My Dad vs. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Regarding Fictional Universes

Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, for those sad souls who have not seen it, is one of the most unique and quirky experiences ever put to film. It’s like combining action, romance, and comedy, a seamless blend that comes in the form of a film, but looks like a comic book and feels like a video game. There is no movie quite like it. I could write scores of blog posts lauding this film and everything about it, but let’s get to the matter at hand.

One night, I found my sister watching Scott Pilgrim on television, so I agreed to sit and watch it with her. I had seen it before, she had not. We were both enjoying it, and then my dad comes in, and decided to watch with us. My dad, in his fifties, is certainly not Scott Pilgrim’s target audience, but he seemed to be enjoying it, despite coming in during the film’s final minutes, during the climactic fight scene. I expected him to shrug it off, as older people would, as some seizure-inducing jumble, indicative of a millennial’s short attention span, but just the opposite, he seemed into it. He even laughed (rather loudly, I might add) at Gideon’s Quip: “You made me swallow my gum… That’ll be in my digestive track for seven years!”

Upon the film’s conclusion, My dad had to state his one grievance with what he saw: “You couldn’t tell if he was in video game or real life!” And I didn’t want to tell him the answer to this statement because I’d get carried away and, well, he wouldn’t actually want to hear it. But the thing is, Scott Pilgrim might be in a video game, it might be his real life; either way, it doesn’t matter.

Upon entering the theater, turning on a game console, opening up a book, or whatever fiction it may be, you leave behind the rules of your world and accept the rules of this world. To criticize Scott Pilgrim for having unrealistic fight scenes is unfair, and to ask if it all takes place in a video game waters it down.

In much the same way, I think back to a fan theory about the Harry Potter series. It suggested that Hogwarts was a mental institution that Harry gets sent to after the early scenes of The Sorcerer’s Stone/Philosopher’s Stone (those involving the snake at the zoo). This theory did have some compelling evidence, but saying that Hogwarts is a mental institution greatly dilutes the entire series. Harry Potter is a wonderful set of fantastical stories and to say it’s just about a boy’s delusion while he sits in an asylum takes – pun intended – all the magic out of it. And it’s the same with Scott Pilgrim. It doesn’t take place in our “real” world, but that doesn’t make the story less important or entertaining.

I’ve heard people complain that since the physics of certain films (I often think of Gravity) are impossible, it lowers the value of the film. (Film is put to greater physical scrutiny because we can see everything unfold.)  Since Gravity’s physics aren’t perfect, people dislike it, but that’s such a shallow objection. When watching a Scott Pilgrim 2movie, you have to be willing to accept that (in Scott Pilgrim‘s case) some people will get punched and turn into coins, because that’s just the way the fictional world works. And that’s okay. Because what would movies be if they played by real life rules? Of course, there are films based on true stories, and those are bound by the rules of the real world. If a story (film or otherwise) advertises itself as a “true” story, it puts the restrictions of the real world on it, whereas if it acts as a work of fiction, it is only bound by the rules it creates.

Another person I know – a Canadian no less, you’d expect him to love Scott Pilgrim – said, in one of the grossest over-exaggerations I had ever heard, “I lost my faith in humanity coming out of that movie. It made no sense. Whoever made this movie had to have been on drugs. Lots of drugs.”

With this quote, you can make a fair case that the entire movie is just Scott on a crazy trip.
With this quote, you can make a fair case that the entire movie is just Scott on a crazy trip.

This is a frustrating thing to hear. Even if the whole cast and crew had been on drugs (it would not be shocking), it should not impact the quality of the film. In fact, if a film can pass on an experience as vivid on being on drugs, this film has arguably done its job; by taking a viewer out of their reality and bringing them into the world of Scott Pilgrim, one where viewers feeling like they’re playing a video game, reading a comic book, on drugs, or what have you, the film has achieved what all films set out to achieve.

“You couldn’t tell if he was in video game or real life!”

“Eh,” I gave my dad the short answer, “Who the hell knows?”

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