she’s a bitch, and that means she has to wait for Scott to kill all her exes before she can be “free” of her past baggage and over-controlling exes. In the end fight, her most recent ex Gideon Graves is shown petting Ramona like a dog (before he eventually fights Scott). Before the fight, Scott “gained the power of self-respect.” But why does Scott need to be the one to gain self-respect? Why not Ramona? She deserves to get rid of her own baggage, not have Scott kill it for her. She even stands up and fights Gideon, but says, “Let’s both be girls.” She can only fight someone when the person is a “girl” (figurative or not). Again, girls against each other. Which leads me to my next point.

Gideon (Jason Schwartzman) and Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)
Roxy is one of Ramona’s exes, when she was “a little bi-curious.” Before the fight actually begins, Scott finds it hard to believe that Ramona dated a girl, even though his roommate Wallace is gay. He doesn’t question that. Maybe Scott has this idea in his mind that Ramona is this perfect, exactly-what-he-wants, girl. But does that mean that a “perfect girl” is one with no previous baggage, especially in the form of another woman? His disbelief in her bisexual past indicates a lack of freedom for women. Perhaps Scott is threatened by her sexual past, because it might mean he as a man is not needed to fulfill her expectations. Especially because Ramona is a decently strong woman when we first meet her. Wallace is free to explore other men, but Ramona is unable to have a bisexual past without it being laughed at. At this point, before Roxy hits Scott, Ramona steps in. So, she can fight against a woman, but not a man? And who doesn’t love a good cat fight?! (sigh, rolls eyes, gag, etc.) My personal favorite is that Ramona grabs Scott and uses him as a puppet to hit Roxy because Scott says, “I don’t think I can hit a girl….They’re soft.” Roxy yells, “Fight your own battles, lazy ass!” to Scott. Oh, the insufferable irony. To Scott, the man who is fighting Ramona’s own battle at that moment. As if Ramona couldn’t do that the past how many years? Of course not, she’s a girl.

Homosexuality is also portrayed weirdly in this movie, in the case of Wallace and Roxy. Wallace (the roommate) has the power to turn straight men around him gay, and several times does the audience see this happening. It makes being homosexual seem like a fad–which seems rather insensitive. The end of Roxy’s fight is rather odd as well. Ramona tells Scott to touch the back of Roxy’s knee, and it makes her orgasm to death (literally, she blows up). That, and when Scott says, “You had a sexy phase?” about their relationship reminds me too much of how men find lesbians hot together and makes me want to gag. Her battle scene just seems like a comic relief fight from the real action. If you compare Roxy’s fight to Lucas Lee’s (another evil ex) fight, you’ll notice several differences (ignore the snowflakes and Spanish subtitles in the second video). First, you’ll notice the obvious gender differences: the lowered voice, built body and facial hair for Lucas…the smaller body, pigtails, and higher voice for Roxy. It makes you aware of which one to take seriously. Second, in Lucas’s fight, Ramona sits and watches. And third, notice that Ramona gives a back story to Lucas (she does that for all of the ex-boyfriends), and Roxy doesn’t because being a lesbian is a joke here.

Everyone is okay at the end of the movie. And only because Ramona’s exes are dead and her bad past is defeated (courtesy of Scott, not herself), he and Knives have reconciled, and Scott gets the girl. But only because Scott apologized. And while I like that he did find some kindness to apologize, I’m still irked by this. I don’t think the girls in this movie should have needed Scott to apologize just to feel okay in the end. I wish they would’ve been given more empowerment to find respect for themselves without Scott–especially because these girls could have been portrayed as strong and able to stick up for themselves.

Honestly, I like that this movie attempts to show triumph over mistakes, but I hate that it requires Scott’s self-respect before the women’s. Because I feel the women have been wronged most in this movie, I wish that they had found their own self-faith before he did. Personally I have found in relationships—and in life—that strength comes from my own faith in myself and then having faith in another person. I wish the women of Scott Pilgrim had the same empowerment Scott had earned. That they wouldn’t need Scott’s self-assurance to have their own. That they would’ve been able to say, “Screw you, Scott!” or “Screw you, deadly exes!” or “Screw you, misogynists!” I mean… it’s all the same, right?

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Marla Koenigsknecht is junior at Michigan State University. She is an English and Professional Writing student. She also is the Assistant Editor of The Offbeat, a literary magazine on MSU campus.

2 Comments

  • Raoul
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    TLDR: THis move is not about female empowerment, I hate it!
    Seriously… none of the authors and actors though nerly as strange about it as you overanalyse it, the movie was just made to be funny…
    But hey, everything has to be 100% feminism approved this days, right?

    “Its a boys movie” oh my god, how could they make such a movie, they should burn…

  • Christian
    Posted February 4, 2015 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I would totally recommend the graphic novels to anyone who wasn’t satisfied with Scott’s character arc, they had to cut a whole lot out of the movie that really redefines Mr. Pilgrim. Homosexuality is also treated with a lot more respect, and Ramona is a total badass in the graphic novels. Give them a try, the movie was alright, but nothing compared to O’Malley’s work!

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