Friday, 26 October 2012

The Girl Who's Been There All Along

In the marketing for the film, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Kim Pine is described as “the sarcastic one.” The movie’s two-hour runtime demanded an all-encompassing simplification of the story from which few characters escaped unscathed. The greatest casualty aside from Ramona, Kim retains -- but is also ultimately reduced to -- her quick, acerbic wit. The Kim of the film is not the Kim of the comic, but rather the self that Comic!Kim wishes the world to see.

At first glance, Kim is a simple character: she hates everything. In fact, she is almost relentlessly pessimistic. She never misses a chance to talk about how much Sex Bob-omb sucks. She leaps at every opportunity to criticize Scott. She despises everyone, including her friends.

Except, of course, that she doesn’t. She loves music, evidenced by the flashback in which she pauses in the middle of a back seat session with Scott to get him to listen to the song on the radio. Although she acts like Sex Bob-omb’s rehearsals and gigs are the worst part of her day, she later confesses that they give her life structure and, at the end of the series, we see that she has joined Scott’s new group, Shatterband. Keeping time behind a drum set seems to give her some kind of control, real or imagined, over what is revealed to be a pretty dismal existence.

In a conversation with her boss, Hollie, Kim tells her that she hates her. “You hate everyone, Kim,” Hollie observes, prompting Kim to reply, “You’re one of everyone.” Although this exchange is clearly intended to be funny, there is more than a little truth to the statement, and more than a little justification for Kim’s misanthropy. Most of the people in her life really do suck. While Scott is too busy fighting exes to direct our attention to her, Kim suffers a number of personal blows. She deals with the roommates from Hell (whose antics are briefly chronicled in a separate one-shot entitled, as ironically as humanly possible, “The Wonderful World of Kim Pine”), before moving in with Hollie. Hollie promptly sleeps with Kim’s boyfriend, thereby turning her home -- already the site of the recording that has disrupted the steady rhythm of her life -- into a hostile territory. It’s not difficult to see how Kim could claim to hate everyone.

“Everyone,” however, has some notable exceptions, among them one Ramona Flowers. Ramona and Kim forge a friendship based on their mutual disdain for idiocy as well as a genuine appreciation for each other. They banter easily, but Kim knows when to give Ramona her space. The best example occurs when Kim notices Ramona’s head glowing and decides to gather photographic evidence in order to confront her about it. When Ramona gets defensive, Kim backs off, saying, “If you can’t tell me, you can’t tell me. I won’t be offended.” She tries to make Ramona see that there is a problem, but doesn’t force her to deal with it. In a series with numerous girl vs. girl verbal and physical smackdowns, such a friendship is refreshing. Kim’s ability to handle Ramona also clarifies the nature of her misanthropy: she dislikes people not because she doesn’t understand them, but because she so clearly does, which may be the reason why she always expects them to let her down.

And let her down they do, perhaps no one more than Scott. In the fifth volume, while in the process of kidnapping her, the Katayanagi twins observe that she has “been there all along,” standing beside Scott. While she does insult him, she also encourages him; for every few digs along the lines of “Scott, if your life had a face, I would punch it. I would punch your life in the face,” there’s a “Come ON, Scott! You can do this, you know. You’re not as clueless an idiot as you seem!” Unfortunately, Scott does not offer the same support in return.

The altercation with the Katayanagis is a defining moment for Kim, as she is confronted with the reality of her one-sided relationship with Scott. Still, even when she cannot convince Scott to save her for her own sake, she helps him to defeat the twins by pretending that her inspirational words are Ramona’s. In a way, by manipulating Scott, she saves herself. As Kim departs at the end of the book, Scott apologizes for everything. When Kim dismisses it, telling him it’s not his fault, he shouts, “Sorry about me!” This is the apology that Kim can accept.

