Scott Pilgrim vs The World is one of my favorite movies. There’s the video game-y nature of it; a world that’s realistically unrealistic where fights look like Street Fighter and people explode into coins. With that, Edgar Wright and team put a great deal of love into making it; sound effects are borrowed everywhere from Legend of Zelda to Seinfeld. It’s a great movie.
For those of you who haven’t seen it (or fall outside its fairly narrow demographics), here’s a rundown of the plot: Scott Pilgrim falls in love with Ramona Flowers, but in order to be with her he has to fight her Seven Evil Exes. Mixed in with that is his struggling band, dealing with baggage from an old relationship, and breaking up with Knives Chau. Again, it’d be easy for this to be pure pulp and just a fun, silly story, but Wright and team give it its due. Though their world may not be strictly realistic, the characters and their relationships are. We see the effect ‘meeting’ Ramona’s exes has on Scott and we watch tension build between them (especially when Knives is involved).
So where’s this relationship advice, you ask? In the climax, we find out that love isn’t enough for a relationship.
Let’s back up. What’s the biggest in most romances? It’s, usually, the moment where the guy decides to throw it all away and go after the girl. Harry runs through New York to find Sally. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan meet. Lloyd Dobler holds the boombox over his head (although, wonderfully, this isn’t the climax, but you get the idea). It’s that Big Moment of Love.
Scott Pilgrim, being at its heart a romance, plays this trope straight. Having lost Ramona to Gideon, Scott decides to set out to the Chaos Theatre to win her back by fighting Gideon. He arrives, fights his way in, and tells Gideon he wants to fight him for Ramona. When asked why, Scott responds that he’s in love with her. Scott thus earns The Power of Love and is awarded a flaming sword (from his chest!) with which he duels Gideon.
Great! That’s our Big Moment of Love! If there’s anything years of movie-watching should have taught us, know that Scott knows he’s in love with Ramona, he’ll beat Gideon and live happily ever after.
Only that’s not what happens here. Instead Scott gets himself killed.
Fortunately, however, Scott got a 1-Up earlier in the film and, after some brief soul-searching, uses said 1-Up to confront Gideon again. Again, Gideon asks him if he’s fighting him for her. Scott’s reply is different: “No, I wanna fight you for me.” And this time Scott earns the Power of Self Respect, gets a purple flaming sword, duels Gideon, settles things with Knives and Ramona, and fights Gideon again. With the Power of Self Respect.
Herein Scott Pilgrim vs The World suddenly does something that most romances don’t. Love isn’t enough. Thus far Scott has been fighting the exes simply because he has to if he wants to be with Ramona. It was Gideon who orchestrated the whole thing and, the first go round, Scott fights him like any other of Ramona’s exes, so he can be with her.
Only that didn’t work out.
The second time round, Scott fights Gideon for himself. This guy’s been screwing him over all along, yanking Scott’s chain. So Scott fights him not to win over Ramona, but to get his own back. Scott isn’t playing Gideon’s game anymore at that point, this time he’s engaging him on his own terms. The idea implicit is that in order for a relationship to work, you have to be able to be a person in your own right.
Sure, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is hardly the only place you’ll see this. (500) Days Of Summer did something similar: Tom gets his crap together after Summer, dragging himself out of the routine and finally into doing something he loves, no longer looking for love to solve all his problems. What makes Scott Pilgrim special is that in a movie with bass battles and subspace highways we have an interestingly important commentary on relationships.