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The Intertwinement of New and Old in Scott Pilgrim vs the World

By Sarah Druhan


Photo: Deadline – Source


Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World, though it admittedly may have bombed in the box office, has survived to become a cult classic for good reason. The film invites us to live in its bright and unconventionally inventive world for a thrilling two-hour runtime; it is in part so delightful because of its ability to slickly transverse several realms of media through its use of comic, video game, and filmic aesthetics. Scott Pilgrim’s effortlessly zany world is certainly much of what has made the film such a staying piece of pop culture, but on the other hand, the story also strongly benefits from its equal use of the nostalgic and the familiar.


It’s noteworthy that Scott Pilgrim vs the World was released in 2010, a period in which there was a strong feeling of transition. Technology was beginning to boom in a way it hadn’t for a long time—Apple’s iPhones were becoming smarter, sleeker, more stylish; movie streaming platforms were beginning their speedy rise to dominance and their overtaking of DVDs and movie theaters. 2010 marked the start of one of the biggest periods of technological innovation in history, a decade where the rise of artificial intelligence and cloud computing changed how we live life. The world left the 2000s behind, an era many now associate with simpler times, and with stronger feelings of human connection.


Scott Pilgrim’s world is one in which sounds materialize onscreen (the thump of a bass appears as D-D-D-D, lightning bolts crackle off of guitars) and in which video game sound effects pepper the several magical battles throughout the movie. It’s an excitingly new storytelling space, arguably unlike any other film, but it is tempered by its use of the ‘old’. The characters use dated mobile phones rather than smartphones, which were beginning their rise in popularity at the time the film was released. The video game sound effects are the tinny ones of arcades rather than the audio of modern video and computer games. The film doesn’t only employ these nostalgic devices to operate its new world, but also makes use of a familiar story. The formula of boss battles, getting the girl, and self-empowerment is something that most Hollywood audiences practically know by heart, something that both endears us to the movie and makes it easier to navigate the story’s atypical landscape. Our minds aren’t occupied with trying to make sense of the story and the world at the same time; our knowledge of the narrative allows us to subconsciously fill in the gaps while being able to enjoy the creativity and groundbreaking originality of Edgar Wright’s new world.


Scott Pilgrim vs the World’s success, then, mainly comes from its pairing of concepts of old and new: through its construction of a new storytelling space built on transmedia devices, and in its operation of this world with a well-worn and familiar story tinged with nostalgia for older, simpler times. It’s first of all just pure fun—Michael Cera’s generally clueless demeanor ultimately works for his performance as the titular Scott Pilgrim, and the film is chock full of pleasing performances from other surprising co-stars—Aubrey Plaza, Kieran Culkin, and an unforgettable Brie Larson, just to name a few.


But it’s also a marker of a noteworthy period of historical transition, whether it meant to be or not, and it’s easy to see in every element of the film. Scott Pilgrim represented a changing world: Edgar Wright infused it with tenderly fond feelings of nostalgia for the old, but also an acknowledgement that a new day was coming. In this theme, it ironically became a period piece, a moment in time trapped in amber—a film that both captured a point in time, but also the reminder of the kind of films that just don’t get made today.