Kim’s importance to Scott Pilgrim as a character is reflective of her importance to Scott Pilgrim as a series. If Scott is the lens through which the story is told, and Ramona is its focal point, Kim Pine is the person standing next to you, pointing to the lens and saying, “Trust nothing it shows you.” Throughout the series, Kim serves as a kind of bullshit detector, as she uses her substantial powers of observation to interrogate Scott’s version of events. She questions his decision to date a high schooler, his validity as a hero, and, ultimately, the reliability of his narration. Multiple characters point out the holes in Scott’s recollections, but Kim is the person who breaks him out of his cycle of forgetting and forces him to restore the memory of his mistakes. Her own story literally replaces the one we already read, panels from earlier volumes juxtaposed with new versions in a displacement of fiction by fact. Kim is the person responsible for dismantling Scott’s subjective narrative.

This is why her diminished presence in the film is such a crime. The viewer’s perception is even more closely tied to Scott’s point of view, which is worrying on a metatextual level. In the film, the dominant narrative isn’t questioned, whereas, in the books, the convenient lies Scott tells himself are replaced by the truth as witnessed by those he wronged. The film eliminates so many of the book’s more compelling ideas about the importance of perception in storytelling. For this reason, we would have preferred it if the girl who has “been there all along” had actually been there in her entirety.

It’s difficult to determine where Kim falls on our scale of character strength. She is a past love interest, as well as a supporting character in every sense of the word. She has her own life, but we are largely denied access to it. The life we do see technically revolves around a man, but she has clearly decided to make a change in that respect. We’re inclined to say that she falls somewhere between the categories of Strong Female Character ™ and Actual Strong Female Character, but we’re certainly open to other interpretations.

Verdict: Actual Strong Female Character ™


  1. It's interesting that you came to such positive conclusions so far regarding this series. I have only seen the film and I thought it, and it's portrayal of female characters was extremely disappointing (prompting me to write this: ). Maybe the two versions just actually are THAT different?

    1. They really are. I would recommend that you read the comic series. It's not perfect, but it is much better.

      I think one of the major problems is just that they made it into a movie to begin with. Because they took a series that chronicles the events of an entire year and compressed the story into, like, a couple of weeks, everything was going to have to be simplified.

      The problem is that basically everything of value (besides the general aesthetic) is lost in this translation. In the comic, many of the female characters were subversions or deconstructions of the tropes that the film plays straight. Ramona humanizes the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Kim has actual reasons for being sarcastic and cynical. In your post, you talk about the focus of the film on the plight of the straight, white male; one of the things we like about the comic is that part of Scott's growth involves facing the fact that his focus on his own straight, white, male narrative has prevented him from seeing how much he's hurt many of the women and people of colour in his life. He doesn't earn the Sword of Self-Respect, but the Sword of Understanding.

      Of course, the film ruins all of that. I completely agree with everything you said about it, and you'll see just how much when we talk about Envy and Roxy/Roxie next week.

  2. I love these, you guys are really good with charcter developement, I was wondering if you would ever do one on fionna the genderbendt version of finn from adventure time, or if you would actually talk about some of the female protaginist in that show

    1. Thanks!

      We're actually planning to tackle the ladies of Adventure Time in December.

  3. Perhaps there's one place in the film where Kim is portrayed as "acting" non-chalant when she isn't - the scene where Ramona is with Gideon for the first time, she tells Scott something like "not that I care but you need to talk to her, and I really don't care" - But the audience is supposed to understand that she DOES care, and is just pretending that she doesn't. Unfortunately the stuff about the roommates/Hollie/etc couldn't be put in

    The Simon Lee dream that was proven fake in the books is made as a supplemental cartoon to the movie released on Adult Swim. Without the "this is all fake" twist in the books, it seems like the Simon Lee scene becomes "real" in the movieverse, but I'm not sure if it's the whole story.

    And the actress who played Kim said in an interview that Kim cares more about Scott than she admits to but that she's also bitter about how the romance with Scott turned out.